Office Depot to revamp call centers

Facing a dismal fourth quarter, Office Depot Inc. is moving to consolidate and improve its call centers -- an initiative that's due to include a $22 million investment in new technology.

Today, the mammoth office product supplier announced that the sales performance of its North American retail division "continued to trend downward."

Additionally, Office Depot CEO Bruce Nelson stated that the company will consolidate 24 call centers into seven and upgrade its customer service organization. An Office Depot spokeswoman said the two announcements aren't related.

Nelson blamed the company's poor performance on weakness in desktops and other computer-related equipment, as well as "higher warehouse costs."

The company, based in Delray Beach, Fla., plans a wide-ranging, $28 million retooling of its customer relationship management (CRM) infrastructure, as well, Nelson said. Office Depot will invest $22 million in a computer telephony system that will improve call center efficiency without raising the cost of operations. Other costs in the $28 million price tag include writing off existing call center assets and retraining employees.

Siemens AG's Information and Communications Networks unit will handle the systems integration work involved in the project. When completed, the system will take data gathered from the phone, e-mail messages or the company's Web site and collapse it into one centrally accessible call center offering. Currently, Office Depot's customers get service through several call centers built around a mixed AS/400 and mainframe network, depending on whether they're coming from the Web or are large enterprises or home-office buyers.

With the new system, all of Office Depot's customer service workers will access the same pool of consolidated data. That should enable them to deliver a more reliable class of service across the board, company officials said.

The workers will rely on an existing browser-based user interface to access customer data, said Ken Jackowitz, vic president of business systems at Office Depot. When in operation, the system also will recognize phone numbers of customers and immediately retrieve their files. Calls will be routed to appropriate personnel, depending on their skills, said Jackowitz.

The company also plans to use a co-browsing capability, with which personnel can take over a Web customer's session and direct him or her to appropriate locations on the Office Depot Web site for assistance. The firm is also contemplating adding a Web chat area.

The migration is scheduled to start in March and is due to be completed in August.

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