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Customers interacting with Cooking.com tended to use electronic media rather than phones, prompting a change in call-center structure.

As shoppers get more comfortable shopping online, they are choosing electronic communications over the telephone for their customer-service needs. But traditional call centers centered on phone communications are struggling to service customers who opt for these new electronic tools. By transitioning to a customer-interaction hub that uses workflow applications to consolidate incoming shopper communications,

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Cooking.com is a pure-play retailer that backs up every purchase with a “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” policy.

Cooking.com shoppers are clearly not afraid to test that policy. However, most are not so quick to use the telephone to air their issues.

“E-mail communication is on the rise,” noted Kirk Oshiro, director of customer service, Cooking.com. “In fact, e-mail has become more predominant than phone in terms of interaction volume for agent-assisted customer service.”

Besides tracking e-mail, service agents are tracking other means that shoppers use to make a purchase. These include product reviews, post-order surveys and feedback added at checkout.

Customer-inquiry volume really began to spike when the company started hosting third-party sites. (In 2007, it began operating sites for General Mills brands, BettyCrockerStore.com and PillsburyStore.com. It also hosts the StarbucksStore.com site.) Each site features a variety of communications tools from e-mail, to live chat and other Web-based self-service tools—all of which Cooking.com agents must respond to.

That’s when the company began exploring the potential of a customer-interaction hub. “We wanted to consolidate all consumer communications, knowledge bases, rules, integrations and analytics into one platform.”

By adding an interaction hub, Cooking.com could establish a framework that would centralize all customer interactions. The consolidated data would help agents provide consistent customer-service experience across multiple channels and processes.

Cooking.com chose to continue its existing relationship with Mountain View, Calif.-based technology provider eGain, and upgraded to its latest interaction-hub platform.

Cooking.com created Web pages that link to the eGain Service version 7.6 database. The configuration enables the software to retrieve customer data.

Inbound e-mail or Web-form queries are collected by Cooking.com ’s e-mail handler tool, which routes the queries to the eGain management system. Preset parameters help to route these inbound customer communications to the right agent or queue. The solution’s workflow application and knowledge base suggests answers to agents, enabling them to respond to each query.

Cooking.com finalized the upgrade and launched the new eGain solution in February 2007. “We have gained a 360-degree view of all interactions, so now the customer doesn’t have to repeat any information or recreate context,” Oshiro explained.

The solution helps Cooking.com successfully process 10,000 to 15,000 e-mails monthly, “in an effective and efficient manner. And we do this while consistently meeting service levels,” he said. “This solution also helped us handle holiday communications, which can double, or even triple typical volume.”

Cooking.com is exploring how to use the hub to support other communications channels, including live chat, Web self-service and outbound notifications.

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