Avril, a specialty supermarket with 10 stores throughout Quebec, underwent significant changes in 2020. The pandemic catalyzed the company’s need to innovate their ecommerce operations to meet the newfound demands for online ordering and services.
With the right partners, and a small-but-mighty team that’s focused on ensuring an excellent customer experience, Avril is entering 2021 with a digital foundation that promises a lasting shelf-life to their customer service and website ordering teams.
Avril’s Customer Service Supervisor, Amelie Carey, recently spoke to Heyday about how Avril approached the complex, multilayered challenges that 2020 brought. Not only did Avril experience significant pressures on their ecommerce operations, the new demands for online ordering and remote support for customers changed the nature of Amelie’s teams’ demands. But, in a short few months, Avril took a variety of quick actions to help customers shop for food in the new reality.
“We overhauled our website and launched an entirely new click-and-collect feature to meet customer demands,” notes Carey.
Like most supermarkets, a large portion of Avril’s revenue was attributed to in-store sales prior to the pandemic. Their website functioned as a place for customers to explore and discover products before they visited one of Avril’s physical locations to shop for groceries.
“Our customer service team started working much closer with our web order department to resolve greater volumes of those types of queries efficiently.”
And yet, as of August 2020, 22% of Canadian consumers reported buying more groceries online than they used to pre-pandemic. This uptick in online shopping for groceries had a huge impact on how Avril’s customer service team operates and serves its customers.
“Our small but mighty customer service team resolves all types of cases, and the scope of our work expanded as our customers started purchasing groceries online. We resolve questions as straightforward as verifying in-store inventory levels for certain products, as well as more nuanced, health-related questions relating to a product’s ingredients and possible allergens.’” notes Amelie. “To support those health-sensitive questions, we connect customers to a naturopath we have on-staff. We’ve always taken questions on our products and the health and wellbeing of our customers very seriously.”
While questions on product availability in-store and allergies and health restrictions accelerated in March and April, so did questions around inventory availability, online orders, and order tracking. “Our customer service team started working much closer with our web order department to resolve greater volumes of those types of queries efficiently.”
So, how did they use Heyday to keep up with the mounting pressures on their team to offer excellent customer service to more customers than ever before? Here, Amelie answers six key questions to offer inspiration and guidance to customer service teams everywhere.
1. You had to transform your customer service operations following customers shifting their shopping online. Can you tell me what those first weeks were like and the challenges you encountered?
It was a very intense time for our team and our organization. As a department, our standard was to reply to people within two business days. In the heat of the first lockdown in Quebec, our email inbox looked like many who work in customer service at that time: we had hundreds of unread messages, and people were waiting for responses for over a week. Adding to that, we had to issue refunds due to restock and out-of-stock issues. This was unprecedented for my team.
In the heat of the first lockdown in Quebec, our email inbox looked like many who work in customer service at that time: we had hundreds of unread messages, and people were waiting for responses for over a week.
It’s important to note that our team handles all support cases, so during the days, we spent a huge portion of our time on calls and supporting our customers. People were asking us about mask wearing policies, store lines and wait times, any number of things. It was understandably a high-stress time for people across the province, so conversations could often be tense. That’s one of the realities of our jobs; we’re dealing with people, and that can take on any range of characteristics!
2. That sounds like a lot to overcome at once. How did your team refocus and get their footing again?
Teamwork across the entire organization was central to our success. In Customer Service, we stayed a team of three, but we grew our web team’s headcount and started collaborating more closely with them. We also expanded our partner ecosystem to reflect the new grocery business imperative: giving customers a smooth shopping experience from search to sale and after: whether they make their purchase online or in-store.
We also expanded our partner ecosystem to reflect the new grocery business imperative: giving customers a smooth shopping experience from search to sale and after: whether they make their purchase online or in-store.
We also started using Heyday’s AI-powered virtual assistant to automatically resolve queries customers frequently ask and free our human support agents from responding to FAQs — that was a game changer. When your business is transforming at a rapid pace and you have a relatively small team, relying on partners like Heyday is key for survival.
3. You were able to successfully shift directions to create a seamless ecommerce experience and give your customers the level of support they need in this new reality. What are some of your secrets to success?
As I mentioned above, we chose the right partners and had the right team in place. The next step was educating our internal teams on how to use Heyday’s messaging platform effectively. At first, opening up live chat support was seen as a possible risk — could the team handle the volume of conversations we’d get?
But, with a blend of automated responses for repetitive FAQs and live chat for more complex customer service requests, we’ve found the return on investment in new tech to be tremendous — both from a customer satisfaction and sales perspective.
4. On that note, how did implementing chat impact your customer service operations? What are the results like to-date?
In a few short months, we transformed to fit the new digital realities of our organization. And along the way we’ve also achieved great results, speaking to both our partners and the resilience of our teams.
Our automation rate has climbed from 35% in August to 64% in November. We’re serving more customers at scale thanks to automation, and in effect, making our customers happier.
As of November, our CSAT score is currently at an “excellent” grade thanks to continual updates we are providing. Our conversation volumes are constantly increasing each month, but our automation rate has climbed from 35% in August to 64% in November. We’re serving more customers at scale thanks to automation, and in effect, making our customers happier.
5. Other than automation and increased customer satisfaction, what’s a surprising benefit you and your team are getting from Heyday that may not be represented in the hard metrics?
Honestly, the convenience of the mobile app cannot be understated! It’s so easy to use, and a lot of inquiries come in over the weekend when people do their shopping. With the mobile app, I can respond quickly to a tricky question via chat while I’m on-the-go, without having to wait until I’m home to log into my computer. I can be fast, efficient and always available for my customers, even when I’m at the grocery store myself.
With the mobile app, I can respond quickly to a tricky question via chat while I’m on-the-go, without having to wait until I’m home to log into my computer.
The role of messaging and chat as a way to have direct customer feedback cannot be underestimated. We see entirely new types of questions pop up, and we identify new patterns, and can filter that feedback through to our web ordering team. It can relate to product, stocking, in-store experiences, and more.
6. Bonus question! Any final words on what it’s like to partner with Heyday?
Working with Heyday is akin to working with one of your own! My team deals directly with Charlie, and she’s like an additional member of our team. Our success is her success, and it’s clear that you care about the success of our operations, but also, the reputation of our brand. Working in customer service, it’s amazing to collaborate with a partner who has the same ethos as we do: we work together to move fast, but also maintain high quality standards. I always know that Heyday will put the same love into a project that my team will – and the result will be an outstanding experience for our customers.
The concept of clienteling is nothing new, at least not in physical stores. The sole objective is to foster long-term relationships with frequent, usually high-paying customers.
Think of it as white-glove service, like a next-level personal shopper with the goal, of course, being continued sales. However, with a limited number of in-store associates, physical stores can only provide this service to so many customers at a time, especially as the customer journey starts online more often than not.
The luxury industry has always set the standard for clienteling in-store, and with the continued and future growth of the ecommerce luxury goods market, luxury fashion and beauty brands are already looking for ways to leverage new technologies to ramp up their clienteling services online.
Enter conversational AI and chatbots.
With these technologies becoming more and more democratized online and retail settings, luxury brands can now offer usher a new era of digital clienteling. This new disruption in customer service (or customer experience) is a total game-changer for the likes of Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Fendi, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and co.
But before we dive any deeper into the impact of clienteling in the luxury retail space, let’s cover the basics.
What is clienteling in retail?
Clienteling is the process of engaging with and providing personalized service to shoppers. In today’s omnichannel retail environment, clienteling usually happens via conversational messaging platforms that unify customer data and conversations across all messaging channels.
The result? Store associates have visibility on a shopper’s purchase history, shopping preferences, and previous interactions, and can proactively reach out via live chat or text message to let the customer know about restocks, new products, a promotion they may be interested in, or anything in between.
“There’s tremendous value in personalized shopping, especially in the luxury market where both customer expectations and transaction value are high, and retention is critical.” explains Suzanne Tran, Retail Communications Strategist at Heyday.
“Having a go-to sales associate or personal stylist not only keeps clients in the loop about upcoming promotions, product drops and restocks, but also helps them navigate specific needs and special interests in a way that casual shopping lacks — from wardrobe building to milestone shopping for family and friends.”
“The rapport built through clienteling makes shopping accessible, entertaining and convenient. Great customer service turns into a great customer experience which turns a first-time shopper into a life-long client.”
In fact, clienteling’s emphasis on the long-term customer experience has a tremendous impact on customer retention, with brands leveraging clienteling increasing retention rates by as much as 200%.
At its core, the concept of clienteling is ultimately to create a fully personalized, one-to-one customer experience. But doing that for every customer you serve can be a challenge, especially with most shoppers beginning their journey online. With the advent of virtual clienteling technology, though, we’re likely to see the widespread adoption of clienteling across the retail sector.
Clienteling for digitally-native luxury shoppers
Earlier this year, McKinsey & Company revealed that nearly 80% of luxury sales were “digitally influenced” and that high-end spending online is expected to more than triple to €74 billion ($87 billion USD) by 2025. How AI and chatbots will contribute to this growth with clienteling at scale remains to be seen, but the potential is vast.
This excitement about its potential is echoed by those working in the luxury industry, too. I was lucky enough to chat with Laurent Claquin, General Manager of Kering Group North America (Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, YSL) at a FrenchFounders event at one of his SoHo stores in New York City. In his talk, he stated that “although it accounts only for approximately 10% of Gucci’s current sales, digital is a key pillar of our future: 90% of the decision-making and product discovery is done online before the customer even shows up to the store.”
One might reasonably expect multi-billion dollar luxury brands to have already nailed the online experience, to have already seamlessly integrated white-glove service into their offerings, but that’s not the case. At least not yet.
Digital is a key pillar of our future: 90% of the decision-making and product discovery is done online before the customer even shows up to the store.
Luxury brands have been surprisingly slow to embrace ecommerce and its potential, and perhaps with good reason. They’ve been wary of experimenting with offering online because they were worried it would affect brand perception and customer experience. Until now, they’ve had no way of effectively scaling their in-store experience digitally while preserving their reputation.
Clienteling in the age of conversational commerce
With AI and chatbots now being able to augment sales and customer services teams, the most forward-thinking brands are starting to embrace them. For example, one of our clients, LVMH, whose brands include Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Make Up For Ever and Sephora, is proactively seizing opportunities to use technology to connect with customers through 1:1 conversations and recreate that luxurious, personalized, VIP service.
AI-powered clienteling presents luxury brands with an enormous array of opportunities. But where to focus? We’ve identified five key areas that we believe should form the foundation of an ecommerce white-glove service.
1. Leverage the power of storyselling
If you walk into any luxury store on the high street, you’ll be greeted by a sales associate who can tell you just about everything about the company, from its history, its products, and ultimately, personalized recommendations just for you. They’ll be able to tell you when the company was founded, the different seasons and lines, how the design process works, what materials are used, and more. More than just selling you a brand, they’re selling you a story.
By connecting stories to shopping experiences in context, sales teams are able to build stronger connections between the brand and its customers.
More often than not, luxury purchases are emotionally-driven, and nothing drives emotion quite like a story. By connecting stories to shopping experiences in context, sales teams are able to build stronger connections between the brand and its customers.
As customers increasingly prefer to contact businesses via messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, chatbots are becoming the new extension of the brand online. 1:1 conversations are a tremendous opportunity to leverage storytelling to engage customers and nurture them over time.
2. Online to offline, seamlessly
Today’s customer has one foot in the digital world and one foot in the physical world. The best brands combine the two worlds to create a unique, omnichannel, VIP shopping experience. Luxury brands are no different. They can leverage the convenience of online shopping to pre-qualify leads and assist them through the product discovery phase, towards a sale.
Chatbots can be the glue to a rock-solid omnichannel strategy and bridge the gap between your physical and digital stores. As prospective customers visit your site, you can welcome them with an instant message and assist them as they research products. These virtual AI-powered advisors can act as extensions of your in-store team, capture leads, and escalate the most promising ones to your human sales associates. This hybrid approach is introducing a new era of clienteling that is both human and AI-powered and that covers the full spectrum of customer interactions across the online-offline journey.
Virtual AI-powered advisors can act as extensions of your in-store team, capture leads, and escalate the most promising ones to your human sales associates.
They can also be very handy when it comes to helping people find the nearest store, book an appointment with an in-store advisor (e.g. Sephora) or buy online and pick up in store.
Beyond chatbots, these tactics are invaluable for modern day retailers. For example, British luxury brand Holland Cooper (reported annual revenue of £10 million (13.2 million USD)) has leveraged a “click-and-collect” strategy to funnel traffic to their store, which accounted for 60% of sales through their Shopify Plus website.
3. On-demand VIP services
Customer expectations are higher than ever, and that rings even truer for luxury brands. It’s time for brands to act less like advertisers, and more like personal assistants. This means being smart and strategic about how they combine AI chatbots, store associates, live chat, and clienteling.
Assistive selling is the best way to maximize each customer’s lifetime value and average basket size. Get it right, and you’ll reap the rewards of being able to offer a helping hand everywhere and anywhere.
It’s time for retail brands to act less like advertisers, and more like personal assistants. This means being smart and strategic about how they combine AI chatbots, store associates, live chat, and clienteling.
For example, Make Up For Ever uses a Messenger chatbot powered by Heyday to help shoppers find the right concealer and foundation for their skin tone, but shoppers can always speak to a human make up artist if they wish. The idea is not only to guide customers toward the right solution for their need but also design a customer service channel that feels tailored and readily accessible on demand.
Another example is Net-a-Porter and Mr. Porter, who offer premium assistance in selected cities to so-called EIPs (Extremely Important People, aka top customers who spend a lot). Assistance comes in the form of at-home shopping consultations, and a “you try, we wait” delivery service.
4. Emphasize exclusivity and scarcity
Exclusive or hidden content can help to pique shoppers’ curiosity and drive sales of higher priced goods. At London Fashion Week in 2016, Burberry employed a Messenger chatbot to complement its show, as it allowed users to learn more about the collection and dive into a stylized maze game in which users could uncover hidden pieces.
Emphasizing exclusivity and scarcity is at the heart of luxury shopping. In a digital-first world, brands must recreate that sense of urgency and exclusivity online by injecting emotion into the experience.
L’Occitane also created a sense of scarcity and exclusivity in 2017, driving social sales by offering a Mother’s Day gift which could only be purchased through Facebook.
Emphasizing exclusivity and scarcity is at the heart of luxury shopping. In a digital-first world, brands must recreate that sense of urgency and exclusivity online by injecting emotion into the experience. Limited editions, real-time stock availability notifications, storytelling, and handpicked recommendations are some of the key factors which set luxury shopping apart from the more mundane, commodity shopping.
5. Create culturally-relevant experiences
Global brands now feel the pressure to have a local approach to be culturally relevant. “Glocalization” as we like to call it needs to be a core pillar of any global brand’s conversational AI strategy, especially as natural language becomes the premier consumer interface.
For example, French in France is different from French in Canada. But these differences go beyond just greeting shoppers in their native language. At Heyday, we’re constantly developing better natural language processing modules that take those cultural specificities into account. We know that psychographics — interests, passions, morals etc. — are often driven by demographics, meaning brands must adjust their tone for different markets in order to feel more personable and relevant to their customers.
Conversational AI: part automation, part personal shopper
The efficiency of ecommerce has a lot of upsides, but the experience still all too often feels imperfect and impersonal. With new technologies such as virtual customer assistants and conversational AI promising to change commerce forever, luxury brands are presented with a new era of opportunities.
Their challenge now is to strike the right balance between convenience and experience, between automation and the human touch, and between the physical and digital store experience.
At the end of the day, luxury is all in the details. It’s not just the products, but the experience and feelings surrounding them. AI technology is perfectly placed to complement luxury brands, but we must learn to employ it at the right time for the customer’s sake and to use it in a way that augments human teams, not replaces them.
By putting tech at the service of their customers, luxury brands may finally be able to deliver the same level of clienteling and white-glove service online as they do in-store. The end goal? To enable personalization at scale across all channels to usher in a new era of bespoke customer experiences.