Retailers have long sought to understand and maximize customer satisfaction, recently through practices grouped under the term customer relationship management, or CRM. CRM invites retailers to manage customer interactions regardless of the commmunications channel their customers may select. While advances in computer network technology have dramatically
improved POS and Web channels, inbound retail telephony at the store level has been largely ignored, and has not been fully integrated into most firms’ channel management strategies. The telephone has long been an access point for customer service, but with ongoing improvements in e-commerce and in Point Of Sale (POS) techniques, it increasingly has become
a third, largely untapped, sales channel for large, multi-site businesses. However, recent advances in computer-telephony integration (CTI), speech recognition and computer-based Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies have dramatically upgraded the ability ofautomated systems to intelligently handle telephone caller inquiries. Currently, retail stores are likely to have the capacity to place calls on hold and perhaps transfer them throughout the store. But it is unlikely that inbound calls are parsed and handled differently in response to caller characteristics such as patronage and repeat purchase patterns, or that data are collected and stored on call volumes, purposes, outcomes or customer characteristics. As a result, call failures occur and CRM suffers, along with potential revenues.
An average store receives several hundred calls every day. We found that a substantial number of these calls are from prospective customers seeking basic information – typically hours of operation or driving directions. Other calls inquiring about availability of products and servicesmay lead more directly to potential sales. Apart from likely contributing to the loss of these sales, call failures are likely to have a long-range, but largely unquantifiable, deleterious effect on customer relations. Inbound call failure is a type of service failure. The drive to understand service failure and service recovery in face-to-face, business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-business (B2B) and on-line B2C transactions has stimulated a considerable body of research. However, little of this
research focuses specifically on inbound retail store telephone channels. Studies of inbound calling to call centers suggest that “of all the critical operational determinants only ‘percentage of calls closed on first contact’ and ‘average abandonment’ have a significant, albeit weak, influence on caller satisfaction” (Feinberg, et al., 2000, p. 131). But calls into retail stores can be
more complex than into call centers, because they may involve several stages of forwarding, holds, waits and therefore, more opportunities for call failure.
In this paper, we report research results that specifically address two aspects of inbound retail telephony. First, how successful are inbound customer calls to retailers across different retail categories? Second, what are the potential consequences to retailers of these outcomes? To implement this investigation, we report on several series of call studies to different categories
of retail chain stores, including grocery (including full-service grocery), department stores, restaurant and specialty retailers.
We found that failed calls may represent a surprisingly large potential revenue opportunity. We also found that the use of an automated attendant and interactive voice response (IVR) protocols can preempt a substantial proportion of call failures. The paper concludes with an outline of managerial implications