Taking retail customer experience to the next level

Taking retail customer experience to the next level

How women’s fashion brand Talbots is transforming its multichannel customer service with a cloud-based contact center solution.

Talbots is a women’s fashion retailer. Established in 1947, the brand is known for impeccably tailored wardrobe essentials and personalized service. Today, there are nearly 500 Talbots stores in the U.S. and Canada, an online store at talbots.com, and a global direct sales operation that circulates about 60 million catalogs each year.

  • Online shopping and the growth of mobile have shifted a portion of sales to the Internet from other traditional channels.
  • To better support sales across online, catalog, and in-store channels, Talbots adopted a cloud-based contact center solution.

“Contact centers really determine the customer’s perception of a business because frontline agents are often the main interaction point. And they should therefore be seen as brand ambassadors,” says Aphrodite Brinsmead, a senior analyst with Ovum, which is focused on customer engagement trends and research. “So it’s absolutely critical that businesses deliver personalized service in the communications channels that their customers prefer—whether it’s online chat, social, text message, email, video, or phone.”

She adds that cloud-based contact center solutions offer fast access to new technology capabilities and channels, with the ability to scale up or down as business needs change.

Seamless connections in the cloud
The Talbots customer support center had been operating on outdated technology for multichannel phone interactions. The system was inflexible and offered only limited integration with email, chat, and other contact channels.

  • Instead of upgrading its on-premises technology, Talbots opted for a contact center-as-service using the Cisco® Hosted Collaboration Solution, which delivers the advanced capabilities of Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise.
  • Talbots engaged Cameo Global to deliver CloudBlu, a Cisco Powered™, cloud-based contact center solution.

What sold the retailer was the seamless link CloudBlu would provide between its in-house call center and call outsourcing partner, ContactUs.com.

“We’re connected to ContactUs.com in a virtual system that gives us a single point of view to see all call agents across the enterprise—their availability, intraday work status, and skill levels­—so we can route calls more strategically and quickly,” says Wes Powell, vice president of customer service at Talbots. “It’s more efficient to manage our internal and external call teams when we operate under a single process. Because it’s such a seamless connection, customers receive a consistent experience regardless of where the call is answered.”

  • The solution’s VoIP system allows Talbots to record more calls and apply speech analytics to listen for speech tags or themes they may want to investigate.
  • Talbots can collaborate with ContactUs.com to listen for customer comments that tie back to products and shopping experience, and make upstream changes based on this customer feedback.
  • Dynamic, real-time reporting has replaced the inflexible, methodical reports of the past.
  • The chat application is more configurable than the retailer’s previous system.

“We can tailor our proactive chat offers to better meet the needs of our customers,” says Powell. “If we anticipate a customer may ask for assistance while she is shopping online, for example, we can use chat to maximize her experience as she completes her purchase.”

Perfecting the direct shopping experience
The Talbots direct sales operation includes print and online catalogs, subscriber emails, social sites, and other direct mail strategies that drive customers to purchase items through the retailer’s toll-free number or website. 

Before moving to a cloud contact center, however, Talbots was limited in its ability to route calls strategically, considering both call type and agent skill sets. This made it difficult to be dynamic in helping in-store customers who needed contact center assistance. 

“With the integrated cloud system, we can support in-store shoppers more seamlessly and sell from cross-enterprise inventories,” Powell says. “If a customer can’t find the exact size or color in a particular store, we can search the distribution center or other stores and send it to her. It helps us build that customer relationship by providing a consistent experience no matter what channel she’s shopping in.”

He adds that the retailer plans to test more self-service options in stores, utilizing mobile technologies and tapping into enterprise inventories with contact center support. 

“I’m excited about how cloud technology supports our efforts to improve process efficiencies and enhance the customer experience,” Powell says. “It helps us differentiate Talbots by the level of service we can offer customers.”

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