Three years ago, Lane Bryant’s contact center was something it “hid somewhere in a financial spreadsheet” and contact center sales and profitability were not on the radar. Like so many other customer service operations, it was simply a cost of doing business. Fielding contacts (some 850,000 per year) left agents weary. Agent Attrition was predictably high: in a typical customer service training class, only half stuck around long enough to make it to the contact center floor.
To reduce costs, the company focused on maximizing efficiency. Success was measured in terms of how quickly calls were completed. No matter how many contacts they handled, agents were reminded there is always room for improvement.
Stan Lucas, AVP of Customer Insights and Advanced Analytics for Lane Bryant, recalls the beginning of the end of the company’s cost-containment (and therefore costly) approach to contact center sales management.
“We started to think about the things we were learning from our audits,” he says. “We knew we could be a lot more. The conversation quickly became, ‘Do we think we can be a profit center?’”
From Cost Center to Profit Center
Those initial audits created a stir on the contact center floor. Agents and supervisors weren’t sure what to make of them, and they feared the worst.
That’s when Stan, along with Bruce Pullens, Lane Bryant’s Director of Customer Service, Strategy and Customer Insights, introduced “whole summits” at the contact center. Business partners, supervisors, team leaders, and agents were invited in, and Stan and Bruce shared audit results and a new organizational strategy.
Then Stan and Bruce asked something very simple of their agents: at the right moment in the conversation, offer to complete the transaction to drive contact center sales. “You don’t need to sell. You just need to ask. That’s it.”
To overcome their agents’ initial reticence and to build enthusiasm and momentum, Stan and Bruce focused on three things: 1) communicating openly to build trust; 2) helping agents understand the end goal; and 3) getting the entire team invested in the outcome.
“The most difficult mindset we were trying to change was actually that of our own agents and supervisory staff,” Stan says. “We had to get them to understand that their job was no longer about driving contacts down to drive costs down. They really had to drive opportunities up to drive profits up—and that, in turn, would drive costs down.”
A new mix of metrics, reflecting a shift in corporate priorities, was now available to all contact center staff. In addition to operational metrics, Stan and Bruce began sharing offer to complete transaction (OCT), product knowledge, and other measures of service quality.
One metric in particular, OCT, has jumped from 3% to 36% in the past two years.
As more and more agents have bought into the company’s service-driven sales strategy—thanks in part to constant reiteration of the strategic message and targeted training and coaching—Lane Bryant has seen its order completions, conversion rates, and order values rise dramatically.
Today, Lane Bryant’s contact center is a full-fledged profit center that continues to drive more sales than any of the brand’s stores.
“It’s no longer about feeling like you need to be faster, or cut people short, or not listen to their story. It’s now knowing that every one of those [contacts] is an opportunity [agents are] going to provide, and that we’re going to tell that story throughout the organization, and build profit and resources for them so they can continue to do their job.”
–Stan Lucas, AVP of Customer Insights and Advanced Analytics, Lane Bryant
Building Your Own CX Sales Machine
Today, designers are eager to introduce new concepts to Lane Bryant’s customer service agents and to outfit them in soon-to-be-launched apparel. Agents have also been trained as “master” bra and jean fitters to help customers choose the perfect size. This is not a typical skill set for contact center agents, but this is no typical contact center. Understanding Lane Bryant’s organizational goals, its products, and its customers as well as they do, agents naturally drive sales during service interactions.
Agents also drive costs down by staying with the company. Since Lane Bryant’s strategic shift began in 2014, contact center churn has decreased and stabilized. Supervisors are becoming more experienced, and they’re beginning to make business decisions on their own.
So how do you build a team like Lane Bryant’s—one that’s full of business-minded brand loyalists who are committed to doing what’s right for every customer?
Give agents a sense of purpose. Every customer contact is an opportunity to capture and grow revenue. Once agents understand this, they become stakeholders in the company’s success. They’ll start thinking like business people and take pride in the brand and the job. As a result, the culture will naturally begin to change.
Show them they’re valued. Actions speak louder than words. Be transparent, communicate frequently, invest in agents’ development and growth (via customer service training and coaching), reward them for great work, and trust them to do the right thing.
Give them all the tools they need. Involve internal teams (e.g., fraud, IT support) and outside partners (e.g., fulfillment, distribution) for training and problem-solving. The more agents know and the more resources they can access, the more helpful and productive the overall service experience.
Let them personalize the experience. Strict scripts are designed to keep contacts tightly controlled. But they can sabotage sales and customer loyalty. Says Bruce: “It’s very important that there’s a natural flow to the conversation. We don’t ever want our agents to be so scripted, so inside a box, that they’re attempting to get to the OCT before they listen attentively to what the customer has to say.”
Show them the results. Sales metrics generate excitement on the contact center floor and lead to even greater gains. Performance metrics help boost morale and enhance service engagements. Seeing the tangible results of their efforts keeps agents energized and aiming higher.
Above all, Stan and Bruce insist, never deviate from the strategic plan. And never look back.
“If you look at the metrics for Lane Bryant, you’ll see there have been gradual inclines over the course of those three years,” Bruce says. “It’s sustained through organizational restructures and business changes at an enterprise level. But from a customer service and client experience perspective, we have sustained growth and development. A lot of that comes from having business partners like Stella Connect, who keep us set and level.”
“What we do is put service before the sale. Service is what promotes loyalty and commitment, both from the agent and from the customer. And we’re very proud of that. We still reward our agents through various means, but there is no sales incentive driving performance improvement. It’s commitment to the organization.”
–Bruce Pullens, Director of Customer Service, Strategy and Customer Insights, Lane Bryant