Internet Voice Comes to Online Customer Service

One of the major messages from the holiday shopping season is that e-tailers must develop better customer service capabilities. Today, eFusion, Inc. — a start-up company from Beaverton, Oregon — introduced a new “push-to-talk” service that allows representatives at e-commerce firms to talk to shoppers in real time.

“This is a brand new service that we believe will have a big impact on both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce,” Dataquest/GartnerGroup senior analyst Drew Kraus told the E-Commerce Times. “With e-tailers having shopping cart abandon rates above 60 percent, the technology has the potential to help close a lot of sales and to also allow e-commerce firms to substantially improve their customer service.”

Kraus said the new service, called eSatisfaction, is unique because eFusion has set up its own nationwide private voice over IP network that places the calls using Internet protocols. The company said the private network was required to guarantee that the voice calls would not be bogged down by other Internet traffic.

Birth of a New Market

Kraus said that he is only aware of one other company — E-Talk, Inc. — that has announced a similar capability. E-Talk changed its name recently from Teknekron, Inc., and had existing products and services for call centers before setting up a voice over IP capability.

eFusion’s new service works by allowing the e-tailer to place a “Push-to-Talk” button on the site. When a customer pushes the button, a small Java-based program is downloaded to the customer’s PC. The program looks at the PC’s capability to determine the best way to route the customer service call.

If the customer has a PC with speakers and a microphone, the call is placed immediately to the company’s customer service department. The Web page that the customer is viewing is displayed on the service representative’s screen, so that both are in synch.

If the customer’s PC is not set up for a direct voice call on the Internet, the customer is asked if he or she wants to use the regular telephone or to have an interactive chat. If the customer has a phone line available, the customer types in the phone number and the system calls the customer’s phone line and then synchronizes the call between the customer and the service representative. If a line is not available, online chat is used.

Service, Not Just a Technology

eFusion is offering its capability as a service to e-commerce firms, not just as a technology. For smaller companies, eFusion provides usage-based pricing at about $1 to $2 (US$) per call.

For larger companies, eFusion said it would lease space on its network. The per call rate, interestingly, is similar to per call rates charged by companies that provide customer service by real-time chat.

How Will the Market Develop?

Krause expects that the market is going to be driven by the desire to turn potentially-abandoned shopping carts into closed sales. eFusion said that its major trial customer, Cameraworld.com, reported a 25 percent closure rate when customers used the “Push-to-Talk” option.

eFusion’s first live customer is Kassabian Motor’s CaliforniaClassics.com, a company that sells restored cars over the Net. The “Push-to-Talk” service is installed initially for its Chevrolet and Corvette vehicles.

Kraus believes that the service has as much potential for B2B e-commerce as for B2C transactions. He said the technology will allow businesses to provide well-integrated service to their suppliers and partners.

Jeff Gaus, eFusion’s vice president of marketing, told the E-Commerce Times that the service would be most effective for the sale of sophisticated products on the Internet or to provide customer service that was best delivered by a live person.

Entering Crowded CRM Market

While eFusion’s technology seems unique today, it is entering a rapidly-developing market that is increasingly crowded with companies that claim to have the best solution for customer relationship management (CRM). Online CRM chat services like Peoplesupport.com and ChatRep.com are now popping up in mushroom-like fashion, while numerous companies are touting the development of complete CRM solutions, including Neuromedia.com.

eFusion’s Push-to-Talk service adds real-time voice to the mix. With a wide range of CRM solutions now available, we should expect customer service options at e-commerce sites to improve substantially during the coming months.

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