iRobot Cleans Up on Customer Service

Customer Service
Customer Service

Whether their mission is to clean gutters or to neutralize land mines, customers of iRobot- which range from senior consumers to government agencies-all require various levels of technical support. Top-notch service is critical, as a result.

Until a few years ago determining those individual customers' needs proved to be challenging for iRobot, maker of the popular Roomba vacuuming products. The company used to store customer information in several different repositories-much of it spread across the company's outsourced contact centers.

Maryellen Abreu, director of iRobot's global technical support, wanted to get at that data and to make it actionable. "The goal was to own our own data and to be able to have more access to real-time customer conversations to make decisions and prioritize," she says. "When iRobot launched, everything was outsourced. We wanted to centralize the information and allow management to see what customers were saying."

With the help of RightNow Technologies, iRobot introduced Web self-service to the customer service mix and can now manage its phone, email, and Web interactions to have a complete view of all past service calls. This helps the company get to the root of customers' issues more quickly. "People buy these robots to save time so it's important that we save time too," Abreu says.

The company also integrated its online customer forum, provided by Lithium, into the customer interaction record for complete customer views. And in addition to having the transactional and interaction data, iRobot collects demographic customer information when they register their products and sends out a customer satisfaction survey every two weeks to 4,000 different customers to track the impact of the company's improvements and to gauge any emerging problems.

Not only does having this integrated view of the customer help save customers' time and iRobot costs, but it ensures that the company's business decisions are customer driven.

Customers contribute to product development
According to Abreu, the company often develops new offerings based on customer feedback. In weekly cross-functional voice of the customer meetings, Abreu collects the data, presents it, and assigns action items. "We're walking away from the voice of the customer meeting with actions," she says. "We want to know what we can do and prioritize."

For example, when iRobot launched the Roomba 500 Series many of the customers who called about those products mentioned that they own pets and struggle with pet hair, so R&D developed a product specific for pet owners. It's in beta now with 500 customers. "We're trying to reach out to those customers and solve a problem," she says. "We've been able to gather their feedback and make the changes they've requested."

In addition to improving its offerings, iRobot monitors negative incidents, which are automatically pushed to a centralized queue for customer service reps to monitor and reach out to those people quickly. And when reps open a customer's history on their screens, all previous surveys pop up. If a customer has had a negative survey in the past, the rep is empowered to offer discounts to ensure he wows the customer.

Abreu says that since the new changes have been in place, call abandonment rates have been reduced by 18 percent, customer satisfaction has gone up, and callvolume has decreased by 30 percent (Abreu says 90 percent of its customers used to rely on the phone; now only 50 percent use the phone to interact with iRobot). Even more crucial is that iRobot knows how, when, and what to respond to customers. "Especially these days, customer retention is important," Abreu says. "We can build more robots, but we can't manufacture more customers. Customer retention is absolutely critical."