August 1, 2011

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Article

At Your Service

O.co Turns Around a Mediocre Customer Care Program

Gaylen Webb

August 1, 2011

Stormy Simon has spent the last six years transforming O.co’s (also known as Overstock.com) customer care department into one of the best in the country.

With little industry experience in customer care, Simon helped transform the online retailer’s reputation among customers from mediocre to stellar. Since 2007, O.co has ranked in the top five in customer service among all U.S. retailers, according to rankings published by the NRF Foundation/American Express Customer Service Survey, which annually gauges consumer attitudes toward retailers’ customer service.

“Our goal is to be number one. Am I pleased to be in the top five? Absolutely,” says Simon, who is senior vice president of customer experience for O.co. “But the ranking is such a big deal that being in the top 50 would still be kudos for us—it’s a tough list to get on.”

O.co’s reformation of its customer care department began in 2005, when Simon took on her current role. “We looked up and said, ‘It’s time to change,’” says Simon. “We were mediocre and getting by, but we knew it was time to do something different.”

Now, she says the fact that people go out of their way to compliment particular customer care agents at O.co validates the effort and further feeds the team’s ambition to be No. 1. “Our customers love our customer care team and expect only the best,” she explains.

A Culture of Caring
“It’s easy to know when you’ve provided a bad customer experience, because you quite likely will hear about it,” says Simon; “The question is: When does the customer feel they were provided a stellar experience? That’s the question you’re less likely to get an answer to. You may only figure that out by if your customers come back.”

But Simon’s goal was to create that stellar experience—good enough would not be good enough.

Her first step was surgical: remove the old, internally developed customer service database. Explosive growth had rendered it obsolete and, as she describes it, “We were feeling the pain. Technology can be crucial, depending on the size of the company.” O.co’s old database was replaced with customer relationship management (CRM) software from RightNow Technologies to improve each customer service agent’s responsiveness.

Her next steps were organizational and educational. She restructured the customer care department around cross-functional teams and set up online education and certification programs for all 400 of O.co’s customer care agents. “We sell so many different products and services, and there are so many different reasons a customer might reach out to the company that the customer care team must receive constant training,” she explains.

Further, Simon embedded customer service excellence into the culture of the company. “It’s who we are. For me, O.co does not exist without its customers.”

Her leadership, vision and hard work did not go unnoticed by CEO Patrick Byrne, who says of Simon: “I have learned a lesson I wish to share with corporate America: if you want to make your company customer-centric, just take the most stubborn, unbending, hard-headed, customer-loving employee you have, and put her over customer service. The company gets customer-centric quicker than you ever thought possible.”

Customer Care Strategies
What has Simon learned through her experience in transforming O.co’s customer care department, and what advice does she have for a company that wants to improve its customer service?

“It’s plain and simple: If you don’t have excellent customer care, you need to get better at it quick!” she says. Customer care is so vital to your business that it should be integral to your brand. “Every opportunity you have to touch your customer is critical and you should never let those opportunities get past you. That’s where the magic happens. Every single customer is important.”

Understand that how your business serves and responds to the needs of your customers can be the difference between thriving and growing—or going out of business. Thus, you should review every step of the customer service process and identify how it will help each customer have a great experience.

Deal with unhappy customers reasonably. “Is the customer always right? No, they’re not,” says Simon. “Do we say, ‘Customer, you are wrong?’ No, but we can come to a justifiable resolution. You have to manage your situations with each unhappy customer; remember that most humans are reasonable and that most of your customers—including the most unhappy of them—will accept a reasonable solution.”

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