Improving Agent Efficiency with a Single, Unified Agent Desktop

How many application interfaces must your agents navigate in a typical customer interaction? If you said more than one, we’re not off to a good start.

One recent call center survey claimed that the average number of applications for an agent to work with is 6 or 7, while 15% of agents work with over 12! For customer-facing processes, applications are the main tool that agents use to handle the call, resolve issues, and provide answers.

In any company, applications supporting internal business processes are sprinkled around various departments – manufacturing, billing, scheduling, returns, customer service, and marketing, to name a few. Customers are expecting resolutions and answers when they call your company. Access to real-time customer data for the agent is critical to enabling more effective customer interactions.  Providing access to the myriad of internal systems doesn’t really help the agent solve the customer’s concern; it simply provides a source of data.  The agent must be trained on how to access each system, what data is available within each system, when each system is needed, and how to get to the specific information needed to address each possible request.

Every time that an agent must exit one application and open a new one, it adds about 10-15 seconds to the call and makes them less able to do their job at all, much less deliver an outstanding customer experience. From the agent perspective, complex system and data searching can add stress to the interaction – more time is spent, customers want to get off the phone, and agent metrics are taking a beating.  Agents have to learn not just what information is available where and how to get access to it, but when and why they need it.  How they address customer concerns is dependent on what they have learned, with no guarantee of consistency across agents.

The easier the process is for the agent, the more beneficial it is for you and your customer. Here are just a few reasons why agents should have a consolidated application experience:

Improved Agent Training

Think about the first time you had to learn to use an application, like your CRM application or ERP system. It takes a while to get familiar with the layout, to learn how to navigate to different areas of the application, and to feel confident using it. The same logic applies to agent training. The more applications the agent has to use, the more time it will take agents to become confident in using them, and the greater the stress on the agent, which also results in a higher probability of user-error.

Improved Agent Experience

Nothing is more tiring for an agent than getting bogged down by searching through multiple applications for the correct data while the customer is waiting for them to answer their question. When information is readily available in one application, agents are more productive, and they can focus on the customer, not the system.  If you’re trying to solve the constant high-turnover issue that plagues many call centers, simplifying an agent’s application experience can make a huge difference.

Improved Average Handling Times

Why? Because Agents spend less time clicking and tabbing through various applications. If agents are constantly switching screens and applications, call handle times rise and profitability goes down. Shaving off 10 – 15 seconds for each ‘alt tab’ application transition can translate to a significant reduction in the duration of each call. Thankfully, a consolidated desktop will eliminate that.

Happier Customers

Have you ever called customer service and had to wait while the agent put you on hold to find an answer? I know I have. More than likely, the agent is searching through various screens and applications to find the answer. It’s not necessary, and it’s not efficient.  Providing the information to the agent when they need it during the call can give customers an experience that exceeds their expectations, leaving them happier and more loyal.

Does a Unified Agent Desktop Exist?

According to the Gartner “What’s hot in CRM applications 2012” report, an intelligent agent desktop is the second hottest item in the customer service space.  Not only does a consolidated agent desktop exist, but they have been around for at least 10 years.  It starts with integrating applications into one user interface; it follows by seamlessly weaving application data into the business process-based workflow provided, and it results in an efficient interaction.  To see what the ideal unified agent desktop should look like, contact RiverStar today.

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Why ‘Out-of-the-Box’ Can Kill the Customer Experience

Complex customer experiences require a well-thought out process that identifies and optimizes value throughout the customer interaction process.  The pace of advancing technology, rising customer expectations, and competitive pressures are all hammering away at companies looking to improve the customer experience.
Customer experience excellence is always a work in process; making it difficult for “out-of-the-box” software (e.g., CRM) to meet the unique needs of customers and businesses.  Oddly enough, most of these types of software products are focused on customer data and configured to support internal processes, not customer needs or processes. This is a critical flaw.
Customer journey mapping is one exercise that companies perform to understand the customer touch points requiring attention. Regardless of the method used, companies need to look at each customer interaction from the perspective of the customer’s experience.  According to a Gartner, 86% of the customers who changed service providers did so because of a bad customer experience.  Eliminating unnecessary tasks and streamlining customer facing processes leads to faster service times, lower call handling times, and a number of other benefits.  Customer service software should be built to support or at least be capable of supporting the ideal customer process.

Let’s take a deeper look at why out-of-the-box solutions may have difficulty realizing customer experience goals.

Fitting a square peg in a round hole

Part of the predicament is in how rarely companies actively analyze the metrics around the customer experience as The Temkin Group outlines in this diagram. Additionally, the data shows that only 10% of the companies surveyed are either good or very good at measuring customer experience metrics as an integral part of operations across the organization. The lack of a sound strategy explains to some degree why the inward focus on technology and internal processes (that is common with out of the box software) take precedence over creating an outstanding customer experience. Thus, the square peg called “out of the box solutions” doesn’t quite match up to the round hole associated with the needs of the customer.

The ROI is measurable

There are many moving parts required to gauge the financial impact of the customer experience. Measuring the cost factors and ROI of great customer experiences is not easy, but it is doable.

For instance, a recent study by Forrester Research indicates that the average large bank can increase revenues by about $210 million a year by delivering a better customer experience, quantified in three areas, with over half driven by reductions in customer churn, followed by increased share-of-wallet and word-of-mouth driven acquisition.

Customization is King

In a perfect world, every single customer experience process will be custom to the requirements and needs of the customer. Is it impossible? Maybe. However, getting as close to this state as possible is nothing short of required for businesses to compete. Settling for software that meets up to 70% of the customer service needs of the business is not enough to stay ahead.

Customer service is THE differentiating factor that determines customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

An out-of-the-box solution MAY deliver a lower up front price tag than a custom solution but is likely to cost significantly more when a 3 or 5 year total cost of ownership assessment is performed. Even more importantly is the impact on customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.  If you knew that the software you were using meant you would lose 5 more customers, 50 more customers, 500 more customers…  would you factor that into your decision to select a product to stop that blood loss? Out of the box software can end up costing an exponential amount to wrangle the software to TRY do what you want it to.

Force-fitting your customer-facing processes into an out of the box solution can kill your customer experience strategy and is a recipe for disaster, unless the product mirrors the needs of the customer. We’ve been engaged by a number of clients for this very reason (read our case studies).

Looking at solutions designed around the process can greatly aid customer experience initiatives. Due diligence will prove valuable to both your organization and your customer.

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Are Inbound and Outbound Calls Really That Different?

The way customer workflows are designed and interactions are handled should be independent of the call’s origin – inbound or outbound. When developing a process, focus on how you want the interaction with the customer to flow, not on how the connection is made.

By driving interactions with repeatable, consistent processes, you are making the entire experience more pleasant for the customer and the agent. Once the connection between the parties is established, there is no fundamental difference between inbound and outbound interactions other than who initiated the contact. Therefore, at RiverStar, we see very little difference between the two when it comes to developing an efficient, effective and scalable process.

People generally think about outbound calling as needing scripts and workflows, but inbound calls also require consistent processes so that agents can easily identify and address customer issues – in other words, deliver great customer service.

With 80 to 90 percent of calls initiated by customers, developing inbound processes provides the greatest return on investment. In one case, we simply implemented efficient inbound calling process, which allowed our client, Blue Casa, to increase first-call resolution by 25 percent. Additionally, this same inbound process was fitted for an outbound call process to help new customers with proactive service issues. Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness on the majority of your calls through a process-based approach will result in happier customers and more productive agents.

The task of addressing inbound call issues may seem overwhelming when compared with those of outbound calls, where you have control of the content. You don’t, however, have to address every possible scenario with a process-based solution. Apply the 80/20 rule to determine the top reasons for inbound calls – for example, placing orders, billing inquiries or troubleshooting – and develop processes for those. Just a few processes will likely cover the majority of your customer interactions. You can also develop a ‘generic’ process to handle the “other” calls. Over time, you can add additional processes as the volume of transactions warrants the effort.

In addition to being an excellent customer service tool, utilizing  a BPM platform-as-a-service tool will help you collect data so you have reportable results that describe exactly what occurred during each interaction. Anything that you put in a process – clicks, questions, call resolution, etc. – can be captured, stored and reported on. Integrating data from both the process and from the call transaction – such as length of call, number dialed or number of people contacted – will add value to your reports, providing a complete record of every transaction.

Contact us today to find out how we help you develop integrated processes for any types of customer interactions.

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Deal Signed with Appriss

RiverStar signed a deal with Appriss, Inc., acompany located in Louisville, Kentucky that provides data and technology solutions for a safer place to live and work. Their basic business function is to provide customers access to specific, accurate information in a timely manner. The information that Appriss aggregates covers a broad range of categories to a diverse audience including solutions for public safety, risk& compliance, health information and insurance.

Apprissemploys over 40 agents to provide their services. They need the ability to rapidly provide access to information that is critical to their customers’ safety and security. This requires immediate access to critical informationthat can be provided instantly to their agents when on customer calls. The information provided is frequently sensitive, so quick and accurate authorization of the person seeking information is essential. Additionally, tracking what information is provided to whom is essential.

RiverStar Studio is a rapid development platform used to create customweb applications. It contains a graphical user interface that does not require traditional programming skills. For Appriss, the RiverStar Agent Desktop framework, built using RiverStar Studio, provides a unified agent desktop for these key business activities, such as telephony and chat.

In less than two months, the Appriss – RiverStar team implemented a new contact center solution that:

  • Introduced a unified agent desktop
  • Tightly integrated with inContact
  • Provided process-based workflows
  • Integrated to several enterprise systems

“RiverStar’s solution is helping us trim time from every call handled, enabling better tracking of key success metrics, and enabling our call center to automate significant portions of script delivery. We anticipate training time to be cut in half once fully implemented as well. Quite simply, a great investment. ”, said Josh Bruner, VP, Appriss.

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Importance of Integrating Systems to Make Interactions More Efficient

Whether they know it or not, customers generally have four key attributes that they associate with outstanding service:

  1. Recognition: Recognize me and know my services and preferences
  2. Resolution: Address my issue during our first interaction
  3. Efficiency: Make the interaction as efficient and effective as possible, i.e., don’t waste my time and don’t make me provide information you should already have available
  4. Personalization: Gently offer suggestions that are consistent with my known preferences

The issue of systems and process integration becomes critical in addressing each of the four attributes above. Let’s think about how we could use integration capabilities to do so.

For a customer process to be effective and efficient, which are two of the three key elements of process, agents must have access to the right information at the right time. Often this information is located in various places throughout a company’s technology infrastructure. Therefore, the system used during customer interactions must communicate with other systems so they can share information before, during and after calls. The alternative is shifting between systems and manually retrieving the information while the customer waits, which is definitely not an efficient process.

To illustrate this concept, consider the example of an airline reservation line. With an integrated system, the conversation might go something like this:

Agent: Hello, Mr. Smith. Thanks for choosing ABC Airlines today. Would you like to book a trip out of O’Hare?

Bill: Why yes, that’s why I’m calling. I’ll be traveling to Boston from February 10 to the 13. Do you have any morning flights available?

Agent: We certainly do. There is a nonstop flight leaving at 8 a.m. on the 10th. I know that you prefer direct flights, but you can save $50 if you connect in New York. Which would you prefer?

Bill: The direct flight would be perfect. Thank you.

Agent: I will go ahead and book that for you. Would you like your usual window seat? You’ll also be automatically submitted for an upgrade based on your platinum status. You’ll get an email acknowledgment when the upgrade clears.

In the example, the agent had Bill’s preferences on file and quickly assessed his needs without requiring him to repeat information. Having that information at her fingertips, the agent was able to conduct a more efficient and effective – not to mention a more personal interaction.

This is just one example of how integration can improve the four attributes of customer service. Workflows can tie into any number of records to retrieve information. As you design a process, consider the types of preferences your customers have or information from past calls that would guide future interactions. Your company already has a lot of the information agents may need – it’s just a matter of making it accessible when the agents need it.

The importance of integration was a driving force in building integration capabilities into our flagship product, RiverStar Studio. Our philosophy is to make it easy to communicate with other systems so you can pull information into your processes. Therefore, Studio can pull information at the beginning of the call, send information back and forth during the call, and route information to other systems after the call ends. You can build logic into your applications so that it considers the customer’s history and builds offers that are attractive and consistent with how the customer generally likes to do things.The result is an interaction that addresses all of the key attributes of outstanding customer service and the result of that is increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Contact us today to learn more about how you can integrate your systems with RiverStar Studio.

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How the Three Elements of Process Save You Time and Money

At RiverStar, we believe that every customer interaction is fundamentally a process, having a beginning, middle and end that all aim to meet a specific objective. Incorporating three key elements into your processes will save your customers and agents time and, ultimately, your company money.

The three key elements of a process are:

  • Efficiency – Making the most of time and resources during the process
  • Effectiveness – Ensuring the result of the process matches the objective
  • Scalability – Developing a process that can handle anticipated volume within the constraints of available resources

From the company perspective, a process has to be scalable to handle the volume of interactions expected, efficient to minimize cost and save time, and effective in first-call resolution. An added benefit of process is reduced agent training time. Having a structured process dramatically reduces the amount of training required because agents will be led step by step through every interaction. Our clients report a decrease of 50 to 75 percent in agent training time after implementing RiverStar solutions.

While developing processes can certainly enhance any interaction, sometimes it may not make sense to develop a process. This is where scalability and efficiency go hand in hand. If an interaction only occurs sporadically, the time and resources required to develop a process may outweigh the benefits. However, for interactions that occur hundreds or thousands of times each day, process will ensure consistent handling, enhancing customer satisfaction and increasing agent productivity. Every wasted second eliminated by an efficient process amounts to cost savings for your company and increased satisfaction for your customers.

While customers will certainly notice the absence of scalability and efficiency, these elements are not their top priorities. They view effectiveness as the most important element of process – do you give them the information they need at the time they need it without requiring excessive action or repetition on their part? With an effective process in place, the answer will be a resounding “Yes.”

Service Master came to RiverStar with four different systems in place that agents had to navigate for every incoming call. We helped them develop a single, process-driven desktop that became the face of those systems, streamlining agent activity for each interaction. Our solution saved the company 10 percent in average handle time on every single call.

The combination of RiverStar Studio’s capabilities and the expertise of our team can help you build business processes that leverage your existing technology and can be optimized over time to achieve the results you need.

Contact us today to learn more about RiverStar Studio can add efficiency, effectiveness and scalability to your processes.

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Making Customer Interactions Efficient, Consistent Through Process

At RiverStar, we believe that every customer interaction is fundamentally a process with a very specific objective. Objectives may stem from customer requests — such as billing inquiries or troubleshooting — or company outreach — such as customer satisfaction surveys or upselling. By creating processes around these tasks, you are ensuring consistency and efficiency in your customer service operations, thereby increasing customer satisfaction.

A process is nothing more than a sequence of logical steps that help you achieve an objective. It can be very simple or very complex, but regardless it should follow a structure, taking the customer from introduction to resolution. As the customer service provider, it’s up to you to make sure the results match the objectives as closely as possible.

For example, Blue Casa Communications needed a more efficient process for addressing customer issues. While the information that agents needed was readily available, the multiple systems could be cumbersome to navigate. Blue Casa sought a process-based tool to ensure consistent customer treatment, triggered by rule-driven dialogs that guide agents through addressing customer needs. RiverStar worked with Blue Casa to develop a solution that helped the telecommunications company increase first-call resolution by 25 percent. By creating a process with consistent steps and an integrated system, Blue Casa was able to resolve more of its customers’ issues quickly and easily on the first try.

RiverStar solutions make it easy for you to implement processes for your customer interactions that can evolve over time. We can help you integrate your systems so that they deliver the information your agents need when they need it. We can implement logic and rules that eliminate the need for agents to ask customers for background information on every call. As you gain a better understanding of how the process is impacting your customer service and identify new opportunities for efficiency, you’ll have the ability to enhance and customize the solution even more.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you add consistency and efficiency into your customer interactions using a process-based approach.

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Deal Signed with Thomas L. Cardena & Associates

RiverStar signed a deal with Thomas L. Cardena & Associates (TLCA), a 400 seat Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) provider in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

TLCA needs to be able to support new campaigns launched by their clients quickly and effectively. Like many BPO providers, TLCA needs to launch new campaignsquickly and must minimize the amount of agent training required to support new clients and campaigns.

Another key requirement for TLCA was to be self-sufficient with respect to how they engage and support their clients. TLCA relies ontheir employeesfor all development activities associated with creating solutionsthat serve as the foundation to their core business. They sought a solution that would allow them to add clients quickly and create campaigns without the need for highly-skilled programmers or other external resources.

Finally, they needed a solution that provided improved visibility into business performance. Specifically, metrics and other details associated with individual calls, theentirecampaign, campaigns for specific clients and campaigns for all clients. This improved visibility is now being provided by the RiverStar Reporting Engine framework.

RiverStar Studio is a rapid development platform used to create customweb applications. It contains a graphical user interface that does not require traditional programming skills. For TLCA, the RiverStar Agent Desktop framework, built using RiverStar Studio, provides a unified agent desktop for these key business activities, such as telephony, chat and inbound email.

RiverStar supported these key business activities through:

  • Studio allowsTLCA rapidly create custom work flows needed to support clients and client campaigns
  • Embedded inContact call control in the desktop for telephony, chat and work items,
  • Process based workflows within the desktop,
  • Searchable, data-driven reference information, e.g., FAQs, Reference Documents, Reference Links, and
  • Rapid integration with enterprise systems embedded in the workflows

In less than four months, the TLCA team used RiverStar Studio and the RiverStar Agent Desktop framework to introducea new contact center solution that resulted in these key business objectives:

  • Replaced anoutdated premise-based platform
  • Introduced a unified agent desktop
  • Enabled tight integration with inContact call center software
  • Provided the capability tocreate process-based workflowsin support of TLCA clients
  • Improved visibility to key metrics for all campaigns through improved reporting

“Virtually allBPOs, and many other kinds of organizations, require a scripting or workflow solution to address core business needs. I have yet to see a solution that offers the richness, capabilities and ease of use that RiverStar Studio offers”, says Brian Theusch, Senior Director Information Technology, TLCA.

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Are Returns Bringing Down your Holiday Season?

At RiverStar, we keep a keen eye on return patterns and how companies deal with these returns. Last year, we conducted a Return Management Study and were able to gather a great deal of data around company processes, customer behaviors and customer service activities related to online return management. The conclusion wasn’t pretty: most companies are still in the dark ages when it comes to handling online returns, with manual processes still prevailing. AND, it’s only going to get more complicated.

Cyber Monday has taken hold and the trend of online purchasing is quickly on the rise. Just released 2010 Cyber Monday sales data shows that revenues have topped $1 Billion for the first time. This increase provides further evidence that consumers are more comfortable shopping online and trusting in the cyber experience and security. However, with multi-channel shopping, comes multi-channel returns. Web self service return management processes will need to be optimized in order to handle the return volume. The good news is that the RiverStar Return Management Study revealed that 2/3rds of the companies surveyed determined that Return Management is a key part of their customer service strategy; concluding that companies are realizing that this process is very important to future success. Not only are these processes key to customer service excellence, they can significantly effect product profitability if the company is not efficient in their workflow and is also absorbing the costs of return shipments.
Fraud is an additional aspect to consider when it comes to the holiday return season. Fraud is always on the rise and will be again this year, creating an estimated $3.7 Billion in losses for retailers this season. Weighing the scales of customer service and fraud detection is a tricky balancing act. Pull the wrong lever and lose a customer for life.
Finally, the impact of the return experience greatly affects consumer loyalty. The reference to Zappos is always in play when talk of loyalty appears. The Zappos return policy is so wide open, that the low risk purchase decisions give consumers a reason to premeditate future purchases. It has been clearly cited that great customer service practices can lead to marketing and branding opportunities for organizations. Return management is a huge part of the customer service experience.

This year, the return window continues to widen, providing consumers an additional length of time to return products. Shopping for the holidays seems to start earlier and earlier, requiring many retailers to extend the return timeframe until January 31. Extending these timeframes requires companies to staff up and be on the ball with their return management practices in order to maintain top levels of customer service and seamless experiences across all channels. It will be interesting to see the satisfaction results for 2010 since the drop in return experience from 2008 to 2009 was so drastic. With customer service becoming a cornerstone competitive advantage, companies must find a way to turn their return processes into consistent and repeatable outstanding customer experiences.

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Does Black Friday and Door Buster Deals Influence Customer Loyalty?

Black Friday is quickly becoming a national pastime; a shopping holiday tradition. In fact, over the past few years, Black Friday has become a major retail earnings indicator for the shopping season around the Holiday Season. In summing up the revenue share of the Black Friday weekend, Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Research Group, states that 25% of the total holiday spend will occur over the Black Friday weekend. But, the real question is whether the Black Friday activity is an indicator of sustainable shopping habits associated with particular brands. In the end, the retailers prefer loyalty and repeat business throughout the year, spending money on more profitable items.

The “Black Friday” phrase originated in 1966 in Philadelphia, but was really coined as a mainstream term associated with the Christmas Holiday season in 2003 after it achieved the #1 ranking of the busiest shopping day of the year. More recently, the clear objective around black Friday is to start the day off by attracting customers with door buster deals at 5am (or earlier) in hopes of each person walking out of the store with more than just loss-leading products.

Is there a loyalty factor amongst those that are lining up to barge through the doors at 5am in order to race their way to the best deals? I say maybe, but likely not. In order to understand whether a retailer is really capturing the long term earnings of these individuals, we need to make a few assumptions:

  1. It is likely that any individual waking up at 2, 3 or 4am to get in a line (sometimes in the bitter cold) in order to score deep discounts on products that are limited (sometimes only 2-3 per store), is clearly acting on the motivation of pure savings and nothing else. If savings weren’t the motivating factor, shopping during normal business hours would occur.
  2. It is physically impossible to be in more than one place at a time. People have decisions to make and those that are braving the crowds at 5am are choosing one destination over another driven primarily by total net savings. Highest priority location is based on the best deal, not necessarily the loyalty of the consumer to the retailer.
  3. Door buster patrons face the risk of being trampled and are doing so for the sake of getting a great discount on a particular item(s). Taking such a risk is usually not displayed by a person that is shopping purely for the sake of being loyal to a retail establishment.

On the flipside, there is an argument that supports consumer behavior and activity related to Black Friday shopping. Many brand loyal customers will in fact make their shopping rounds to preferred locations during the course of Black Friday. It is not clear to me that this same loyalty motivates the brand loyal consumers toward the door buster savings activity

Brand loyalty psychology is a vastly studied topic with numerous experts stating studies and research that support the reasons for brand loyalty. Bill Nissim, a brand management expert, cites research from Bloomer and Kasper that outlines the distinction between repeat purchases and brand loyalty. The clear distinction is based off of pre-meditated behavior prior to the action, which determines a loyal patron, versus a consumer that has repeat brand purchases. Of course, we aren’t certain without conducting the right studies, as to whether or not the door buster consumer experience is in fact one that will sustain premeditated future purchases relating to the brand in question.

The consumer behavior black box model outlines buying patterns and breaks down the buying equation. However, I would jump out on a limb by stating that the key environmental factor in door buster deals is purely price motivation. Of course, with some consumers, it’s the thrill of the chase and the experience of the season.

So, the original question “Do Black Friday and Door Buster Deals Influence Customer Loyalty?” still needs answering. In reviewing many of the consumer loyalty equations and models, there are very few pieces of evidence that support the activity in creating such an experience to obtain future brand loyalty. Taking the motivational factors of the consumer and placing them against the retailer promotions, I can’t see the mapping between the two activities. In fact, looking at the typical ratio of employees:consumers at any given door buster event, the consumer far outweighs the employee. One basic definition states that customer loyalty is achieved through satisfying, acknowledging, rewarding and following up with the customer. I find it hard to believe that any establishment can effectively and predictably map the long term benefit of customer loyalty to Black Friday. Of course, I’m willing to hear all arguments…

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