Subscribe to long-term relationships – Birchbox makes customer support a thing of beauty with Zendesk
It’s about nurturing a lasting relationship.
That’s the underlying philosophy of customer support espoused by Leanna Nazzisi, senior director of customer operations and communications at online beauty company Birchbox. Founded in 2010, Birchbox is a New York-based online monthly subscription service that sends a box of four or five personalized samples of beauty items, including skincare items, fragrances and assorted cosmetics of 200 brands, to its one million subscribers worldwide. If people find something they like, then they can buy the full size version at The Birchbox Shop
Nazzisi leads customer support and operations, managing approximately 24 agents on the front line of answering service tickets, using Zendesk to support this function:
Many things I do [involve] dive into Zendesk and get all the info from ticket resolution and bring it back to other crossovers [department] teams so we can make changes to our product, our experience and really give them a voice in what they respond to and talk about every day.
The past year has presented particular challenges for Birchbox’s core sales pitch, given that a monthly delivery of beauty samples is “nice to have” rather than “necessary” at a time when the general macroeconomic situation has been so difficult. negatively impacted by COVID-19. While it’s nice to indulge once a month, it’s a discretionary expense. The challenge for Birchbox is to ensure that this discretion is exercised in its favor and that, says Nazzisi, comes down to ensuring that the customer experience is compelling:
This is where we start playing. Can we send additional samples? Can we waive a fee? Can we really figure out what might stop someone from leaving Birchbox, especially if they are affected by COVID? We’ve been able to get really creative with a lot of the things we do in terms of customer service, just getting very personal and human with those interactions.
Nazzisi is a big fan of the “human connection” in customer support, which she says can’t always be digitized. For Birchbox, that means the person-to-person phone call remains a major tool in building those sought-after long-term relationships, an aspect of the company’s operating model that COVID isolation has encouraged:
We’ve actually found that we’re spending a lot more time on the phone this year because I think people are just looking for human interaction. So being able to change our schedule and understand how many people actually want to talk to us, rather than reading an email or reading a text, and being able to plan accordingly so we can talk to everyone world as long as they want to speak for us, it’s been helpful in terms of building a really solid relationship with people, instead of just solving a problem, solving a ticket and moving on to the next one.
The company also found that while mobile drives 85% of traffic, desktop remains a strong customer channel. Nazzisi expected to see an increase in texting activity, but the reality was somewhat different:
We find that much of our Help Center is accessible through the desktop. Many people are on their computer and they contact us [using them] or they browse our site. It’s made it really interesting to realize that maybe we’re going to change a bit and focus more on optimizing our help center, optimizing some things that customers are looking for on desktop rather than mobile.
Zendesk’s research on retail customers found a 30% increase in help desk consultations, which in turn highlights the need for businesses to meet customers where they are in terms of support proactive and contact even before they have a need. For Birchbox, understanding how its subscribers interact with its offering is a priority, says Nazzisi:
One thing that I found very useful for us was to see how many of the articles in our Help Center solve problems on their own, in the sense that customers come to our Help Center, browse articles, read things and then say, ‘You know what, that’s good’ and don’t expect an answer from us.
We’ve done a lot of this work over the past year which has paid off very well, so we’re able to understand exactly what information people are looking for that we can deliver to them right away. And then with the parts they can’t find and they end up contacting us, is there anything we can do so they don’t have to wait? Can we update our experience? Can we update our product? Or can we update our relationships with the brands or vendors we work with so they get this information and self-service [option] is it really clear?
Culture and COVID
While many customer support teams only focus on resolving tickets and hitting KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] Unaware of what is happening elsewhere in the organization, Birchbox encouraged his team to think differently about their roles. Nazisi explains:
Personally, I think for them to feel the value and impact they have on the business, they need to understand how they shape the metrics and how they shape the KPIs that we measure.
To that end, team meetings have become a weekly event where each full-time staff member picks a topic from a KPI report they want to dive into, such as number of contacts per ticket or time spent on the tickets. of a certain type. This allows them to understand more deeply how certain actions can influence these KPIs, explains Nazzisi:
From there, they start making suggestions that are really helpful. There’s something empowering there where they can identify trends, they can see how their work might affect it on a larger scale, and then they’re like, ‘This is something we can change and here’s how I think we should do it. It’s something I’ve already tried with my clients and then shared with the whole team. Everyone is involved, so it’s not just management that makes changes and structures the workflow; it’s the agents themselves now. And because they do most of the work, it gives them a great sense of empowerment that allows them to shape exactly what they want the customer experience to be.
It’s also important for the team to understand that while metrics are important, success isn’t always measured quantitatively, which Nazzisi herself agreed:
I’m such a data-driven person and I really love all the insights and analytics I collect, but at the end of the day, you really can’t put some kind of KPI or number on happiness factor or sentiment in the conversations you have with customers. It’s more about listening to QA [Quality Assurance] phone calls or reading via C-Sat positive [Customer Satisfaction] assessments and get that qualitative view of things.
It also means that support agents understand that it’s okay to take time to improve the customer experience, she adds:
It’s OK to slow down, it’s OK to take a little longer on the phone or take a little longer to fully resolve something, because again, you want to keep that good relationship going. What we did was tweak our KPIs a bit. We used to have something like “12 tickets per hour is success” and now it’s “No, success is what the customer feels”. This is the C-Sat. That’s how many times the ticket reopens if they ask more questions? Are they forwarded to a manager? ‘. These little things were useful to be able to recycle [agents] in the sense that it’s like, ‘You don’t have to push as many answers as you can’.
As with so many other organisations, COVID has meant the Birchbox support team has been working remotely for much of the past year, leading to a need to encourage staff to maintain a balance. healthy work/life, remembering to take time for themselves. . As Nazisi says:
That’s what the [Birchbox] box is, your time for yourself, so we try to bring that [idea] back in the customer support side. It’s 30 minutes without a ticket, without work time, once a week… I think they’ll do a much better job if they don’t spend all those hours just focusing on tickets.
It’s important to strike the right balance, as the current work-from-home situation will likely remain the norm for some time to come. That said, one of the benefits of working remotely and using collaborative technology for meetings has been clearer communication, according to Nazzisi:
We have no choice now. We watch each other through Zoom or through Slack or through Google Hangouts and we need to articulate our words better and our missions and our visions and all the things that we’re working on because we can’t sit in a meeting and chat and brainstorm . It’s something that’s always been very important to me, because we have such a strong and important part-time staff that has always been pushed away and it has seemed in the past that they’ve been left out sometimes or that they don’t just didn’t understand what was going on in the full scale of the business because they weren’t in the office every day.
Now they’re getting exactly the same information as everyone else and there’s this public sharing of knowledge, a cohesion that happens, where everyone starts to know who the other person is, what department they work in and how they can help. And they get information that they can then pass on to each other, share with customers and it really allows them to make decisions in the moment, rather than waiting for information from someone who is full-time staff.
Looking ahead, the question is to what extent the long-term customer relationship can be extended and this is a goal that Nazzisi has some thoughts on:
Something I would really like to explore is trying to find a way to talk to [customers] when they don’t think Birchbox and maybe use something like USPS [US Postal Service], where we can proactively communicate with a customer once their box has been shipped and check and verify if we can maintain that lasting relationship again, even if we don’t speak to them directly or wait until he contacts us.