Wal-Mart to Online Customers: No Talking

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is no longer giving its online customers the option of talking to a customer service representative.

According to a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, the company implemented several updates to its online customer service offering last week that will help consumers find the information they need without having to call an online customer service representative.

"We've recently launched an enhanced online self-help tool that enables customers to more efficiently manage and track their orders online, and includes an improved 'help' section to easily search and find immediate information and answers to questions," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Colella. "With the new online self-help tool, we're no longer publishing the toll-free customer service number on our Web site for online-related orders."

Colella said because most of the calls to the online customer support number were related to order tracking, Wal-Mart believes the new online self-help tool will allow customers immediate access to the information they need.

Customers who shop in Wal-Mart's physical stores, however, will still be able to call 1-800-WALMART to get help.

But Bruce Temkin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that's no way to treat your customers.

"This doesn't make sense, because our research shows if you ask consumers, even online consumers, what channels they prefer, there's an overwhelming bias for preferring to talk to a human being with any customer service issue," he said. "To turn a blind eye to the enormous preference that consumers have, I think, is a big mistake."

Temkin said the better strategy would be to build the self-help tools and make them so easy to use and so prominent that consumers naturally wean themselves from calling a customer support center.

In addition, although many customers will use the online self-help tools, there will be users who try the tools but can't get their questions answered and then call the Wal-Mart stores' customer service number.

"And those people will call whatever number they find, and they'll be frustrated because the answers aren't easy to find," Temkin said. "And there are the other people who don't even try to find answers online and they'll just want to call up and they'll be equally frustrated. So what's going to happen is that the other 800-number is going to be getting a lot of frustrated callers, and the reality is that with frustrated callers, average handle times go up. I wouldn't want to be a customer rep on that other 800 number."

This story, "Wal-Mart to Online Customers: No Talking" was originally published by Computerworld.

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