vanHaren: excelling in service with Engage

Providing just that little bit of extra service to customers every day. That’s what the vanHaren customer service team strives for.


When the amount of customer questions increased dramatically during the corona lockdown, they started looking for smart ways to continue answering their customers’ questions in the best and most efficient way possible. We spoke with Anker Scharn, customer service team leader and fellow colleague, Jars Schalkx, eCommerce team leader, about the latest developments and insights in the field of webcare (online customer support).

VanHaren’s customer service team has grown enormously in recent years and now consists of 13 FTEs (16 employees). A professionalisation of the webcare tooling was therefore inevitable. The decision fell to Spotler Engage. Since 2018, they have been using Engage to handle all of their online customer contacts. “With Engage, all online communication channels come together in one overview so that the team can work together efficiently”, says Anker.

“Engage makes everything clear for our customer service team. It works so easily that we have decided that each new employee will directly start with Engage when handling customer questions, because they get the same questions there as through our other channels.”

WhatsApp – the solution for increasing volumes and rising telephony costs

During the corona lockdown, the number of customer questions increased enormously. The result: the current staff could no longer answer the number of questions within an acceptable time frame, and telephony costs rose dramatically due to the increasing volume on the telephone lines. They began looking for a solution, and found it: using WhatsApp in combination with a chatbot. The bot, which is also linked to Messenger, makes an initial greeting and then interprets the customer’s question. Anker explains:

“During busy periods, we notice that WhatsApp, in combination with the chatbot, is invaluable. If customers can’t reach us by phone or email, they can now easily get in touch with us this way and it helps to spread out the burden on customer service.”

The chatbot can answer some questions directly, but, if not, it can at least ensure a warm transfer to one of the employees by first doing preparatory work, such as requesting an order or customer number. Customer service employees have come to appreciate and rely on their digital colleague – it saves them time, and they can get to work directly with customer demand instead of requesting order information.

A chatbot never stops learning

Anker built the bot itself, with input from the customer service team, on the OBI platform. They started by analysing the 10 most frequently asked questions. At the top of the list, and good for 25%-30% of all questions, the question is: where is my package? It seems like a simple question with standard answers, but Anker notes that often, those standard answers are not enough. “Customers are contacting us because there is something more going on. For example, they lack a Track & Trace code or have not received a confirmation email”. Making the bot ever smarter is a continuous process, and the input and help from customer service employees is critical.

“The tool is incredibly intuitive. I had the bot up and running in half a day. The challenge lies mainly in continuously making it smarter. The chatbot has to be able to understand what the customer is saying and, even though many questions are similar, to really be able to help the customer, the answer must be 100% correct.”

Omnichannel: the same service on every channel

WhatsApp has proven to be a valuable addition to the customer contact strategy. Where it initially creates an extra barrier – customers must first put the telephone number in their telephone – more and more customers are able to reach vanHaren via WhatsApp.

An important advantage of WhatsApp compared to telephony is the link with the chatbot functionality. The bot now handles almost 7% of all customer questions that customer service receives completely independently. This is more than 200 calls on an annual basis. For vanHaren, it is not a goal in itself to increase this number. Anker explains:

“The bot can answer some of the questions independently. The added value lies mainly in the preparatory work and proactively informing customers if something particular is going on. This way we can directly manage expectations.”

During that busy period from the past lockdowns, messages were deliberately sent via WhatsApp. “We adapted the service and contact page to this and wanted to push as many customers as possible towards the chatbot”, says Jars. They are now letting that go. Now that the number of contact moments is under control, channel management is getting less of the focus and providing optimal service is now the main priority.

“We offer a service guarantee and that includes good accessibility on all channels. In principle, customers determine how they contact us, we ensure that the experience and service is the same everywhere.”

Quantitative and qualitative control information

Control and monitoring information also offers a lot of added value for the organisation. The monitoring functionality in Engage is used to inform the marketing department about what is happening online concerning vanHaren. Webcare can print out reports that show the reach, interactions and reactions of campaigns and actions. Anker uses the reporting functionality to monitor the number of conversations and the breakdown by channels. “Based on the total number of conversations and the reports from the chatbot, I can see how effective the bot is in answering questions independently, and I then use that data to improve the bot further.”

If they can’t figure something out themselves, then they know where to find the helpdesk or account manager of Spotler Engage. “The Spotler Engage helpdesk is excellent. They work with us proactively, and react quickly”, says Anker. Jars adds: “Spotler Engage is always right there for us. The service they provide is simply amazing, which, in today’s world, is unfortunately no longer usually the case.”

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