In a day and age where instant gratification has become an expectation, consumers demand responses to their questions and concerns quickly, if not immediately, and businesses know that excellent customer service is vital to their long-term success. Luckily, technology is evolving with the times, and the digital revolution and AI are helping to completely reimagine call centers.
Camping World, the number one retailer of recreational vehicles (RVs) globally, understands that providing exceptional customer service is vital to remaining ahead of its competition. The business relies heavily on its contact centers to deliver unmatched customer service, but following the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge in customers revealed some issues in its existing infrastructure. As the volume and traffic increased, gaps within agent management and response times became more prominent.
“We are a unique business where we serve three very distinct sets of customers who are into the RV lifestyle (life on the road). There’s the retail side, financial services like insurance or goods, and the dealership side,” explains Saurabh Shah, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Camping World. “We have a decently-sized call center, but I can’t have one agent meeting the needs of each of the three different business units. That creates significant complexities in staffing up our call centers.”
Shah also explains that pulling agents from one area of the business and placing them in another takes training, and Camping World didn’t have the time to conduct such training before the seasonal surge came—especially during the pandemic labor shortage. Not having a 24x7 call center was a longstanding issue even in the off-season. When customers could not reach a human agent, their questions and queries either went unnoticed, were pushed off until the next day when a representative could respond or were accidentally dropped entirely. That left Camping World’s sales team with no visibility into the number of leads accumulated in the off-hours.
“Our response times were concerning. Customers were waiting a long time, which was tied to a couple of things,” says Brenda Wintrow, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Sales and Customer Experience at Camping World. “It was obviously volume, but not having clear visibility into their performance and response time along with the number of chats they could maximize was an issue.”
With its customers unable to reach a live human agent during call center off-hours, the retailer was forced to rethink its infrastructure, its lack of visibility and its functionality gaps. With customer interactions as the focal point, Camping World looked to IBM® Consulting to modernize its contact centers and invest in a new infrastructure to improve processes and workflow automation.
As of March 2022, customer engagement increased 40% on all platforms
Agent efficiency has increased 33% and wait times have decreased to 33 seconds overall
Camping World needed a human-centered solution to allow its operation to scale and handle the increase in the numbers of customers seeking rapid assistance. After looking for the most fitting route to take for modernizing its contact center, the retailer settled on a cognitive AI tool developed by IBM.
“We always need to think differently and identify what the next best solution is to service our customers. IBM brought us options that we otherwise didn’t have with our previous technology,” explains Wintrow. “IBM provided us with different scenarios including the roadmap to build out their technology that ultimately allowed us to streamline our processes, create agent efficiency, and most importantly greatly improve the overall customer experience.”
The solution, powered by IBM watsonx Assistant, seamlessly integrates LivePerson (link resides outside of ibm.com) a conversational cloud platform, and was deployed across all the web properties, increasing the coverage of questions and telephone capabilities. It connects Camping World customers with a virtual agent, enabling live agents to take over more complex conversations. Named Arvee, the virtual agent ensures faster and more efficient response times with dynamic routing and capacity management capabilities. Arvee’s lead generation, especially after business hours, was a functionality that the team did not have before and allows live agents to easily keep track of and proactively follow up with customer inquiries.
The Camping World team began with 75–100 intents and has since been able to adjust to areas where customers were finding roadblocks and improving multiple iterations. IBM added new features such as SMS capabilities that enabled customers to switch from voice to SMS messaging when they are calling in. The latest enhancement also allows outbound SMS campaigns to reach customers and increase sales.
The two teams went one step further and integrated additional enhancements in the back end that expanded the capabilities of virtual agents handling customer scenarios, improving live agent efficiency and customer satisfaction. In addition to providing 30-plus FAQs, the virtual agent integrates with Oracle and Salesforce platforms to address customers’ queries and find customer information quickly and efficiently.
“The agents love the ease with which they can interact with the customers using IBM watsonx Assistant; Arvee initiates and transmits a warm handoff to agents,” says Shah. “Also, having access to the customer engagement stats and metrics on the dashboard is greatly helping agents stay organized; it’s very intuitive.”
The implementation process was completed in waves so as not to halt day-to-day business. “We did not experience technical challenges with the migration, and I believe that’s a testament to the partnership between the IBM team and our technical resources,” Wintrow adds. “They did a great job understanding the different complexities and challenges of sometimes disjointed teams. We felt very supported.”
Though the advancement in AI capabilities can bring about less human-to-human contact than ever before, that doesn’t mean the phone call is dead and that individuals will soon be out of a job. Agents are still very much involved in the sales process, and with the allotted time, they can deliver higher quality service to customers. IBM watsonx Assistant recognizes customers’ intentions and provides callers with the opportunity to be routed to an available live agent for that conversation.
Following the implementation, customer engagement rates have trended upwards significantly, and the number of dropped conversations has decreased. Customers are experiencing shorter wait times and faster responses, and agent efficiency has dramatically improved. Aided by the agent desktop integration and with Arvee proactively collecting customer data while fielding web and SMS messaging, live agents can handle multiple simultaneous chats, increasing their overall efficiency by 33%. As of March 2022, customer engagement increased by 40% and Camping World saw wait times drop down to 33 seconds.
“When you look at the total number of chat conversations—13,999 for retail and only 6,000 needed to be then transferred to a live agent—that’s incredible. That’s nearly 8,000 conversations that were either answered with Arvee and through the integration of the enhanced and improved intents,” explains Wintrow. “When it gets to the agents, it allows the opportunity for more revenue-generating conversations and upselling opportunities.”
Now that Camping World has implemented AI technology across various parts of its operation, what’s next?
“What we’ve done in the last few weeks—and it’s going to change the game for us—is our proactive webchat and being able to prompt customers to talk with us and engage in an RV sales purchase,” says Wintrow. “We haven’t put it on our retail side yet, we will eventually get there, but it has already proven very successful for our RV sales site. We’re very excited about this opportunity as we head into what has historically been our busy season.”
Since 1966, Camping World (link resides outside of ibm.com) has specialized in products and services for vehicle owners and campers. What began as a single store in Bowling Green, Kentucky, has grown into the nation’s largest retailer of RVs and RC-related products and services, with over 160 Camping World SuperCenters. Since 2009, the enterprise has served as the Official RV and Outdoor Retailer of NASCAR. In addition, Camping World has formed a multi-year partnership with Major League Baseball.
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