Thursday, May 14, 2009

Making the ‘connection’ with Ann Taylor’s call center

I’m just as “connected” as the next gal -- e-mail, iPhone, texting, instant messages, Facebook, e-commerce, you name it. But a recent experience reminded me that even the coolest “apps” don’t hold a candle to the guidance a knowledgeable customer service agent can provide.

One of my friends is getting married and while I have a closet-full of potential ensembles for the occasion, I decided to treat myself to a new dress. I found the ideal little number on Ann Taylor’s Web site: a sleeveless black Ponte knit and satin cocktail dress adorned with a black satin belt and ruffle-trimmed crew neckline.

Rather than waste time calling or visiting local stores to find the dress in my size, I decided to order two sizes online, and try them on when they arrived, and then return the one that doesn’t fit.

After adding the two sizes to my virtual shopping cart, I wanted to give the dress’ image a final once-over before hitting the “checkout” icon -- this proved to be a mistake. When I returned to my shopping cart, one of the dresses mysteriously disappeared!

Worse, when I went back to the page where I originally ordered the dress, my size was no longer available. Someone obviously had the same buying intentions, but beat me to the punch!

I immediately called customer service and was connected with a lovely agent named Liz. After filling her in on my dilemma, she confirmed my fears -- the dress was no longer in stock online. “It’s a hot item,” she said. “I’m watching the inventory sell as we speak. But there is still hope. Have you tried our Style Finder service?”

I had not, so I asked Liz to explain what I was missing. Using a specific style number and size, the software hunts for the item across each store’s available inventory. When the desired merchandise is located, the application electronically places an order and the store is prompted to ship the merchandise to the shopper.

The shopper then provides the credit-card information to the customer service agent and is billed when the store ships the merchandise. There is a service fee of $7.50, as opposed to almost $10 for standard ground shipping online.

When I asked Liz what are the chances that she could find the dress, she said, “The service has a very high success rate, but there is a small chance that we may not find it. Overall, we have more happy customers than unhappy ones.”

Willing to take the risk, I abandoned my online order, gave Liz my Ann Taylor card information, wished her luck and hung up.

Within 15 minutes, I learned the sale was indeed meant to be. I received a confirmation e-mail explaining the dresses are available, and they would be shipped from a single location. The e-mail also said they were being shipped the next day and should arrive within three-to-five business days.

Clearly, this service has been a staple at physical stores for years, and thanks to Liz, now I know it’s an option through the call center. By integrating the solution across the two channels, Ann Taylor is upping the ante on customer service -- and it is working. The experience reminded me why I am a loyal Ann Taylor and LOFT shopper, and now I have a new strategy when shopping online.

Now comes the hard part -- I pray that I am equally satisfied with my purchase when it arrives.


Literally minutes after filing this blog, there was a knock at our front door. It was UPS delivering my dresses -- only one day after placing the order. By the way, the size 10 won!

-- Deena M. Amato-McCoy


Denise Lee Yohn said...

great story, deena -- thanks for sharing it!

i'd like to see ann taylor actually take the service one step further and make it available online as well -- that would be true channel integration.

Outsource Call Center said...

Nice post! I enjoyed reading it. Anyway, One reason that business owners would prefer to outsource for call centers is the high employee turnover which sometimes affects business operations. Thanks for sharing.


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