Is It There Yet?

About 40% of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM shoppers opt to use a speech-based solution when confirming order deliveries.

As Valentine’s Day approached, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM was preparing to service harried shoppers calling to place last-minute orders. The gifting retailer also expected some to recall multiple times to ensure that their goodies would be delivered on time.

However, more of these callers are opting for 1-800-FLOWERS.COM’s automated speech-recognition solution to electronically check their order status via telephone. By adding members of its Bloomnet florist network to the mix, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM is improving the accuracy of available information.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM, located in Carle Place, N.Y., provides a vast range of products, from floral arrangements to gourmet foods, desserts and wine. This mix, which contributed to $781.74 million in total revenues for 2006, makes 1-800-FLOWERS.COM a top choice for shoppers searching for unique, thoughtful and romantic tokens—especially on Valentine’s Day.

“Valentine’s Day is our second-biggest holiday, second only to Mother’s Day,” Connie Adcock, senior VP, customer service, said. “We get a lot of traffic from shoppers looking for romantic gifts, however more shoppers seem to be waiting until the last minute to place orders.”

An army of 1,000 call-center agents is on hand, ready to make last-minute ordering experiences smoother. (This group increases to 2,000 specialists during the holidays.)

Although 1-800-FLOWERS.COM sends e-mail confirmations regarding order status, this doesn’t stop nervous shoppers from continually calling the retailer to ensure their order will be delivered in a timely manner.

“Most of our incoming callers are placing orders, but approximately 2% or 3% of callers are seeking assistance in learning the status of their orders,” she explained. “This can equate to thousands of calls,” and, of course, this volume increases during holiday peaks.

In 2003, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM began considering how an automated speech-recognition system could improve this process.

“We needed a quality solution that could handle our company’s scalability, provide security and deliver redundancy in case of any service disruption,” Adcock said.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM chose to outsource the Order Status Speech solution from TuVox, Cupertino, Calif. The retailer integrated the voice self-service solution into its existing telephony infrastructure, but it is being managed by TuVox.

TuVox’s order-status solution is a standards-based application written in VoiceXML, a speech language that allows users to interact with legacy applications that contain customer information and order information.

Shoppers who opt into the automated system speak their queries into the receiver rather than punch numbers into the telephone keypad. Linked to the company’s order database, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM’s self-titled Status heck solution enables shoppers to electronically learn whether an order is on the delivery truck, en route or in the hands of their loved one. (If the caller still chooses to speak to a live agent, the solution delivers a screen to the agent, complete with all of the caller’s data.)

To date, the solution manages up to 40% of customer inquiries, “and we see most shoppers taking advantage of the service during the holidays,” she added.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM is currently tweaking the program to deliver even more customer service. By enabling florists to link into the automated system via cell phone or computer, florists can update the database with a real-time status report of outgoing orders.

“It could take florists up to six hours to create an arrangement, put it on the truck, deliver it, and then return to their shop and enter the data,” Adcock explained. “By enabling them to update the system en route, we are improving the quality of our service to our customers.”

1-800-FLOWERS.COM launched the program with 3% of its florist network last Mother’s Day. Today, 7% of its members participate in the program. The company expects more florists to come aboard this year.

By 2008, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM hopes to use the automated system to enable shoppers to place orders. “Similar to directory-assistance services, shoppers can speak their orders into the system via phone,” Adcock added. “We think it could add more value.”

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