Y = Yaw
A = Alex
A: At the end of the day, what separates a great customer experience, or just a personal experience from any other, is the addition of emotion.
Y: Hello everyone, and welcome to Touchpoints. A show where we celebrate Direct to Consumer leaders, marketers, and operators that are creating breakout brands in the digital era.
In this series, we take an inside look at how the next generation of consumer brands are being built from the ground up. We’ll look at the unique experiences brands create to drive customer love and loyalty, and the obstacles they face scaling their businesses.
I’m Yaw Aning. I’m the co-founder & CEO of Malomo, a shipment tracking platform helping ecommerce brands create experiences that make their customers fall in love.
Today we go inside Outdoor Voices - to learn what it means for ecommerce brands to become relentlessly customer focused. We explore the importance of the customer support function within the business - and illustrate ways that any customer experience team can be turned from a cost center to a driver of innovation that creates a deeper connection with customers.
But before we dive in, I’m feeling very nostalgic today...I’d like to take you back on a quick journey to a much … simpler time.
Oh, to be a kid again. The glorious time when days were spent outside, playing with friends, taking adventures, and not having a care in the world.
Going outside wasn’t tied to a challenge or any specific task, like training for a marathon, getting into better shape, or hitting your 10,000 steps for the day.
But once the sun started going down, the fun was over though, and it was time to go in.
(high pitched voice) Ok, kids, Come inside time for dinner!
You probably still remember when you went in, still excited and loud in the house...the first thing your mom or dad would say...
(high pitched voice) shhhhh...it’s time to use your indoor voices.
Those were the days.
Unfortunately today, as adults going outside is different.
We now use our indoor voices the majority of the time, holding back the desire to play and be carefree and well, do the whole adulting thing.
It took one brand to come along and question that preconceived notion of what being active as an adult really means.
It’s time for everyone to reconnect with their Outdoor Voices.
Outdoor Voices creates activewear, and, unlike the buzzkill of using your indoor voice, the brand’s mission is to inspire recreation and lead people to live happier, healthier & more active lives together.
Tyler Haney, Outdoor Voices founder, wants her brand to feel like catching up with an old friend or the hiking buddy who brings the snacks.
Leading activewear brands like Nike & Under Armour have succeeded on their ability to sell the vision that everyday people can perform like professional athletes like Lebron James or Serena Williams if they wear their products.
Outdoor Voices, on the other hand, was built to serve people who treat activity as recreation instead of competition. Whether it’s at work, a walk, a workout, or a morning coffee, Outdoor Voices products can be worn for all occasions.
It’s summed up concisely in their community’s rallying cry - #doingthings.
They’ve set their vision on creating the next great activewear brand.
To do that, they’ve raised $64M in funding from big names like Forerunner Ventures, General Catalyst, GV, and Drexler Ventures.
But, if you’ve listened to any of our past episodes, you know that growth exposes landmines. As Outdoor Voices has scaled, they’ve had to figure out how to build a post-purchase experience that’s worthy of their brand and their values.
Post-purchase is becoming a thorny issue for high-growth brands. As your sales increase exponentially, so do the challenges managing returns and exchanges, handling customer support issues from delayed or lost packages, making sure customers buy the correct fitting size – scale can make it hard to consistently deliver an experience your customers rave about.
Enter Alex Llewellyn. As Outdoor Voices’ Head of Customer Experience, he is on a mission to prove the positive impact that customer experience can have on a brand. In a quantitatively driven industry, he is out to show how empathy and care can bring with it loyalty and profits to the business.
We start with Alex’s journey to leading the customer experience team at one of the fastest growing brands in the world.
A: While I was finishing out college I applied for the job of customer service rep and really just looked at it as a way to get through college and finish that out and never thought it would turn into a career.
I was just looking for a job, I applied for probably applied for 60 jobs just hoping to just get a call back from somebody. Got a call back from this woman named Kelly.
I honestly thought it was going to be some woman selling dog food out of her basement in Miami.
That's a legitimate story. I thought that she was probably just some lady that had an eBay store and was trying to sell pet food through it and I was like I was like I don't really care I'll just go because it's going to pay the bills.
Y: Ha! Love that story, too. Luckily for Alex, Kelly was leading the customer service team at Chewy.
A: ure enough they’re in a real office, it's a nice place and I didn't know I was going to be hooked on it.
While I was there I grew within the customer service team from customer service rep, to team lead, to manager, to assistant director, all over the course of three years which is kind of the case in a lot of startups, just accelerated growth path.
When I joined the business we were nine people and when I left six and a half years later it was over 7,000 people and that is an incredibly explosive growth path.
Y: Incredibly explosive may be an understatement. When you think of selling pet food online, it doesn’t seem like a major breakthrough or disruptive business model.
I mean honestly, does anyone remember Pets.com, the dot com company who’s spectacular growth was only eclipsed by its spectacular failure? They raised $147 million ...and then burned through it in 9 months. - Ouch. - What made Chewy.com different?
A: When you think about selling pet food online there's not much that’s sexy about that, whether that's getting them their products faster, making shopping easier, having the best prices, always being available from a customer service standpoint. That was really the growth engine and everything else kinda fed into that. So, when we talk about the supply chain, their goal was to have the best selection, at the best price, getting it to the customer as fast as possible. Our fulfillment team, the same concept, always trying to do what's right for the customer. And you can really boil it down to one simple question is “How does this impact the customer, and the way we were approaching it, the way we were engaging with our customers, was the attractive piece of it.
The entire backbone of Chewy's business model is to do what's best for the customer?” and that is how business decisions were ultimately made at Chewy and that's probably one of the largest factors in that businesses growth and still is.
Y: Over that 6 year period of rapid growth, Alex learned at Chewy what it really meant to become relentlessly focused on customers.
Alex believed that when you build your business with the customer at the heart of everything you do, growth comes naturally.
He believed that there were certain fundamentals of building a customer-centric business that could be documented, well-understood, and executed by other businesses - and his mission was to prove this framework when he left Chewy to join Outdoor Voices.
A: When Outdoor Voices approached me that there was an opportunity to show that what we had done at Chewy, whether it be for the external customer or the internal customer, was highly repeatable, scalable and easily implemented with most retail concepts. So that's why I decided to join.
Y: In this framework, Alex believes there are two ways you can serve the customer.
A: I think there are two types of customer service. There is very passive customer service, which is one that works predominantly in email or form submission, maybe responding to voicemails once those come in. And then there is proactive or live customer service which is what we strive to deliver.
When I say “live” that means that there is a huge emphasis on being there for the customer, in real time, so we are looking to provide an experience through chat or text message or phone call. Those arenas where we can have as close to a face-to-face conversation with our customers as possible and have it be fluid and even familial because most people don't talk to friends or family through email like you do with the business. We are trying to drive that personal approach and be more available through these like channels.
Y: Alex is on a mission to create a friendship-like connection with every customer. He wants to bring the brand to life and showcase their values in every interaction.
A: At the end of the day what separates a great customer experience, or just a personal experience, from any other is the addition of emotion, right? We could just as well have chatbots or voicemails and answer customers in a very robotic, scripted way but what takes the average experience from an online retailer to a really great experience at other retailers is that human element, which is very lacking in the world of e-commerce, mainly because it's just the trend. So I think that that’s important - to have that high level of empathy or that personal touch. a little bit of humanity.
Y: Let’s just imagine this in real life.
You see a friend out and about while you’re walking outside.
You say “hey there!” expecting a quick response from your friend, as they look up and recognize you.
But instead, you don’t get a response at all Ugh, hello?
You wait, and wait, and wait...then finally, your friend says “HEY what’s up” back Well that was weird.
Weird encounter right? You’re probably going to think something is up with your friend.
You expect communication with a friend to be quick and familiar.
The same applies to Alex...live communication is more than just placing a chat function on your website. Live communication is a philosophy more so than a specific type of technology or channel of communication.
In looking to turn his mission into a reality, Alex decided to focus on creating a line of communication that was, as he said, familial.
A: We aim to be interacting through our lives channels - which again are chat, phone, text message, even social media messaging - within 30 seconds. We want to be on the other end of that conversation for that customer in 30 seconds. Just like if you were walking into a retail store, you should be greeted warmly, or help should be provided as soon as you walk in the door or you asked for it, same concept. And even with our emails, we look for a very quick response time and we want to have as many emails as we possibly can answer for the customer within 30 minutes so we don't want you to have to wait 24 hours we want you to wait less than 30 minutes for a response to an email.
Y: Alex wants to be there for the customer when they need it, as fast as possible. Him and his team were responsible for delivering the brand mission to customers in real life.
This responsibility required Alex to use a combination of finding the right people - and deploying the correct process and technologies.
There were two ways that Alex could bring this vision of live communication to life:
- The first lever he could pull was to hire more people to react to an increasing volume of customer issues.
- The second lever was to lower the amount of customer inquiries. In theory, brands can create an experience so seamless that customers would never need to reach out with any issues or questions.
The first lever is costly. Hiring more headcount is expensive and brands that are scaling need to make every dollar count. The second lever is really hard to achieve. Even companies like Amazon - with seemingly unlimited resources to create seamless buying experiences - still have to deal with customer support inquiries. Which levers should you choose?
Alex uses a combination of both.
At Chewy, he focused first on building the right team and hiring the right people.
A: And I learned a ton about business and a ton about just human interactions, in general, being a part of the HR team, at Chewy.
I was approached by the HR team to turn that same customer-centric mentality that we had for the external customer and focus on the internal customer, which were our employees.
Y: Scaling from 9 to 7000 employees requires that you develop a great system for evaluating the right talent for your team. You have to examine the values of the company and then define the traits that pair well against those values.
To make sure the Outdoor Voices mission is portrayed in a way that matches the brands voice and tone with customers, Alex looks for one important trait in every new hire.
A: I think it starts with how we hire and what we're looking for through the hiring process. And there's one thing I look for above anything else and that's a personality because we can teach you all about our products, we can teach you how to use our systems, you can learn math, you can learn how to write and communicate with customers the way that we do, but if you don't have a personality that's engaging or you don't know how to interact with people then you probably won't succeed on our customer service team. So having a personality and being engaging with people is what we look for above all else. So that's where it starts and that's what helps to kind of win those situations that aren't going your way.
I think the other is a mantra that we have on the team, which is that ‘There's very little we can't, won't, or don't do for our customers, so make it happen!” Taking away the negative implications of what's possible and making sure that we're doing everything in our power to accommodate a customer. Again in all situations not just ones that are maybe more negative but any situation where we have a chance to have that wow or aha moment for a customer is what we're trying to do.
Y: That’s one heck of a mantra, and a sure way to make sure that each member of his team is properly suited to engage with customers the right way. With empathy and care.
By hiring for personality - and creating a familial connection through their communications with customers, Alex is showing them that his team is human, too. This disarms customers when they’re frustrated - and allows them to quickly see that Outdoor Voices is different.
A: I think there are occasions out there where a customer has come in hot expecting the worst, maybe because they're conditioned by the other customer experiences they've had in the past that were subpar, and the second that they start engaging with someone on our team, it changes the tone immediately. The second we begin to start talking with that customer and start helping them through the situation we’re able to, I guess, diffuse and make it easier for them and take the burden off the customer, take the burden onto ourselves, and again make their lives as easy as possible.
Y: Alex wants to stay as lean as possible to ensure cultural alignment and keep expenses contained as they scale, but when the challenges get tougher, adding members at the right time is pivotal.
A: So I've got a spreadsheet that I built many years ago, it's what I used at Chewy, it’s what I use today, it takes a few different inputs but we look at how quickly we want to be engaged with a customer, versus how many contacts we want to get through in a day. So kind of an inverse measure to the norm. So rather than rushing through interactions to get more done, our goal is to rush towards the customer and take however long it takes to help them. This is fundamental to our particular strategy but we decided that this is the right way to measure it because it provides quality to the customer versus quantity of customers interacted with.
When we know it's time to bring on a new team member, when we start to see that our service levels are at risk or declining. If we start to see that we're at risk of more and more customers waiting more than 30 seconds for live communication, or emails are at risk of going more than 30 minutes without a response, then that's when it's time to start looking at hiring - and if we're already at that point we're already behind, right? If you start to see that your trends are slipping you're already too late and it's only going to slip a little bit more before you can ramp into recruiting which usually takes anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks to actually get someone onboarded and ramped up fully. So our formula that we use calculates with a buffer and tells us when we should expect to have more people on the team, it's kind of a complex solution but it looks at how quickly you want to respond to a customer, how high of a service-level do you want to provide, how long does it typically take to answer this type of communication, and then you just plug in what your previous month’s history of contacts for that particular channel were and then you extrapolate that out whether you expect to have a down month or an up month and kind of scale your team to size that way.
Y: Being proactive about their hiring needs ensures that as the business grows, Alex can predict when service levels are starting to slip and address them immediately.
We learned how Alex used both qualitative and quantitative analysis to hire the right people at the right time. The first lever. Now, we’ll dive into two examples of how Alex has used the second lever to his advantage.
The first way that Alex created a better experience for customers - was by eliminating customer confusion in the buying process.
A: On a small-scale we look at things on a weekly basis to see what our trends in contact are. So looking at our top five categories for customer outreach and trying to pick a part why exactly they're reaching out.
So discounts and promotions is a pretty large bucket for our contacts and if we dig into that, a large portion of that was because we offer a new customer discount of 20% off your first order, but we also have a component on our website called kits where you can buy a top and a bottom for a bundled price. But you can't be a new customer, and buy a kit, and get the discount at the same time because it's already been discounted.
We actually just this week implemented a fix for this that still doesn't allow for the discount to apply but makes it more clear for customers on the checkout page that “because there's a kit in your cart, you're not going to be able to apply further discounts.” This was a large portion of why we were getting contacted for discounts and promotions, now we're starting to see that shrink and become not the number one category but the number 5 category of our top five and it's pushed everything else up to the top. So now we start looking at “Why are customers reaching out to us about returns and exchanges so much?” and then we start to pick that apart and find that, and this is, you know, without sound data that the workflow or the process for self-service on our returns and exchanges is too clunky and doesn't make sense. And so we start working on those fixes so it's kind of, again through every interaction we collect a little bit of information around why we are being contacted so we can start taking action on what matters most to customers.
Y: Solving the confusion around discounts - by enhancing the on-site experience, reduced support interactions as customers got the information they needed.
With a win under his belt, Alex moved on to the next challenge…. The paradox of choice.
As brands expand their catalogue, there is an unintended problem they introduce to customers - the paradox of choice. Customers are forced to answer tons of questions to get what they want. How does this compare to that? What product is the right product for the things I’m trying to accomplish?
In the best case scenario, the customer has all the information they need to figure these questions out on their own. The next best outcome is that they reach out to the brand and ask for help in figuring out what makes sense for them. In the worst case, they remain confused and either - choose the wrong product for them or choose nothing at all.
A: Very early on, we realized that customers aren't shopping by fabric, they aren't shopping by size, they’re shopping by their own activity, what they're interested in. So we've kind of tailored our approach in service around that aspect, but also on the website we've started focusing heavily on, “What activity is this product good for?” and kind of coaching customers into what they need for what they want to do.
A lot of our customers enjoy spin class or hot yoga, there are also hikers, there are bikers, swimmers. There's all sorts of activities out there that our customers are doing. Our products will work for the vast majority of activities but if you're looking at a super high sweat activity like spin or hot yoga, we're going to guide you to the tech sweat products that we have because they're great for pulling the sweat off the body, drying really fast, being really lightweight and breathable. But if you want to just wear them for walking your dog or hiking we have another fabric called Texture Compression which is a little more form-fitting, not quite as breathable but very comfortable and very flattering on the body so good for a moderate to light activity. So that's kind of the approach we've taken is almost kind of sweat level by activity and then guiding the customer that way.
Y: Instead of pushing product, Alex and his team start with the customers end goal in mind - and then work their way towards their desired outcome together. This approach allows Outdoor Voices to get the customer the right product that will match their individual needs.
Both examples highlight the impact of gathering data and how to use a customer first mindset to create a more seamless customer experience. The second lever.
We’ll now explore how Alex used both levers to make his, and Outdoor Voices, largest change yet.
As Alex began at Outdoor Voices, he inherited a team of both in house and outsourced team members.
A: When I joined Outdoor Voices, the customer experience team was four people internally, and another four people externally, through a third party or BPO. My own experiences with customer service are that using an outsourced party doesn't always lend itself to a great experience, but it's also a managerial challenge to manage from afar and through another manager. So one of the first things that we looked at and started scoping out was how do we bring this in-house. The team started to evolve as we were trying to push toward seven-day-a-week coverage and 17 hour/day coverage and we went from four internal and we’ve built a new team in house with an additional 11 people and continuing to grow in an effort to provide more availability for our customers and will continue to do that.
As a manager of a customer's service team it's always going to help provide a better experience for the customer, especially when you're a young business and things are changing so rapidly. We have everybody in the same room, our desks are in a cluster and if something changes or something's coming up all of a sudden, we're able to say it out loud and have the entire out team hear it, or make some changes on the fly; where if we were split into a different area, I would have to set up a call or send an email and it may not be read right away or answered right away, you know direct management is a lot easier than remote management and I think especially for young, fluid companies that are constantly in flux it's best to have everyone in the same room and not start spreading out. It'll come with time that you'll be able to do that but in the beginning, it's not ideal.
Y: To support live communication, to be open & warm to customers, to be the best friend in their customer’s lives, he needed to bring the customer service team in house. With this move, he has ensured that through all interactions with Outdoor Voices, customers have a consistent experience that is friendly and aligns with the brand mission.
A: That's probably the biggest change that this particular organization has seen the entire business is - to have a predominantly outsourced team or maybe a majority outsourced team be brought in house, and hired internally, and this is pretty unique to a lot of younger companies to have this type of service but to have it all in house, as well. There aren't many out there that are doing it but I think there's a lot to be gained from it because we're able to be more available for our customers but we've also started helping other areas of the business, like marketing or supply chain team, with some of their low-hanging fruit and helping tackle different projects but also giving the customer service team that we have in house today, the opportunity to start learning about other areas of the business and start helping those other teams.
Y: Alex and his team has had a large and powerful impact on Outdoor Voices. They’ve reduced customer confusion, tailored their approach to meet customer needs, and have brought their team in house to foster a culture of collaboration, inclusivity and friendliness. Not a bad set of accomplishments for only 11 months.
With the right team and service frameworks in place, Alex had to prove that all of these things were driving results that lived up to the brand mission.
Alex makes sure he shows the others in the organization how they are doing.
A: On a weekly cadence I share feedback from reviews, from the NPS scores that we're getting, returns data, the reasons that people are reaching out to us, really trying to build a robust view of everything that we’re collecting on customers and then share that back with the leadership team, our ecommerce team, and things like that, and try to summarize or contextualize what customers are saying, why they're saying it, try to interpret why certain trends might be up this week or down this week. Those types of things.
Y: Acting as a messenger, he transcribes the language of the customer into the language of the business.
A: We’ve also started to share on a monthly cadence with the entire business that exact same thing. I think if we're looking at it on a week to week basis, it's a little too grainy for everyone to interpret but on a monthly, quarterly, yearly cadence, you can really see the big picture of things and really understand what's important to customers. Just this week, we held our first share to the entire company for that monthly recap and we called out some things, and within 24-48 hours, we had some results from the business. I don't know if it's because it was shared in front of everyone or if it really became important to everyone but we started to see some website changes and some process changes that really have a big impact on our customers. So making, I think for us to make customer service more visible, to have that seat at the table it’s just sharing and reiterating what the customer is actually saying in what's important to them. What I share is not my own opinion, it's the customers' opinion.
Y: This strategy is paramount to turn customer support from a cost center to a driver of innovation and positive change that puts the customer first.
If you want to better serve customers, why not ask and involve the very people talking to customers daily. Those that wake up everyday thinking:
A: “how can we better serve the customer?”
Y: It’s relatively easy to measure changes in customer behavior. Did we see a drop in support tickets? Are website conversions improving? Are we reducing returns? All of that can be measured through data, - but what’s more difficult is measuring how friendly and approachable your team is being with customers.
Now, this question is going to sound weird - but it's one that Alex has to ask himself everyday… How do you measure how great of a friend you’ve been? - It’s tough to do and usually is something that’s just felt.
Well,--- how about a letter from a customer?
(For this part:
A: As part of our monthly roundup we included this new segment which is customer of the month. We wanted to recognize a customer who stood out to our team but also thought it was relevant to show to the entire company what we had done for this person.
Alex shared a letter one of their customers wrote to his support team.
His name was Corey, and he wrote us a short story in email format and the title of it was “much appreciation with deep sadness”
C: Hello Outdoor Voices,
I’m writing to you today with high praise and deep sadness. First the praise.
The story begins in December of 2017. My wife’s aunt who lives in Austin bought us an article of clothing from OV for Christmas. I got a shirt. It was okay. I was grateful for the gift. About four months later, I decided to exchange it because it was a bit small. You were extremely forgiving of my return procrastination. I thought that was pretty awesome. I started to shop around and finally decided on my order.
A: and he was a longtime customer he's been shopping with us for 2 and 1/2 to 3 years now and he had fallen in love with a product that we used to make and we don't currently have in stock
C: My favorite running short? Yes. Period. They get the job done, and they get it done right.
Have you guys ever felt this tee shirt? It’s unreal. I think I want to fill an empty swimming pool with these and dive in.
Last but not least, the most amazing pair of shorts I’ve ever owned. Okay, okay, okay, okay, that last statement was an understatement. I love these shorts and I’ve told everyone about them. Every time I put on these shorts it gets harder and harder to take them off.
I’m a walking, talking billboard for Outdoor Voices.
A: and he was looking to kind of replenish his own stores but also give some to his father and because he loved them so much he wanted to share what he loved
C: Now - onto the deep sadness.
A: and we didn't have any available to purchase on the website but from time to time we're able to hunt things down, whether it's in stores or maybe we have it in storage here at our headquarters.
C: I’m sure your other products are great, and I’m sure at some point when I’m in need of something else I’ll give them a chance. However, I am so biased for the shorts and shirt I already have, I think I’d just order more of the same. Unfortunately, I can’t.
A: He was looking to basically buy a lifetime supply of this product before we started to basically not make it any more
C: I’m writing tonight out of desperation. To see if these products will ever return so I can order more and more immediately, to see if any OV store anywhere has a size large in the Stretch Trail Shorts, preferably in Scratch Print?
A: and we were able to hunt it down for him and get him set up to ship, for him to purchase that and we were able to ship it out to him and now he's pretty much set for life on that project and I think the plus side of that story is that he was able to share what he loved about our products and our business with his father, who's now hopefully a new customer and that's what we're striving for, is to take that experience where we could have just said no we don't have that in stock here’s something else instead (which I think is pretty standard in the industry) but instead of giving that, you know, that copy paste response, we went above and beyond for him to find this product and make sure he had what he was looking for and get it out to him, which is not what most businesses do.
C: I really do appreciate the work you do, and the products you’ve provided which have brought me a tremendous amount of joy and comfort.
I’m just a simple guy, using my outdoor voice and trying to get others to use theirs too!
Y: I’m Yaw Aning, thanks for listening.
I really hope you enjoyed listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed creating it!
Huge thanks to Alex Llewellyn for sharing his story. You can find out more about Outdoor Voices by visiting www.outdoorvoices.com.
The Touchpoints series is brought to you by Malomo - a shipment tracking platform that lets retailers create magical moments that drive engagement with customers after they buy. To learn more about Malomo visit gomalomo.com. That’s G O M A L O M O .com.
To listen to other episodes in the series, search for the Touchpoints podcast on your favorite podcasting app or visit gomalomo.com.