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Exclusive Q&A: Answering the call for phone-based customer service

Potomac River Running Store logo

A regional specialty footwear retailer is ensuring every call to its stores is answered with artificial intelligence (AI).

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Ray Pugsley, owner, Potomac River Running Store, about the importance of responding to phone inquiries customers make to its nine brick-and-mortar stores. The family-owned chain operates in the Virginia and Washington, D.C. area sells running shoes, apparel and accessories.

What issues was Potomac River Running having with customer service and engagement?

“At Potomac River Running (PRR), outfitting runners for shoes is an experience we like to make very personal. Customers expect one-to-one attention to find the right pair of shoes when they come into our stores; sometimes that keeps us from answering the phone. Of course, the team would do our best to answer every call, but when calls and foot traffic would spike during the running season, our staff would struggle to keep up with calls and voicemail. 

“As a result, stores were missing 25% of incoming calls. Team members also call between locations daily with inventory questions and were struggling to get through during busy times, leaving customers waiting for an answer. A single interaction with a business makes or breaks the sale. When a potential customer is calling the store, and no one picks up, you can almost always consider that a loss.” 

When, why and how did PRR select Numa virtual concierge technology?

“We signed up with Numa in March 2019. To maintain our high-touch customer experience, we needed a phone solution that would free up our staff to serve customers while offering incoming callers immediate help. The platform’s artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced answering service allowed our team members to have flexible phone support to respond to every customer. 

“When our staff can’t answer the phone, customers are still acknowledged with our virtual answering system. Once callers opt into text, the Numa solution automatically responds and answers questions about store hours, event information and more.”

What was implementation like - how long did it take?

“The set-up process was very simple and straightforward. In a matter of days, we were online and able to text customers. Today, more of our customers prefer to text, so having the ability to incorporate texting in the customer communication process gives them more options to engage with the store. 

What have the results been?

“We can now answer 100% of our calls with fewer resources. With the technology working behind the scenes, our store is now able to answer 100% of incoming calls, and we confidently know that we have responded to every potential customer, with no business lost. 

“We’re also able to streamline our curbside process. Prior to the pandemic, we hesitated to adopt it because we thought it would derail from giving the customer the in-store personalized experience. Today, the curbside function is absolutely necessary and a seamless part of our sales strategy. 

“In addition, I’m able to monitor text conversations between our staff and customers and offer suggestions to create a consistent experience. Some percentage of staff will always respond the wrong way, and Numa helps us improve.”


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