2009 1to1 Customer Champion: Stormy Simon, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Customer Care, Overstock.com

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Customer Service
Customer Service

Online retailer Overstock.com competes in the busy e-commerce space with the likes of Amazon.com, eBay, Walmart.com, and others. It stands out by strictly adhering to a simple notion: "We do what's right by the customer." And Senior Vice President of Marketing and Customer Care Stormy Simon leads that charge.

Simon oversees both marketing and customer service at Overstock, which puts her in the unique position of influencing the customer experience throughout the entire lifecycle. From branding and advertising through the website purchase experience to the call center, she helps drive an internal focus on customers from beginning to end.

"Customers want to trust who they're doing business with and they never want to feel like they've been ripped off," she says. "We make it that basic, and then we try to learn a lot about our customers so we can talk to them in the way they want to be spoken to."

Customer care is a differentiator in Overstock's brand promise, so it's imperative that marketing and customer service are aligned, she says. "Customer service and your brand, especially when you're online, should be close to one and the same," Simon says. The e-commerce world is driven by self-service and there is rarely a friendly face associated with the sale. The customer interaction in the call center serves as an extension of the brand. "When they do call, we want to project a certain image, and it is absolutely a piece of marketing for us."

On the flip side, marketing can gain insight into the customer experience through the call center. "No one knows [the customer experience] better than our agents," Simon says. "If there's a problem with the checkout process, or if marketing messages aren't clear, the agents hear about it." This integrated approach blurs the lines between marketing and service to develop a great customer experience. When creating a new marketing initiative, Simon asks customer care agents to provide feedback. "More often than not, they have something to add," she says. Marketing also sits in on customer service calls and the two departments meet regularly to share insights. "There is a synergy that exists when you connect the two departments."

It's not just the marketing team that benefits from that synergy. Overstock.com considers customer care the most important part of the organization; the company's organizational chart is referred to as "the Greek temple" by CEO Patrick Byrne, with departmental pillars leading to the customer care roof. This allows the voice of the customer to speak throughout the organization, Simon says, and creates an empowered culture within the call center. "[Customer care agents] know it's their job to make sure that the message gets to the right department so they can fix it, whether it's a broken knob on a toaster, a coupon that doesn't work, a glitch on the website, or anything else customers tell them," she says. "With such a visible structure in place, everyone in the company -- merchandisers, IT, finance, etc. -- knows that the voice of the customer is speaking."

This organizational approach around customers helped the company turn a profit in the fourth quarter of 2008. In addition, Overstock jumped from a ranking of below 200 in 2007 to the number four spot on the NRF/American Express Customer Satisfaction Index in 2008. And in September the company received a 2008 Gartner and 1to1 Customer Award in the customer service category.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION