WO2001003042A1 - Method and apparatus for electronic commerce - Google Patents

Method and apparatus for electronic commerce Download PDF

Info

Publication number
WO2001003042A1
WO2001003042A1 PCT/US2000/018448 US0018448W WO0103042A1 WO 2001003042 A1 WO2001003042 A1 WO 2001003042A1 US 0018448 W US0018448 W US 0018448W WO 0103042 A1 WO0103042 A1 WO 0103042A1
Authority
WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
customer
method
step
information
service
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2000/018448
Other languages
French (fr)
Other versions
WO2001003042B1 (en
WO2001003042A9 (en
Inventor
Marco Ricotta
Benjamin Shabtai
Original Assignee
Tel O Net, Llc.
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US14265199P priority Critical
Priority to US60/142,651 priority
Application filed by Tel O Net, Llc. filed Critical Tel O Net, Llc.
Publication of WO2001003042A1 publication Critical patent/WO2001003042A1/en
Publication of WO2001003042B1 publication Critical patent/WO2001003042B1/en
Publication of WO2001003042A9 publication Critical patent/WO2001003042A9/en

Links

Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q30/00Commerce, e.g. shopping or e-commerce
    • G06Q30/06Buying, selling or leasing transactions

Abstract

In a method for electronic commerce, a telephone call is received from a customer (200). Customer identification information is collected. A request for a product, service or information is received from the customer via the telephone call (205). Credit or debit card information is received from the customer. The request is received by a human operator. The Internet is searched for the requested product, service or information. The search result are reported to the customer. An authorization is from the customer. An order for goods or services is placed with a vendor found by the search. Customer identification information and information characterizing the order is stored in a database. The goods are shipped directly from the vendor to the customer. The customer identification information may be sold to third parties. In another embodiment, telephone answering services are sold to a customer. Telephone calls are received on behalf of the customer, wherein the telephone calls are launched by a caller selecting an icon or hypertext link in a web browser of the caller. The icon or hypertext link may appear on a web page of the customer. The received telephone calls are answered by a human operator.

Description

METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR ELECTRONIC COMMERCE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION The present invention relates to methods and apparatus for facilitating purchases of goods, services and information using electronic commerce.

DESCRIPTION OF THE RELATED ART Electronic Commerce ( 'e-commerce") is rapidly changing the landscape of retail sales and distribution throughout the world. This phenomenon embraces several channels of commerce, but principally finds its most common format in telemarketing and sales on the

Internet. The former has been prevalent for many years. Internet sales have begun to blossom only in the last half of the decade of the 1990's. Although the Internet is not expected to displace traditional sales channels, it is making marked inroads.

That having been said, however, the most important element in retail sales is the connection between the ultimate customer and the source of the goods he or she desires The

Internet is teaπng down old bπdges between the manufacturer and the ultimate consumer.

The new compelling attractiveness of the Internet as an efficient sales tool is widely recognized. The largest impediment to growth is relative lack of access by the masses.

Although computers are now in over 50% of Amencan households and 30% of them are connected to the Internet, most middle class shoppers still do not have access or know how to either get to the sellers on the Internet, or have knowledge or confidence buying there.

People who can access the Internet may discover certain "help" sources such as "Yellowpages.com", "Yahoo' Yellow Pages", "About.com" or other shopping malls Also, they may leam to use standard Search Engines that are well known and easily accessible on the Internet such as Lycos and Alta Vista. However, they may fumble around for products and information (consuming much valuable time and becoming frustrated with the expeπence), without ever finding the products, services or informauon for which they are searching.

The e-commerce industry is still in its infancy. The only services currently available to help consumers find their way through the morass are a few so-called "shopping malls" one can visit to select categoπes of goods (such as "boys clothing") and the hyperlinks to companies that sell such items. This does not help customers find the best deals available, because the links are set up between companies that pay one another for maintaining the links. Further, none of these resources helps people who are not connected to the Web or lack confidence in transacting trade there. This leaves a very large void in assisting the general public in accessing the commercial opportunities on the Web.

U S. Patent 5,794,207 to Walker et al. (hereinafter, 'the '207 Patent") is incorporated by reference herein, in its entirety The '207 Patent descnbes a reverse auction system in which buyers and sellers communicate in an off-line manner with a central controller. Rather than sending electronic mail or using web-based servers, buyers and sellers use a telephone, fax machine, postal mail, or other off-line communication tool A buyer may use a telephone, for example, to generate a conditional purchase offer (CPO) The buyer calls the central controller and is connected with an agent. The buyer provides the terms of the CPO such as subject, descπption of goods, conditions, expiration date, pπce. etc. The buyer also provides his buyer LO. password, or pπvate key so that the central controller can authenticate his identity. The agent puts this data into digital form by typing it into a terminal. The CPO is then transmitted to the central controller where it is made available to potential sellers

The '207 Patent descπbes an alternative embodiment, in which the buyer calls the central controller and is connected with a conventional Interactive Voice Response Unit (IVRU) which allows the buyer to enter some or all of the terms of a CPO without the assistance of a live agent.

The buyer miually selects from a menu of subjects using the touch-tone keys of his phone, and then the call is either directed to a live agent specializing in that subject area, or the buyer is prompted for further terms of the CPO.

An alternative method for customers to shop on the Internet is desired.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION The present invention is a method for taking advantage of the advances in electronic commerce to provide customers with a simple to use efficient means to purchase goods, services and information. A telephone call is received from a customer. A request for a product, service or information is received from the customer via the telephone call. An expeπenced human operator receives the call and searches the company's own database and the Internet for the requested product, service or information. The search results are reported to the customer.

Another aspect of the invention is a method of electronic commerce in which telephone answeπng services are sold to an Internet business customer. Telephone calls are received on behalf of the customer, wherein the telephone calls are launched by a caller requiπng assistance from a live person while transacting business at the customer's web site. The call would be launched automatically by the caller selecting an icon or hypertext link in a web browser.

Additional aspects of the invention include an apparatus for performing the method, a machine-readable medium encoded with computer program code for causing a computer to perform the method, and an electπcal signal encoded with computer program code for causing a computer to perform the method.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 is a flow chart diagram showing the main process flow for directing calls in a method according to the invention.

FIG. 2 is a flow chart diagram showing the mam process flow for making sales to new and existing customers.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram of an exemplary system according to the present invention.

? . FIGS. 4A-4K show computer display screens that are displayed by an exemplary software program used in accordance with the invenuon.

FIG. 5 is a flow chart of the electronic accounting process performed in a preferred embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION U S. Provisional Application 60/142,651, filed July 6, 1999 is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety

The present invention is a method (service) provided for the purpose of solving a significant cry for help emerging from the public. This method offers the general public direct assistance in obtaining information and purchasing goods and services offered over the Internet. The services are particularly helpful to three classes of individuals who are unable to accomplish their Web based objectives either because of (1) lack of adequate hardware or Internet access, (2) inadequate skills to surf the Internet and find and execute their transacuons or (3) lack of adequate time to search for the items needed.

These customers access the services provided by the Service Provider according to the invention by calling a telephone number (preferably a toll free number) for service. As used herein, the term "Service Provider" refers to a person or organization that provides the service of (1) receiving an off-line communication (voice, fax or e-mail) from a customer containing a request for a product, service or information; and (2) searches the Internet to find a product, service or information to sausfy the request; and (3) reports the results to the customer using an off-line communication ) The calls are handled by an Interactive Voice RecogniUon Unit (IVR) that prompts the caller to answer questions that identify the caller's needs The lmUal question asks the caller to choose between English and Spanish. The call will then proceed in the chosen language with the second question asking the caller to choose between sales assistance and customer service. If the choice is sales the customer is then asked to choose from a menu of available products. Customer service will be chosen if the caller has questions about a previous order or is calling to obtain information rather than products. The Service Provider utilizes a skill-based system for routing calls to its agents. Unlike most automated call systems, which direct calls to the agent who has been inactive for the longest time, this system directs the call to the agent with the highest skill level to meet the caller's needs as defined by the answers given in the ΪYR. As a result customers are assisted with their needs for goods or services by a Product Specialist trained and qualified to provide advice m the appropnate product category. The customers are enabled to obtain the information, service or product they seek, at competitive pnces. with courteous and effective service from the Service Provider's agents. Further, they receive high quality goods and services provided by the vendors of the end products or services.

The Service Provider profits by purchasing goods from vendors at a discount from their posted pnces in the Internet and possibly marking the products up with a small fee to cover the costs of providing the service Additionally, the Service Provider seeks to cross-sell other products or services to its customers at a profit and also sell the data base information it gathers during the course of conducting its normal operations.

Using a method according to the invention provides customers with the ability to "call the

Internet on the telephone." This method can be used for accessing all Internet resources when a customer is "running into a brick wall," trying to research topics on the Internet or purchase anything, from a book to a home, on the Internet. The Service Provider provides a place to call via a toll free number for efficient, cost effective service to accomplish these goals.

The method provides significantly higher levels of security to the customer than would be experienced in standard Internet transactions. The customer will pay the Service Provider, usually by credit card with the information given over the telephone. At no time is the customer's credit card information sent or in any way provided to any party over the Internet. When product is sourced from one of the Service Provider's preferred vendors, no aspect of the transaction is performed on the Internet. If the purchase is made from an Internet vendor the customer's name and address will be provided for shipping purposes. Preferably, the Service Provider uses a secure Internet connection for all purchases to minimize the risk of any unauthorized use of this data.. For example, a security mechanism may be used of the type described in U.S. Patent 5,825,890 to Elgamal, et al., which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety. Alternatively, other known security features may be used. Thus, the Service Provider can provide Internet Security that the customer may not be able to obtain with the customer's own software configuration.

The method according to the invention provides Internet access to a vast array of potential customers who would otherwise shy away from the Internet as a source of information, products and services. It expands Internet use and fosters wider acceptance of the Internet as a primary source of such information, products and services. Being Internet oriented and heavily supported by computer software, the Service Provider requires only a relatively small core of corporate personnel. Its primary presence is through its sales agents on the telephones and a computer network connected to the Internet. Preferably, all agents are linked through the Service Provider's Intranet and all transactions are fully automated.

Preferably, the Service Provider does not actually take physical possession of any goods it sells. Rather, they are shipped directly from the vendor to the customer, with the Service

Provider standing in the middle as a facilitator.

The Service Provider provides a system for receiving inbound telephone calls from prospective or current retail customers seeking assistance with buying goods, services or information on the Internet. These customers may be, for example, consumers who desire to take advantage of the price and convenience advantages of the Internet, but wish to have a third party "expert" assist them with Internet purchases, because they either don't have time, don't have Internet access or are intimidated by the process of buying on the Internet. These services may include (1) researching specific information requirements using the Internet as a research tool; (2) searching for and purchasing any products or services available on the Internet required by the customer, or (3) cross-selling related products and services the customers do not ask for but may require (such as auto insurance for a car buyer).

Although the preferred method according to the invention involves a telephone communication between the customer and an agent of the Service Provider, the request from the customer may alternatively be transmitted to the Service Provider by other off-line communication methods, such as via facsimile, electronic mail (e-mail) or the postal service or pπvate couner. The Service provider will also make communication available through its own Internet site by two different methods. Firstly customers will have the option to complete a product request form on-line and transmit this to the Service Provider over the Internet. Using cutting edge technology customers will be able to use a "Click to Call" feature which enables them to speak to a Service Provider agent over their computer, while remaining on-line.

Product and Service Description

FIG 1 is a flow chart diagram showing the mam inbound call process flows for a method according to the invention. At step 101, a customer calls the Service Provider's toll-free number, which may have an area code of "800," "888," or the like. Although a human operator can answer the call, an automated attendant preferably handles the initial call processing. At step 102, when a call is initially received it goes in to the Interactive Voice Recognition unit (IVR), where the caller is interrogated about the purpose of her call. At step 103, the caller is asked to select between English and Spanish (block 111) languages. At step 104, customers are asked to choose between sales and customer service. If they choose customer service (block 112), the call is routed to the next available Customer Service Representative (CSR). At step 105, when a customer chooses the sales option, she is then asked to select the product category for the ιtem(s) she wishes to purchase. This process creates a profile of the customer and her current needs, allowing the call to be routed to the appropπate Telephone Sales Representative (TSR).

At step 106, the software searches for the available TSR with the highest skill level. At step 107, if no TSR is available the call goes to an overflow call center. Calls may also be routed to the overflow call center when the IVR is full and can not accept any more calls. The overflow call center is operated by a third party and the overflow operators take caller mformauon such as name, address, phone number, best time to call, item the caller wishes to purchase and if the caller has found a pπce to beat, the web site where the item was found and the pπce. These data are stored in an electronic file by the overflow company and retπeved electronically by the Service Provider. The data are entered in to the customer log screen (FIG. 5K) indicating that the customer requires a call back. A TSR specializing in the requested item category will research the item and call the customer at the time requested by the customer.

When the IVR interrogation is complete the system forwards the call to the Automated Call Distπbution unit (ACD) for distribution to a CSR or TSR. Unlike most similar systems which route calls to the operators who have been idle for the longest time, the Service Provider system uses stall based routing which directs the call to the TSR with the most appropπate stall set. Each TSR is rated on their stall level in language and each of a number of product categoπes. For example if the customer has been identified in the IVR as a Spamsh speaker looking for a home entertainment system, the call will be directed to a Spanish speaking TSR with a high stall level in consumer electronics products. FIG. 2 is a flow chart diagram showing the processing of the sale transaction after the call is routed to a TSR.

At step 200, when a customer call is directed to a TSR, the TSR is notified that a call has been allocated to him/her. At step 201 the system determines if the caller is an existing customer by reference to the caller's phone number (caller ID, also referred to as "ANI") At step 203, if the caller is recognized, then at step 204, the system extracts the customer history from the database and displays it on the screen. If the call LO is not available or not recognized, then at step 205, the TSR asks the caller if he or she has an existing account, which can be accessed by reference to account number, customer name or phone number. The history is displayed for an existing customer at step 204 If the caller is a first time buyer, the TSR enters the caller's details using the customer input screen at step 205. At step 206 the TSR interrogates the propπetary

Service Provider database to determine if the requested item is available from a preferred vendor. At step 207, the system queπes the existing database of vendors with whom the service provider has a direct distπbutor relationship (also referred to herein as, "distributor-vendors"). At step 208, the system determines, based on the database query, whether any of the distπbutor vendors have the desired product in inventory. If the item is found m the database at step 208, then at step 209, the system displays the descπption on the TSR's screen together with cost and margin data. At step 210, the system determines whether the margin is satisfactory, based on a predetermined threshold. If the margin is satisfactory, the product is offered to the customer. At step 211, when the customer accepts, the system calculates shipping costs by reference to couner (e.g., "FEDERAL EXPRESS® ") rates and computes any applicable sales taxes At step 212, the system calculates the total sales for all items requested by the customer

At step 213, if the customer has so requested, the system apportions the purchase pπce of the item among multiple credit and/or debit cards, based on a customer-defined cπteπon. For example, the pπce may be split evenly among multiple cards, or the customer may select any desired proportional allocation (e.g., 2/3 of the pπce charged to a first card, 1/3 to a second card) or non-proportional allocation (e.g , $25 charged to a first card, the remainder charged to a second card.), or by item (e.g., a first item charged to a first card, and a second item charged to a second card.

If the item is not found in the database under distnbutor-vendors at step 208, and no satisfactory substitute for the item is found, or if the margin is unacceptable at step 210, then step

216 is performed.

At step 216, the TSR searches affiliate databases for the item An affiliate is an Internet Worldwide Web site with which the service provider has previously negotiated a commission, to be paid to the service provider whenever the service provider negotiates the sale of a purchase from that affihate's web site. To do this, the TSR first refers to an affiliate Page (preferably stored on the computer of the TSR m electronic form; See Fig. 4G) to identify the preferred affiliate-vendors for the requested item category When an affiliate is selected the TSR clicks on that affiliate and is automatically routed over the internet to a page on the affiliate's web site which recognizes that the TSR is contacting the site from the Service Provider. At step 217, the system queπes the database for affiliate-vendors that may have the item. At step 218, if the item is found on the affiliate's site the TSR enters the pπce on to the sale screen. At step 219, the system retπeves the details of the Service Provider's discount or commission rate and calculates the margin if the purchase is to be made from the affiliate. This process can be repeated for any number of affiliates, by returning to step 216. At the end of this process, once the TSR has checked the pnces and margins offered by all of the affiliate-vendors who stock the item, the TSR determines whether the item can be purchased from any of the affiliate- vendors and provide an adequate margin. If more than one affiliate- vendors provide an adequate margin, the software ranks the affiliates based on the amount of the commission, allowing the TSR to readily identify the affiliate vendor that provides the greatest margin on the sale. The TSR completes the sale by performing steps 211-215.

At step 214, the TSR receives authoπzation from the customer's credit card processor that the transaction is authoπzed, but the customer's account is not actually charged until the sale is recognized (see below). If the TSR has any difficulty meeting the caller's requirements, he/she may choose to ask the customer if they would prefer not to stay on the line but allow a CSR to do the required research and make a call back. If the customer chooses to receive a call back, then at step 221, the system organizes agent callbacks by caller, date and status. The screen also keeps details of the customer's requirements The software automatically creates accounting entπes for the sale and the purchase order placed on the vendor At step 222, the CSR makes the customer call when the appropπate information is available

Since the Service Provider can not recognize the sale or charge the customer's credit card until goods are shipped the order is held as an open sales order in the system. At step 215, an order is placed on the vendor to ship the item to the customer. The order is placed on preferred vendors using a third party which daily performs an electronic data collection process by which vendor orders are extracted from the Service Provider's system. For affiliate vendors the order is placed on the vendor at the time the sale is confirmed at the affiliate web site. When product is shipped by a preferred vendor, electronic notification is received from the vendor via the same third party that processes the orders. Affiliate vendors notify the Service Provider by e-mail when the product has shipped and this information is entered to the accounting system. When confirmation of shipment is received the software automatically processes the required accounting transactions. These include, changing the status of the sale from open to closed, posting the revenue to the appropπate general ledger account, closing the purchase order and accruing the amount due to the vendor, processing the credit card payment and booking the cash receivable and credit card commissions payable. Internet-based Information Searches - Although the Service Provider primarily offers services performed by the human agents to assist customers in searching the Internet for information and products that they may wish to buy, other types of products and services may also be offered. At step 206, the caller may request information research. This step involves the same resources as a product search. The member may have requirements for a specific search for information that can be obtained on the Internet. The customer authorizes a specific amount of time / cost to have the Information Specialist search for this type of information. The customer and information specialist agree on the form and time of delivery of the information to the member. The customer's account is billed accordingly.

At step 206, customers may be directed to human operators to provide other available services, which are described below in the paragraphs that follow.

Special Promotional Opportunities - As the Service Provider develops a relationship with various vendors on the Internet, it will have the opportunity to sell promotional opportunities to those vendors. For instance, the Service Provider may offer any of the vendors on the Internet a Callback service. In this case, the vender is the Service Provider's client.

Using this capability, any caller visiting the web site of the Service Provider's client can click an icon or hypertext link to launch a telephone call and get a live service representative on the telephone immediately. For example, the client may be interested in purchasing and giving away free airline tickets to certain customers. These, and other promotional opportunities are available to be sold by Service Provider.

Outsourced Customer Service - The Service Provider can make its CSR/TSR's available to other small vendors who need customer service people available on the telephone, but who cannot afford to identify, hire and train a customer service staff. These clients could contract with the Service Provider to provide agents, who are already "standing by" the telephone line and Intemet-savvy, to become a customer service representative. In fact, the Service Provider may act as an "Internet clearing house," providing "one stop shopping" for customers who wish to access any of the variety of different e-commerce resources, such as on-line retailers, on-line auctions, reverse auctions, and others. For example, based on a single customer request, the Service Provider may: (1) search the Worldwide Web for the lowest price on a product, (2) place a bid on the same product (using an on-line auction service) at a discount price that is lower than the lowest price found by the search, and (3) if the bid is not accepted, place a conditional purchase offer (CPO) for the product at the discount price (using an on-line reverse auction service).

The Service Provider may enhance its profitability as an intermediate buyer from vendors, by soliciting discounts from those vendors beyond that normally offered on the Internet. Therefore, if a member of the Service Provider service purchased goods obtained from that vendor, the company will pay a pπce even further discounted below the list pπce being paid by the customer and keep that difference as additional profit.

Generally goods and services are very competitively pπced on the Internet, and thus, even with a markup charged by the Service Provider, products and services can be delivered according to the above descπbed method at competitive pnces that will attract customers.

The Service Provider may provide a general busmess-to-busmess outsourced purchasing service. In this capacity, the Service Provider may perform services similar to those performed for consumers. Some adaptations may be made to accommodate the needs of businesses. For example, a business may be billed by invoice, whereas a consumer is more likely to pay via a credit or debit card, the number of which is provided to the Service Provider duπng membership registration. Also, the basis for billing a business may differ from that used with a consumer. Whereas a consumer is more likely to pay only for products, services or information actually purchased, a business may pay the Service Provider based on the amount of time spent by the Product Specialist or the particular Product Specialist performing the searching. A business may be identified by an account number, instead of by a person's name. A business may also have a plurality of authoπzed users of the Service Provider's services.

Software Tools The Service Provider uses software tools to register customers, store customer data, perform Internet searching, collect and analyze data related to vendors of products purchased by the customers, and the like. Preferably, the computer software is designed and developed to link telephone based information such as Automated Number Identification ("ANI") with other data base information on potential customers and members. That, in turn, can be linked to product and service requests. The software also tracks and processes collections according to vendor information, Product Specialist activities and vanous calculations associated with each transaction. A relational database management system is well suited to this task.

Product Specialists are identified and cataloged as to stalls (i.e., product expertise), availability, cost and technical ability This enables the Service Provider to determine what types of callers can be assigned to the Product Specialists and when. When a previously registered customer calls to request a purchase, an appropnate Product Specialist is assigned to handle the call. The assignment process may be performed m a vaπety of ways.

For example, the customer can select a category by interacting with the automated attendant telephony software, selecting the appropπate category of goods, service or information. The software can then automatically rank the Product Specialists in order of their ability to service this particular customer's needs. The software can determine the highest ranked Product Specialist who is currently available to talk to the customer, and connect the customer with that Product Specialist. Many Vendors are generally available on the Internet. Preferably, the Service Provider establishes special arrangements with many of them as to payment media, terms (discounts) and delivery of goods. These vendors are referred to herein as affiliate-vendors. Also, efforts are preferably made to negotiate with vendors to discount their pnces below their "list pnces" in exchange for the cost relief they will enjoy by not directly billing credit cards on sales through the Service Provider. (The customer pays the Service Provider by credit or debit card, and the Service Provider pays the vendor via the medium agreed upon.) Further, the Service Provider can negotiate with Prefeπed Vendors to obtain further discounted pncing from publicly listed pnces. The Service Provider can then enjoy a portion of the sales pπce through marking products up to the posted list pπce displayed by the vendor.

The computer software allows the management of telephone calls, data collection, data management, product purchasing, product distribution and accounting.

The exemplary data management system is a fully integrated data management system, with functions including staff and user identification and implementation, adding customers and maintaining customer files, identifying products for customer purchase, ordeπng, shipping, and finally, if necessary, return and refund.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram of a system according to the invention. The system is implemented m a distributed computing environment. A plurality of customers 401-403 call the Service Provider using respective telephones 411-413. Preferably, the telephones have a DTMF keypad. The telephones 411-413 of the customers are connected to the service provider's telephones by a telephone network 420. The Service Provider should have a pπvate branch exchange (PBX) 421 for distnbuting the incoming calls from the telephone network 420 to the telephones 431-433 of the Product Specialists 441-443.

The Product Specialists 441-443 enter data and query the Internet on respective personal computers 451-453 The computers 451-453 are each equipped with a an operating system and web browser program such as Windows ' 98 and Internet Explorer, respectively, both marketed by Microsoft Corp. of Redmond Washington. Other operating systems and browsers may alternatively be used. The computers also have software for read and wπte access to the customer, product and vendor information database. The database may be implemented using a conventional database management system, such as the Oracle system sold by the Oracle

Corporation.

The computers 451-453 are connected to a file server 470 and each other by a local area network (LAN) 460. The LAN 460 is a high speed network, using a standard protocol, such as 10 base T ("Ethernet®") or a faster protocol. The LAN 460 has high speed links (Tl speed or greater) to the Internet 480 (or other global communication network). The file server 470 stores the customer and vendor information database. The vendors have their own web site hosts 491- 493 that are accessible by the Product Specialist computers 451-453 over the Internet.

The data management system is menu-dπven, and each of the menus and activities are linked together. Further, although reference is made herein to a "customer database" and a "vendor database," the customer and vendor related information are preferably included within a single database, which may have multiple database views.

The data management system user interface is user-friendly and intuitive. Because the data management system is fully integrated, reports can be generated on a variety of related activities. For example, by querying the customer database, the user can determine how many times a particular customer has called in. what they've purchased, what has been shipped, whether any shipments are still due them, and what has been returned. Alternatively, by querying entries in a particular product category, the user can also find out how many units of any given product have been sold, and the names of the customers to whom these products have been shipped.

Since generally accepted accounting practice (GAAP) does not allow recognition of revenue until product has shipped to the customer and does not allow the customer's credit card to be charged until after shipment, the accounting for the sale is triggered by shipment. Also, since all shipments are drop shipped by the Service Provider's vendors or other third party fulfillment organizations, accounting for the purchase side of the transaction also occurs after shipment. All of this accounting has been automated in the software as shown in FIG. 5.

At step 501, notification of shipment is received electronically for all preferred vendors and entered directly in to the accounting module of the software. At step 502, notification from affiliate or retail vendors is received by e-mail or fax and manually entered in to the accounting software. Step 503 may be performed as often as required during the day. At step 503, the drop ship confirmation program is run. This program automatically performs three functions:

(a) the open purchase order is updated to indicate the items received

(b) the sales order is confirmed as shipped

(c) an internal invoice is generated which results in revenue being recognized and an account receivable is set up.

Step 504 may be performed as often as required during the day, but is not run unless step 503 is run. At step 504, the purchase side of the transaction is effected when the P.O. Transfer program is run. This does the following: (a) charges cost of sales with the cost of the ιtem(s)

(b) accrues the amount due to the vendor in an accrued accounts payable account, and for affiliate and retail sales which were paid by company credit card the additional accounting steps are processed:

(a) the accrual is reversed and the payable credited to the vendor accounts payable account (b) payment is debited to the vendor account and credited to the credit card payable account.

Step 505 is the final step in accounting for the sale is to run the payment processing. This will likely be run daily but may be run at will. This process reviews all closed sales orders and dials out to the credit card processing service to generate the charge to the customers' credit cards. The software then posts the accounts receivable from the customer as paid and generates the posting of the receivable from the bank/credit card company.

FIGS. 4A-4K show screens displayed by the system to enter the database parameters used by the system to receive, track and fulfill customer orders. One of ordinary stall in the art can readily construct data input screens as shown, or similar screens, to input the required data to the database.

FIG. 4A shows an on-screen script. The system has been designed to provide on-screen scripts to aid the sales agents. These scripts are completely programmable by the system administrator and can be easily changed to reflect changes in the business, to highlight special promotions etc. The screen shown in FIG. 5A is used by the TSR at step 201 (FIG. 2), when determining if the caller is a new customer or a repeat customer. Once the TSR knows that, the data may be entered by moving the pointing device to the appropriate tab, and following the script. Alternatively, the TSR can enter the appropriate customer information and hit the find tab at the top of the screen.

FIG. 4B shows a new customer screen that is filled out at step 205 (FIG. 2). The TSR preferably follows the script the way it is written. (The TSR moves the scroll bar to scroll up and down). The TSR fills out complete information on the new customer and inputs the proper notes, such as price to beat, location of item, and name of item(s). The TSR selects the "save disk" button at the top of the screen. (The TSR completes the summary and profile in a wrap-up after the customer is off the phone).

FIGS. 4C-4E show screens that are displayed during step 204 (FIG. 2). FIG. 4C shows a profile screen. The software allows personal data to be maintained on the system for customers such as anniversary dates etc. This enables the agents to act as personal shoppers to the customer. FIG. 4D shows a sales order history. When an existing customer calls, his/her sales history can be retrieved from the database by looking up the customer name, account number or phone number (e.g., entering one of these data in the appropriate field of the skeleton table). If the customer's caller ID is not blocked, the telephone system identifies the caller and automatically presents the customer's personal information and sales history to the agent. FIG. 4E is a summary screen. The nummary screen allows the TSR to see a snap suot of this customer's purchasing record.

FIG. 4F shows a product search screen that is used by the agent at step 206 (FIG. 2). The left section of the screen has a plurality of hyperlinks corresponding to product categories. The right side of the screen includes product search fields. The agent can search by category. Each heading has multiple drop-down menus, which refine the search, eventually down to the product item level. The software allows the item to be selected and entered on the order by "drag and drop" method.

The software allows the agent to highlight any of the drop-down menus, (from the Left side). The agent can select the Find tab and load details of those products found into the description portion of the screen. (Bottom right side)

Another option is a "text search. The agent can input a variety of search criteria as indicated in the upper right side of screen. For example, the description might be "TV" and the Vendor may be "Sony". Any query including one or more values may be entered. FIG. 4G shows an affiliate page displayed at step 216 (FIG. 2). This page assists sales agents in rapidly identifying the most profitable affiliate web sites. The software ranks affiliate web sites based on the commissions paid and provides a direct link to the site identifying the service provider as an affiliate entitled to commissions on sales. It is contemplated that a given affiliate may provide different commissions on respectively different goods, or on different categories of goods. Thus, the order of the ranking on the affiliate screen may depend on the product that is being sought.

FIG. 4H shows an order screen that is used to enter an order once the customer has agreed to the proposed price determined at step 212 (FIG. 2). The agent can select an item using the Browse tab next to the Item Number. To change the shipping company, the agent selects the "Ship via" tab and uses the drop down window to select a choice. To add orders, the agent saves the current order and then selects an "Add" tab at the top of the screen (not shown).

FIG. 41 shows an authorization screen displayed at step 213 (FIG. 2). The system has the capability of retaining data for multiple credit cards with appropriate descriptions such as "Business", "Personal" etc. This allows the representative to charge purchases as directed by customers and if required, split the cost among more than one card. The algorithms within the system enable the agent to apportion the amount between cards based on a given dollar amount or a percentage of the total, as described above.

FIG. 4J shows an order screen with multiple orders that can be filled out at step 213. Because the business model allows suppliers to ship the ordered products directly to the end customer, the software has been designed to facilitate the shipment or each line item to a different address.

FIG. 4K shows an opening screen displayed at step 221. Because customer service is a key feature of the business model, the Service Provider will often offer to research items for the customer off-line and call the customer back. This may happen, for example, when:

• When no agent with the appropriate stall set is available to help the customer.

• When the agent realizes that research will take some time and does not want the customer to remain on hold. • When the customer requests a call back.

• When a call is lost e.g. due to poor cell phone connection.

The computer software tracks all customers requiring call back and displays the list on all agents' screens when the agent logs on or completes a call. The information provided includes details of the customer's requirements. This enables agents to identify customers they can assist and supervisors can use the data to allocate agents to each customer.

Retrieving information from the database is simple. For example, the Number of

Customers Activated in a given day, Numbers of Customer Purchases in a given day or any given period, and the Amount of Specific Products Purchased, Total Sales in a given period and other vital data can all be readily displayed.

Although the database interface is shown and described herein as a separate windows application, the interface may be designed to be executed within a web browser program (for example, using Java® applets. Although the invention has been described in terms of exemplary embodiments, it is not limited thereto. Rather, the appended claim should be construed broadly, to include other variants and embodiments of the invention which may be made by those stalled in the art without departing from the scope and range of equivalents of the invention.

Claims

What is claimed is:
1 A method for electronic commerce, compnsmg the steps of: (a) receiving an offline communication from a customer; (b) receiving a request for a product, service or information from the customer via the offline communication, said request being received by a human operator; (c) searching the Internet for the requested product, service or information; and (d) reporting search results to the customer.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the offline communication is one of the group consisting of a telephone call, a facsimile transmission and an electronic mail message.
3 The method of claim 1, further compnsmg the steps of: (e) receiving an authoπzation from the customer after step (d); and (f) placing an order for goods or services with a vendor found m step (c).
4 The method of claim 3, further compnsmg recording information charactenzing the order m a computer database.
5. The method of claim 3, further compnsmg the step of receiving a credit card number or debit card number from the customer before step (c).
6. The method of claim 3, further compnsmg the step of negotiating a discount on future purchase from the vendor.
7 The method of claim 3, further compnsmg the steps of identifying goods or services to the customer related to or usable with the ordered goods or services; and performing an additional search for the related goods or services on behalf of the customer.
8 The method of claim 3, further compnsmg the step of: causing the goods to be shipped directly from the vendor to the customer
9 The method of claim 1, wherein step (a) includes receiving customer identification information via an automated attendant.
10. The method of claim 9, further compnsmg the step of stoπng the customer identification information in an electronic database.
11. The method of claim 9, further comprising the step of selling the customer identification information.
12. The method of claim 9, wherein the customer identification information is received via dual tone multiple frequency signals or via a voice recognition unit.
13. The method of claim 1, further comprising performing step (c) using an Internet search engine.
14. A method of electronic commerce, comprising the steps of: selling telephone answering services to a client; and receiving telephone calls on behalf of the client, wherein the telephone calls are launched by a caller selecting an icon or hypertext link in a web browser of the caller.
15. The method of claim 14, wherein the icon or hypertext link appears on a web page of the customer.
16. The method of claim 14, wherein the received telephone calls are answered by a human operator.
17. Apparatus comprising: means for receiving an offline communication from a customer; means for receiving a request for a product, service or information from the customer via the offline communication, said request being received by a human operator; means for searching the Internet for the requested product, service or information; and means for reporting search results to the customer.
18. A machine-readable storage medium encoded with computer program code that causes a computer to perform the method of any one of claims 1 to 16.
19. An electronic signal encoded with computer program code that causes a computer to perform the steps of: (a) receiving an offline communication from a customer; (b) receiving a request for a product, service or information from the customer via the offline communication, said request being received by a human operator; (c) searching the Internet for the requested product, service or information; and (d) reporting search results to the customer.
PCT/US2000/018448 1999-07-06 2000-07-05 Method and apparatus for electronic commerce WO2001003042A1 (en)

Priority Applications (2)

Application Number Priority Date Filing Date Title
US14265199P true 1999-07-06 1999-07-06
US60/142,651 1999-07-06

Applications Claiming Priority (1)

Application Number Priority Date Filing Date Title
AU60720/00A AU6072000A (en) 1999-07-06 2000-07-05 Method and apparatus for electronic commerce

Publications (3)

Publication Number Publication Date
WO2001003042A1 true WO2001003042A1 (en) 2001-01-11
WO2001003042B1 WO2001003042B1 (en) 2001-03-08
WO2001003042A9 WO2001003042A9 (en) 2002-07-25

Family

ID=22500741

Family Applications (1)

Application Number Title Priority Date Filing Date
PCT/US2000/018448 WO2001003042A1 (en) 1999-07-06 2000-07-05 Method and apparatus for electronic commerce

Country Status (2)

Country Link
AU (1) AU6072000A (en)
WO (1) WO2001003042A1 (en)

Citations (10)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US5644686A (en) * 1994-04-29 1997-07-01 International Business Machines Corporation Expert system and method employing hierarchical knowledge base, and interactive multimedia/hypermedia applications
US5745360A (en) * 1995-08-14 1998-04-28 International Business Machines Corp. Dynamic hypertext link converter system and process
US5889506A (en) * 1996-10-25 1999-03-30 Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. Video user's environment
US5948059A (en) * 1997-03-21 1999-09-07 International Business Machines Corporation Method and apparatus for synchronizing multimedia messages in different servers
US5951638A (en) * 1997-03-21 1999-09-14 International Business Machines Corporation Integrated multimedia messaging system
US5960073A (en) * 1997-04-03 1999-09-28 Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories , Inc. Method and apparatus for providing an interactive home agent with access to call center functionality and resources
US5990927A (en) * 1992-12-09 1999-11-23 Discovery Communications, Inc. Advanced set top terminal for cable television delivery systems
US6061660A (en) * 1997-10-20 2000-05-09 York Eggleston System and method for incentive programs and award fulfillment
US6097375A (en) * 1996-12-13 2000-08-01 International Business Machines Corporation System, method, and pointing device for remote operation of data processing apparatus
US6134019A (en) * 1998-09-03 2000-10-17 Xerox Corporation Help button service for a user interface in a digital printing scanning or facsimile system

Patent Citations (13)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US5990927A (en) * 1992-12-09 1999-11-23 Discovery Communications, Inc. Advanced set top terminal for cable television delivery systems
US5644686A (en) * 1994-04-29 1997-07-01 International Business Machines Corporation Expert system and method employing hierarchical knowledge base, and interactive multimedia/hypermedia applications
US5806056A (en) * 1994-04-29 1998-09-08 International Business Machines Corporation Expert system and method employing hierarchical knowledge base, and interactive multimedia/hypermedia applications
US5870768A (en) * 1994-04-29 1999-02-09 International Business Machines Corporation Expert system and method employing hierarchical knowledge base, and interactive multimedia/hypermedia applications
US5720007A (en) * 1994-04-29 1998-02-17 International Business Machines Corporation Expert system and method employing hierarchical knowledge base, and interactive multimedia/hypermedia applications
US5745360A (en) * 1995-08-14 1998-04-28 International Business Machines Corp. Dynamic hypertext link converter system and process
US5889506A (en) * 1996-10-25 1999-03-30 Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. Video user's environment
US6097375A (en) * 1996-12-13 2000-08-01 International Business Machines Corporation System, method, and pointing device for remote operation of data processing apparatus
US5948059A (en) * 1997-03-21 1999-09-07 International Business Machines Corporation Method and apparatus for synchronizing multimedia messages in different servers
US5951638A (en) * 1997-03-21 1999-09-14 International Business Machines Corporation Integrated multimedia messaging system
US5960073A (en) * 1997-04-03 1999-09-28 Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories , Inc. Method and apparatus for providing an interactive home agent with access to call center functionality and resources
US6061660A (en) * 1997-10-20 2000-05-09 York Eggleston System and method for incentive programs and award fulfillment
US6134019A (en) * 1998-09-03 2000-10-17 Xerox Corporation Help button service for a user interface in a digital printing scanning or facsimile system

Also Published As

Publication number Publication date
WO2001003042A9 (en) 2002-07-25
WO2001003042B1 (en) 2001-03-08
AU6072000A (en) 2001-01-22

Similar Documents

Publication Publication Date Title
Jun et al. The key determinants of internet banking service quality: a content analysis
Resnick et al. Reputation systems
US7599859B2 (en) Communications network interface for user friendly interactive access to online services
KR100782200B1 (en) Search engine account monitoring
Piccoli et al. Net‐based customer service systems: evolution and revolution in web site functionalities
Bergeron Essentials of CRM: A guide to customer relationship management
Bradshaw et al. Managing customer relationships in the e-business world: how to personalise computer relationships for increased profitability
US9785950B2 (en) Dynamic tracking, analysis and acquisition of e-commerce advertising channels for toll-free markets
US7577582B1 (en) Methods and apparatus for facilitating transactions
US6990457B1 (en) System and method for conducting transactions involving generically identified items
US7181418B1 (en) Internet customer service method and system
US6868395B1 (en) Business transactions using the internet
US7082409B1 (en) Fully integrated on-line interactive purchasing club incorporating extremely rapid fulfillment
US20020147625A1 (en) Method and system for managing business referrals
US20050267787A1 (en) Apparatus and method for an Internet based computer reservation booking system
US20020169664A1 (en) System for providing offers using a billing statement
US20020062218A1 (en) Method and system for providing property management services in an on-line computing evironment
US7023979B1 (en) Telephony control system with intelligent call routing
US20070239560A1 (en) Cost-per-action market driven advertising fee sharing
US6349290B1 (en) Automated system and method for customized and personalized presentation of products and services of a financial institution
US7729945B1 (en) Systems and methods that use geographic data to intelligently select goods and services to offer in telephonic and electronic commerce
US8769567B1 (en) Methods, media, and apparatus for intelligent selection of items encoded onto portable machine-readable entertainment media
US6876973B1 (en) Restaurant directory and marketing system
US20100057556A1 (en) Apparatuses, Methods And Systems To Identify, Generate, And Aggregate Qualified Sales and Marketing Leads For Distribution Via an Online Competitive Bidding System
US20040128224A1 (en) Efficient online auction style listings that encourage out-of-channel negotiation

Legal Events

Date Code Title Description
AL Designated countries for regional patents

Kind code of ref document: A1

Designated state(s): GH GM KE LS MW MZ SD SL SZ TZ UG ZW AM AZ BY KG KZ MD RU TJ TM AT BE CH CY DE DK ES FI FR GB GR IE IT LU MC NL PT SE BF BJ CF CG CI CM GA GN GW ML MR NE SN TD TG

AK Designated states

Kind code of ref document: A1

Designated state(s): AE AG AL AM AT AU AZ BA BB BG BR BY BZ CA CH CN CR CU CZ DE DK DM DZ EE ES FI GB GD GE GH GM HR HU ID IL IN IS JP KE KG KP KR KZ LC LK LR LS LT LU LV MA MD MG MK MN MW MX MZ NO NZ PL PT RO RU SD SE SG SI SK SL TJ TM TR TT TZ UA UG US UZ VN YU ZA ZW

121 Ep: the epo has been informed by wipo that ep was designated in this application
AK Designated states

Kind code of ref document: B1

Designated state(s): AE AG AL AM AT AU AZ BA BB BG BR BY BZ CA CH CN CR CU CZ DE DK DM DZ EE ES FI GB GD GE GH GM HR HU ID IL IN IS JP KE KG KP KR KZ LC LK LR LS LT LU LV MA MD MG MK MN MW MX MZ NO NZ PL PT RO RU SD SE SG SI SK SL TJ TM TR TT TZ UA UG US UZ VN YU ZA ZW

B Later publication of amended claims
AL Designated countries for regional patents

Kind code of ref document: B1

Designated state(s): GH GM KE LS MW MZ SD SL SZ TZ UG ZW AM AZ BY KG KZ MD RU TJ TM AT BE CH CY DE DK ES FI FR GB GR IE IT LU MC NL PT SE BF BJ CF CG CI CM GA GN GW ML MR NE SN TD TG

DFPE Request for preliminary examination filed prior to expiration of 19th month from priority date (pct application filed before 20040101)
WWE Wipo information: entry into national phase

Ref document number: 10037209

Country of ref document: US

REG Reference to national code

Ref country code: DE

Ref legal event code: 8642

COP Corrected version of pamphlet

Free format text: PAGES 1/15-15/15, DRAWINGS, REPLACED BY NEW PAGES 1/15-15/15; DUE TO LATE TRANSMITTAL BY THE RECEIVING OFFICE

AL Designated countries for regional patents

Kind code of ref document: C2

Designated state(s): GH GM KE LS MW MZ SD SL SZ TZ UG ZW AM AZ BY KG KZ MD RU TJ TM AT BE CH CY DE DK ES FI FR GB GR IE IT LU MC NL PT SE BF BJ CF CG CI CM GA GN GW ML MR NE SN TD TG

AK Designated states

Kind code of ref document: C2

Designated state(s): AE AG AL AM AT AU AZ BA BB BG BR BY BZ CA CH CN CR CU CZ DE DK DM DZ EE ES FI GB GD GE GH GM HR HU ID IL IN IS JP KE KG KP KR KZ LC LK LR LS LT LU LV MA MD MG MK MN MW MX MZ NO NZ PL PT RO RU SD SE SG SI SK SL TJ TM TR TT TZ UA UG US UZ VN YU ZA ZW

122 Ep: pct application non-entry in european phase
NENP Non-entry into the national phase in:

Ref country code: JP

DPE2 Request for preliminary examination filed before expiration of 19th month from priority date (pct application filed from 20040101)