A Window of Opportunity

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Blinds.com, a provider of window treatments, serves more than a million customers a year throughout the United States and Canada from its headquarters in Houston. It sells an average of about 4,200 blinds per day, and, as its name would suggest, most of its business—about 70 percent—is conducted online via six company-run Web sites. In addition, an inbound call center handles telephone sales as well as specialty design consultations.

After it acquired a competitor about two years ago, Blinds.com knew it had to make a few organizational changes. The first was a complete reworking of its outdated phone system.

The company’s old Avaya IP Office system didn’t allow calls to be transferred between organizations, and it did not provide a way for management to beef up the system or add queues to respond to call volume. Even worse, the system was geared toward small businesses, not contact centers, and it involved plug-ins from various vendors. But Blinds.com wanted one solution from one vendor. 

Blinds.com also wanted a system that would let it employ skills-based routing and address agent skills by monitoring, recording, and reporting on calls. “We couldn’t listen to or monitor calls, and we couldn’t use calls for any kind of training purposes,” recalls Steve Riddell, vice president and chief operating officer at Blinds.com. 

After shopping around, Blinds.com decided to install the Customer Interaction Center (CIC) all-in-one IP communications software suite from Interactive Intelligence. The CIC system’s open, software-based architecture would enable Blinds.com’s contact center staff to manage and administer the system in house without any intervention from the IT department. “I essentially manage the system with two guys,” Riddell says. 

CIC was deployed during a single weekend; work started on a Friday evening and the new system was up and running on Monday morning. Also deployed were several CIC add-on applications, including Interaction Recorder for multichannel recording and quality monitoring, Interaction Feedback for post-call customer satisfaction surveys, and Interaction Optimizer for workforce management. An integrated workflow management component ensures that every interaction is followed to completion.

Today, the company’s entire workforce, which includes 84 agents and design consultants, uses CIC. The system gives users functionality for multichannel routing and queuing, interactive voice response, Web chat, Web call-back, and screen capture for monitoring and training. CIC also is integrated with the Blinds.com MySQL and SAP Crystal Reports packages, as well as with its internal system for tracking agent performance.

“We use the system in such a way that it drives our [agent] skill level,” Riddell explains. “Our ability to raise the skill level is most important.”

Since deploying CIC, Blinds.com’s revenue increased from close to $40 million in 2009 to $62 million last year, and the company is on pace to rake in $80 million this year. The conversion rate has increased from 18 percent to 38 percent. Because of the efficiencies and self-help options that CIC has brought, Blinds.com has seen a 30 percent reduction in service calls and a 50 percent jump in incoming sales calls. “Our call volume is higher now in response to heavy advertising,” Riddell says. “A lot of volume is being driven by an active marketing campaign.”

Another benefit has been the ability to have agents work from home. In the past, an agent was tethered to her desk for an entire shift. “Now I can literally give someone a laptop, and he can work from anywhere,” Riddell points out. “CIC has changed the whole way we do business.”

About six months after deploying CIC, Blinds.com consolidated two offices into one, Riddell says. Less than a year after that, Blinds.com acquired another major competitor, increasing the staff by about 60 percent. 

Because of the acquisition, approximately 700 toll-free numbers had to be moved overnight from Detroit to Houston. “Had it not been for CIC’s open, software-based architecture, that move would’ve caused lost business and major disruption,” Riddell says.

“We have not been disappointed,” he adds. “Simply put, CIC has helped us better fulfill our mission of being driven by the customer experience.”

That’s important, given that 61 percent of Blinds.com’s business comes from repeat customers.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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