Retail Peak: Lessons learned and the road ahead with Skinnydip & Cult Beauty

Skinnydip & Cultbeauty

“At Cult Beauty we are really big advocates of using Live Chat via Zendesk especially during our busy periods. We find that customers respond very well to it as a quick fire service and our team enjoys the rapid back and forth with customers.”

Emily Bloomberg

Head of Customer Service at Cult Beauty

"We have on average been able to reach our daily target of first email reply within 24 hours and often we are able to clear our inbox of new tickets and emails at the end of each day, which is a huge success for us as a customer service team and now a realistic exception for us to be hitting during our non-peak months.”

Leonie Dean

Customer Service Manager at Skinnydip

2020 was certainly unprecedented. No one could have planned for the year that saw entire workforces being made to work from home and customers taking to online shopping like never before. For the retail industry this meant having to adapt quickly and adopt new processes and ways of doing things to ensure they could meet customer expectations.

Two retailers acutely aware of just how volatile the past year has been are online beauty brand Cult Beauty and London-based accessories and lifestyle brand Skinnydip. Emily Bloomberg, head of customer service at Cult Beauty, and Leonie Dean, customer service manager at Skinnydip, shared their experiences and lessons learned over the past year, especially during their peak sales period.

Customer is at the heart

For both Cult Beauty and Skinnydip the customer is at the heart of all decision making. Cult Beauty stocks beauty products from almost 300 brands, which have been carefully chosen by a team of in-house beauty devotees. “Just under two million customers shopped with us last year. It was therefore quite busy for our customer service team, which consists of a team of 40 people, who all share our company mission of being the most trusted beauty retailer in the world. For our customer service team this means transparency, empathy and passion for problem solving,” says Emily.

Skinnydip was founded in 2011 with its first product being a phone case, which was launched shortly after the release of the first Apple iPhone. Together with its website, it has London-based stores and over 200 concessions across the globe. “We are dedicated to developing overall customer satisfaction for our young target market. And so it’s essential that our customer service team, which consists of four staff members, offers fast and relevant customer service support to ensure that we are making the most of the huge influx of new customers we saw coming to our website over the last year,” says Leonie.

Of course, like most other companies, 2020 saw Cult Beauty and Skinnydip go from being 100% office-based to 100% home-based. This presented numerous challenges but both immediately saw the advantage of having invested in Zendesk products prior to the start of lockdown in March 2020. “Working more efficiently with Zendesk in how we manage and organise our customer service enquiries has become a key driver to our current and future success,” says Leonie.

Although the adage goes ‘always put your customer first’, both brands knew that to provide the best service to their customers they needed to initially focus on supporting their own customer service teams. This involved ensuring they were properly set up at home and, like being in the office, had a steady stream of internal communication flowing within the team.

“We’d start each day with a daily huddle via Zoom and our teams would continuously communicate through a variety of Slack channels. Our team leaders would also check in with their team members on a very regular basis to ensure that there wasn’t any difference in the morale and support received at home,” says Emily.

The unexpected first peak

While in a normal year the retail peak would traditionally be towards the end of the year, as Emily describes, Cult Beauty experienced two peaks last year, the first being in April 2020 following the start of the first lockdown which saw order volumes increase significantly.

With Skinnydip’s bricks and mortar stores closed, the company had a similar experience as it saw an unprecedented increase in sales and customer demand via its website. “Despite this increase our customers were incredibly tolerant of order and stock delays and missing orders during this first lockdown. We really saw such a positive community and it was quite fantastic to see how our customers and our customer support team really bond during this very difficult time,” says Leonie.

Providing a dry run for what the peak later on in the year might look like, both brands realised that to deal with this surge in customer queries they would have to adapt to a new way of remotely onboarding new team members. This meant hiring staff exclusively via video, which although different was very successful. “We have been really patient with our onboarding approach. They have a two-week onboarding process that includes buddying up with another team member and have the tools to be successful,” says Emily.

Setting up for success

For both brands, preparing for the peak period, which usually spans Black Friday in November to January but can start as early as October to incorporate Cyber Week, was all about agility and making sure they had the processes and procedures in place to be successful. This involved utilising macros, triggers and automations through their Zendesk platforms.

“Previously we had been working from templates to manually answer customer queries. However, having implemented macros in October 2019 it had a phenomenal effect on our email levels. It allowed our team to handle the highest demand our customer service department and our inbox has ever had. For instance, comparing December 2019 to December 2020, we received 2,602 more emails at an average reply time of 42 hours, versus 60 hours the previous year,” says Leonie.

Similarly, for Emily it was paramount that Cult Beauty was planning for the unexpected during this inevitably busy time and so it was crucial that all the processes were set up to support its customer service team. “One such process that I could not recommend enough is looking at your triggers and automations so that you keep communicating with customers in the event that you are struggling with your SLAs. We revisited our macros, we looked at our triggers to ensure that as well as our regular auto response we had additional information to support the peak period, so we had something else ready to fire should we not get back to customers in time. It helped ensure that our customer volumes were not unmanageable,” says Emily.

 

Helping out

With customers no longer being able to contact Cult Beauty and Skinnydip’s customer service teams via a telephony system, the two companies had to provide another means alongside emails for their customers to have their queries answered. A significant breakthrough for Skinnydip was launching the Zendesk Help Centre and Help widget feature on its website. “One week before we launched the Help Centre, new tickets (emails in our inbox) were 1366. One week after we launched the Help Centre, new tickets were down to 902. So we found that the Help Centre and the Help widget had diverted approximately 464 emails versus the week before,” says Leonie.

“This not only supported our workload but also improved our customer service experience as a customer was able to find out the answer to their question immediately. Subsequently we have on average been able to reach our daily target of first email reply within 24 hours and often we are able to clear our inbox of new tickets and emails at the end of each day, which is a huge success for us as a customer service team and now a realistic exception for us to be hitting during our non-peak months,” she adds.

For Cult Beauty, help and support was additionally offered through implementing Live Chat with Zendesk in April 2020. “At Cult Beauty we are really big advocates of using Live Chat via Zendesk especially during our busy periods. We find that customers respond very well to it as a quick fire service and our team enjoys the rapid back and forth with customers,” says Emily.

“We saw over 30,000 contacts come through over Live Chat, which equated for 8% of our contacts last year. We managed to achieve a 59 second wait time and a 62 second reply time and a 92.6% CSAT,” she adds.

Measure of success

There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year but Cult Beauty and Skinnydip were both able to rapidly evolve and have a successful year through being agile. They were able to offer a quality customer experience despite the challenges of their teams operating remotely, and their customers let them know through the positive customer reviews and feedback. “Our Trust Pilot benchmark has grown from 2.5 out of 5 in March 2020 to 3.4 in March 2021. Seeing our positive Trust Pilot reviews for the support and help we’ve been able to provide to our customers has been incredibly motivating for us through this time,” says Leonie.

“The past year has taught us that despite being a relatively small team if we have the right resources and tools in front of us we are able to make the most of the staff members we have. In the coming year, we want to connect with our customers even more and so with Zendesk we will be looking at implementing different methods of communicating like WhatsApp or Live Chat,” she adds.

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