Aarde Cosseboom recently led a Virtual Executive Assembly for members of Frost & Sullivan’s Customer Engagement Leadership Council where he shared insights about TechStyle Fashion Group’s significant success leveraging AI in the Contact Center. Here we dig deeper to learn more about the strategy and tools behind the AI implementation initiative that had customers raving and metrics soaring.
Hello Aarde. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current role at TechStyle?
I oversee technology procurement, implementation, and maintenance for the Customer Service department of TechStyle. We call this team GMS (Global Member Support). We do the customer and member support for five different brands; Fabletics, JustFab, Shoedazzle, Fabkids, and Savage X Fenty. This amounts to roughly six million calls and four million chats a year. I personally have been in the contact center space for the last decade and a half.
TechStyle Fashion Group states that its mission is “To reimagine the fashion business by creating the world’s most innovative and admired fashion company.” Can you elaborate?
Here at TechStyle, we focus on creating and leveraging technology for the fashion industry. We build and buy world class tools to create efficient and memorable customer experiences. Since we support our businesses all the way from material sourcing to delivery to our member’s front door, there are huge opportunities we have as a technology company to “get it right.” We leverage the newest code sets (like React) and focus on automation, using AI and Machine Learning throughout that process. We have natural language Voice virtual assistants and Chatbots that service our customers using AI and Machine Learning. We strive to be admired by our members and customers for our ability to select curated product catalogs and deliver word class support whenever there is an issue.
At our Customer Contact East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange event earlier this year, you shared that your employer, TechStyle, was very successful implementing AI automation. Can you provide some highlights about what you tried to do and what was achieved?
Over the years (since 2015) we have been focused on improving the customer experience. We noticed that the majority of our inbound requests were transactional. For instance, customers were asking things like: update my password, where is my order, and to skip the next month. Although these were simple requests, members often had to wait in long queues to speak to agents to complete them. We decided to explore AI and try to solve for these types of calls with self service via the phone, chat and social.
How did you identify the call types for automation?
We use a natural language AI tool that understands the full sentences of the member and separates it into four different intents. These intents were decided by passing historical data to the AI tool and it giving us groupings of types of inquiries. Our four buckets are; skip, cancel/retention, WISMO (where is my order), and update profile info.
What challenges was the company facing that led to considering AI solutions?
We had large spikes of volume during our monthly billing cycles that we would staff for. This caused queues to be unnecessarily long (10 – 15 minute waits). We also had agent burnout due to answering the same ‘simple’ questions over and over again. Agents were taking 40+ ‘simple’ calls a day. We also noticed that our customers were getting frustrated, having to wait for such a ‘simple’ task, which lead to lower NPS, CSAT and reviews online.
How did your agents react to AI automation, i.e. the Virtual Agents?
Our agents loved it. It meant that they didn’t have to take as many ‘simple’ calls and they could focus on the more complex issues that our members have. They also enjoyed the lighter queues during our busy times, leading to less frustration of a large queue looming over their heads.
How did your customers react to AI automation, i.e. the Virtual Agents?
Members raved about it. We had higher CSaT scores, positive comments on social media (specifically about the AI automation), and even started to see an increase in calls coming in, just to use the automation to perform simple tasks. We now have members calling in on their morning commute to work to do things like; skip the month, request a refund, or exchange a pair of shoes.
How do you think AI automation impacted the customer experience?
Our customers are not able to self- serve without having to wait for a live agent. When they call in and need a live agent, they no longer have to wait as long because the ‘simple’ requests are being self- served. This is like standing in a long line at a grocery store and needing to use coupons. Then you see people ahead of you using self-service kiosks to check out quickly instead of cluttering and slowing down your line.
As you stated, TechStyle views itself as a “technology company first.” How do you think this contributed to its success with automation initiatives?
Here at TechStyle, we think of ourselves as a Tech first company. Competition is always fierce, especially with fashion. We try to be cutting edge with our technology to differentiate us from the pack. Almost all successful companies now-a-days are technology driven companies. We believe that using cutting edge technology to create, deliver and support Global Fashion Brands is what separates us from our competition.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned working in contact centers to date?
Always be innovating. There are new technologies and tools out there every day. Test and try new strategies using A/B and sandbox testing. Once you fall behind (from a technology standpoint) it is hard to get back. Small incremental changes ensure you are current without having to do large projects to get you and your organization back up to speed.
Any other insights–or predictions–about the Customer Contact industry you’d care to share?
We are on the verge of a technological change. Everything is using IoT (Internet of Things) and AI/Machine Learning. It will become easier and easier for us (as an industry) to deploy very intelligent AI tools to better service and acquire new customers. For the companies that are not ahead of the curve, it will be very difficult to compete with others that are cutting edge.
Aarde recently gave an EXECUTIVE PRESENTATION – AI-Powered Automation for Voice and Chat Bots: Use Cases in the Contact Center at the 15th Anniversary Customer Contact West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange in Huntington Beach, California. You can find his book, Enable Better Service: A Customer Service Contact Center Story of Breaking Away from the Norm Through Creativity, Technology and Innovation, here.