Retailer David Jones moved its customer service operations to run on Amazon Connect and Salesforce cloud-based systems, helping support online sales growth - and rising call volumes about the whereabouts of parcels.
Customer services general manager at David Jones & Country Road Group, Daniele Iezzi, told Salesforce Live for Retail & Consumer Goods that the customer service team manages online shopping inquiries, in addition to rerouting inbound calls to different departments of a physical store.
Iezzi said that while David Jones had “weathered many storms” in its 182-year history, the retail industry is undergoing “unprecedented” structural change.
Even before COVID-19, the shift to online represented a challenge for traditional retailers, and the change is even more pronounced now.
“As David Jones pursued a digital-first strategy, our online sales as a share of total company sales grew significantly,” Iezzi said.
“This placed pressure on the customer services team. The increase in online sales drove a 50 percent growth in phone calls to the team with the main inquiry being related to order status.
“Coupled with outdated systems, this demand was creating an experience that didn't live up to our customers’ expectations.”
Iezzi said the retailer had a strategic choice to make - to either “take a lower cost option and outsource customer services, or try and retain this important function in-house.”
“Our decision was to keep customer services in house so that we could better respond to customers, and [instead to] transition from a reactive service model to a proactive service model.”
David Jones brought in Deloitte, which built a new platform based on Amazon Connect and Salesforce’s Service Cloud.
Iezzi said the combination of the two cloud-based products “empowers agents to successfully resolve customer inquiries by providing them with the right information at the right time.”
The retailer is also using Amazon Connect to automatically respond to some calls via a virtual assistant.
“When you call David Jones, the virtual assistant will now identify your phone number and match it with a profile in Salesforce,” Iezzi said.
“Upon successfully matching your number to your profile, the virtual assistant will greet you by name.
“Using natural language understanding, the virtual assistant will then determine the reason or intent for your call.
“If you're ringing to check on the status of your order, Amazon Connect will locate the order in your Salesforce profile, confirm its details with you, and then [make] an API call to our order management system and to our delivery partners [to] relay the order status to you, without the need for human intervention.
“This is really powerful as order status inquiries are still the main source of customer contacts to our team.”
If customers use the virtual assistant out-of-hours and it is unable to answer their questions or resolve their call, the system “automatically creates a case in Service Cloud, populated the customer's details, and the reason for the call”, meaning an agent can then pick it up and action it the next morning
Alternatively, Amazon Connect could transfer calls to an agent.
It looks at customer information in Salesforce to identify the caller by their mobile number.
“We can then use this information to automate case creation and screen pops that are pre-populated with the contact details and query types, so that agents know who was calling and why they're calling,” Iezzi said.
“This increases efficiency, allowing our team to focus on more complex tasks and handle more queries.
“The solution is [also] tailored for David Jones, so we can use information, such as the customer's loyalty status, to route the call to a VIP queue so their query can be handled by the most appropriate team member.”
Iezzi said the platform had cut average call handling times at David Jones by 35 percent so far.
However, he noted the virtual assistant could not yet handle all types of inbound calls, such as more complicated types where a customer wants to speak to someone in a specific department of a store about a specific product.
“Our department stores are complex businesses,” Iezzi said.
“To direct a call to the appropriate extension, the virtual assistant has to understand the name of the store, the department and the brand the customer is looking for.
“It has to take into account over 43,000 extensions; 50 store names, some of which are repeated in different states; and thousands of brand names, many of which are Italian or French.
“So it still has a way to go, but continues to learn.”
Changes after COVID-19
The digital platform helped cushion some of the impacts brought about by COVID-19 by enabling David Jones to switch on more support options and channels.
“Whilst our stores remained open during the lockdown, our online store sales doubled,” Iezzi said.
“This sales growth, coupled with dispatch and delivery delays associated with the increased volumes, led to unprecedented demands on the customer services teams.
“We saw increases of up to 500 percent in customer contact. Call volumes increased so quickly that at one stage customers were telephoning us every two seconds.
“Needless to say, wait times for calls ballooned out to levels we weren't comfortable with.”
While the AI portion of Amazon Connect had been helpful in triaging inbound calls, Iezzi said it was clear that David Jones would also need more customer service agents to handle the huge volumes.
“Despite the early success we'd seen with call automation from artificial intelligence, it became clear that we needed to increase the headcount of the team to cope with the deluge of inquiries,” he said.
“Due to the downturn in foot traffic into our bricks and mortar stores, we had sales assistants in those stores who weren't receiving shifts, so we took a slightly different approach and redeployed them into the service team.
“That had the benefit of bringing their experience and knowledge of our customer to our team.
“One of the great features of Amazon Connect and Service Cloud is the flexibility to scale up quite easily. As a result, we could redeploy these team members quickly using their own devices, and we could call on team members from any state to work with us remotely. They were able to hit the ground running.”
David Jones also ramped up live chat capacity.
“We'd already added additional team members to this channel to provide customers with another option of contacting us, and to help deflect telephone calls,” Iezzi said.
“Whilst our results were encouraging, we were soon overwhelmed in this channel as well.
“Implementing a simple chatbot using dropdown menus to understand the customer intent and obtain details from the customer, such as their name, a case number or product information, helped reduce our handling time, and increase agent productivity in chat.”
In addition, David Jones instituted a callback function.
“At the height of the impact of the lockdown, the increased call volumes we were receiving meant that wait times had blown to over an hour,” Iezzi said.
“To address this issue, we introduced callbacks that allowed customers to keep their place in the queue.
“Amazon Connect automatically calls the customer when they've reached the top of the line, and the agent is presented with the customer's details and the reason for their call. This personalises the experience and is more efficient for our agents.”
Iezzi said the retailer had seen encouraging results from the initiatives.
He also credited the digital capabilities of Amazon Connect and Salesforce for allowing David Jones “to keep every channel of communication open throughout the transition to a work from home model” for agents.
“This wouldn't have been possible for us with the systems we'd been using previously,” he said.
The transformation continues
Iezzi said there is more that David Jones plans to do with its customer service transformation.
“Having progressed from a period of disruption and consolidation, we're ready to continue our customer transformation, which covers three main areas,” he said.
First, David Jones plans to identify opportunities “to automate further customer intents so that we can deflect more calls away from the customer services team.”
“As we continue to leverage the power of Amazon Connect used in conjunction with Service Cloud, we will continue to gather information and insights about our customers, as each contact creates a case in the customer's profile in Salesforce,” he said.
“In conjunction we'll continue to monitor and improve the performance of the Amazon Connect virtual assistant to deliver a more seamless experience.”
Second, buoyed by the success of redeploying retail assistants during the COVID crisis, David Jones plans to give them better tools to continue to help customers in-store.
“Earlier this year we commenced proactively selling to customers via live chat, yet our product knowledge sits with our in-store teams,” Iezzi said.
“We're [now] looking to implement chat and messaging in-store. This will give customers more options in how they'd like to engage with our store teams, and allow sales assistants to view their customer's shopping history, allowing them to sell the right product more easily and more efficiently.
“Naturally, this will be integrated with Service Cloud.”
Third, David Jones is also likely to stick with a hybrid working model post-COVID.
“Up to this point, our approach to service was actually quite siloed,” Iezzi said.
“By adopting a more flexible working model, we can scale up and down more easily as the needs of our customers require, and work towards a ‘single view of customer’ across multiple areas of our business.”