Maintaining a Call Center That Expects the Unexpected

What happens when your company’s website experiences such a drastic glitch that it could lose thousands of dollars in just minutes? Such an occurrence happened to the U.S.’s largest retailer Walmart, whose website – due to an internal error – was offering items at an almost 100 percent discount when compared to what they were originally priced at. For example, an InFocus IN2124 Projector was listed for $8.85 when it was supposed to be priced at $578.89, representing an almost 99 percent discount.

Customers likely thought this to be an exclusive holiday shopping sale (after all, the company is one of a few big name brands who already began rolling out Black Friday sales before Thanksgiving). As such, customers shared the deals across a multitude of social media sites such as Instagram, and the site sold out of the mistakenly marked down items within hours.

There are two important points to be taken away from this situation:

Why the Call Center Places an Integral Role

Imagine just how busy Walmart’s contact centers may have been during this time had customers decided to turn to a telephone and live agent for assistance. Seeing how 65 percent of customers still prefer live phone or in-person assistance for handling urgent issues, according to a recent American Express study, this could have been a very realistic outcome for the company. Such a massive and unexpected spike in call volumes can happen to any company, and so flexible, scalable call center applications and software is critical to keeping up with customer demand.

The Backlash: Did Walmart Provide Superior Customer Service?

Also worth noting here is how Walmart handled the situation. According to Walmart spokesman Ravi Jariwala:

Given the wide discrepancy in pricing, we are notifying customers who ordered these items that their orders have been canceled and that they'll be refunded in full. In addition, we will send these customers a $10 e-gift card that can be used toward future purchases at Walmart stores and Walmart.com.

The question isn’t about whether the company should have been allowed to cancel these customers’ orders, as the company’s terms of use states that the company reserves “the right to refuse or cancel an order for any reason including…errors in product or pricing information.” The question is rather if the company should have chosen to take that avenue when servicing its customers. On one hand, from a business perspective, allowing customers to walk away with items at barely any cost will hit the company’s bottom line so hard it may not be able to recover. For example, just 20 of those InFocus Projectors tallies up to a cool $11,577. During the fourth quarter, the harsh reality of letting thousands of dollars slip away simply can’t be taken. On the other hand, however, the error was admittedly one that the company internally made, as Jariwala stressed in a statement that this was not a hack.

Some customers gladly expressed their newfound opinion of the brand upon its quick decision to refund customers their money. For example, ABC News reports one customer as saying:

"I've had it with Wal-mart. I haven't heard anything about $10 gift cards and have been searching all morning for a phone number to call and of course they don't have a phone [number] you can call you can send an email that they can send an automated response to. I will take all of my business somewhere else if you do not honor my order confirmation!!!"

Perhaps this entire mishap could have been handled more smoothly had scalable, multi-channel call center software been implemented. Multi-channel technology would have enabled customers to contact the company through any channel of their choice – be it e-mail or phone – as well as ensure that website integration is up to speed and keeps the customer top of mind.

Click here to explore Vocalcom’s call center solutions for keeping your facility prepared at all times.

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