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Technology a challenge when preparing for the holiday rush

The biggest challenges companies face as they prepare for this year's onslaught of holiday shoppers will be centered on finding both the workforce to staff their service centers and the proper technology to handle the heavy load, according to Dona Munsch, vice president of marketing for Echopass, a provider of call and contact center technology.

"Many of the same issues from last year will be experienced this year... it's going to be a big challenge for companies to keep up with customer demand," Munsch said.

She cited grim statistics from last year, noting that $1.6 billion was lost to poor service, abandoned shopping carts were at an all-time high, 15% of sites took five days or more to respond to e-mail queries and 26% of sites simply didn't respond to e-mail.

While most customers with problems required assistance via telephone, Munsch sees a big shift toward e-based interaction, such as chat, e-mail and Internet calling phone calls conducted via Internet phones. "This is prompted by companies offering live interaction in an e-base environment," she said.

This year will mark the first measure of Internet calling use. Munsch said, "Internet calling will still be very small... there are still some questions on the level of quality."

As for the poor e-mail response of last year, Munsch said that companies are beginning to queue e-mail messages and chat requests as they do telephone calls. Customers this year are expecting a much faster response to their e-mail requests, she said.

On the tech side, though, companies may be looking at their infrastructure and realizing that they aren't equipped to handle the forecasted telephone volumes or that they physically don't have the infrastructure to handle e-based interaction or e-based support may simply not be available, Munsch said. For telecom woes, she suggests that companies contact their telecommunications providers and see what hardware leasing options are available. As for Internet-based customer service, companies can also plan to outsource or use a contact service provider, she said.

Whatever companies from dot-com startups to traditional large enterprises decide to do to handle their call volumes and electronic responses, they need to decide and implement very soon, Munsch said. "The time window is starting to close [for this holiday season]," she said. "There is no time to wait."


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