Dress to Impress: How Great Customer Service is Driving The Black Tux’s Growth
Four years ago, Andrew Blackmon got married. Like most grooms, he outfitted his groomsmen at a big, old-fashioned tux rental store. And like most customers at that store, he had a horrible experience.
The traditional “for better or for worse” vow hasn’t changed much since medieval weddings. However, wedding fashions change dramatically every decade. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, men’s looks were baggy and boxy. Now? Not so much.
Suit rental companies rarely change inventory. They give their customers tuxes that are decades out of style. Andrew and his groomsman, Patrick Coyne, knew they could do better.
“We always thought it was strange,” explains Mike Gammarino, co-founder and vice president of operations at The Black Tux. “Why are guys OK with wearing baggy, old tuxedos to important events? Whether it’s New Year’s or prom, they know there are going to be photos. They know women are going to be dressed to the nines. We saw that no one was offering an alternative, so we created one.”
Every Startup’s Goal: Expansion
The Black Tux launched on June 1, 2013, and spent its first two years growing. What’s its goal for 2016? “Rent more tuxes,” says Gammarino. “We’re really trying to stay focused. I’ve been in startups where we had too many ideas. We pivoted or tried to find new revenue streams and it got distracting.”
Growth in the wedding industry is fueled by referrals. When couples plan their ceremony, they ask their married friends, “Who do you trust? Where did you rent your suits?” That’s why The Black Tux has a mantra – make sure every customer tells a friend about their experience. Gammarino explains, “We want to maintain our high level of customer service and interaction. That way, people will continue to talk about us. If customers have a great experience, they’ll spread the word.”
Creating a Great Customer Experience
Gammarino had led customer service teams before. When he worked at BeachMint, he built a team of 35 agents. Yet no two businesses are the same, Gammarino says. “The challenge for any e-commerce startup is understanding the flow of inbound inquiries. You can only start to understand that as you actually run the business.”
The Black Tux’s products are high-consideration purchases. That means a huge percentage of their customers want to talk to a representative before they buy.
At first, Gammarino's team didn’t realize how weekend-heavy their traffic would be. He says, “We were overwhelmed by the amount of inbound inquiries we got on weekends. It took us some time to look at the data and figure out, for example, ‘Hey, Monday is our busiest day. But Saturday is almost as busy as Friday.’”
Putting together an effective customer service training program also took tinkering. The Black Tux refined its approach and created a two-week course of intensive classroom training, followed by days out on the floor with training buddies. The retailer built courses that employees could take online and brought real-world examples of customer interactions into the classroom.
“We have really good training materials now, and you just can’t have that at the beginning because you don’t know what you’re getting into,” says Gammarino.
The training doesn’t end after the course is finished, however. Once employees leave the classroom, they flow through each mode of customer interaction, mastering one before moving to the next. First, they answer customer emails. Then, they try chat. Once they’ve perfected chat, they return voicemails. Finally, they complete their training by taking live phone calls.
Fully trained employees don’t take on any hyperdedicated roles. Instead, they roll through every aspect of customer service. One representative might take chats in the morning and phone calls in the afternoon, while another might answer emails in the morning and deal with voicemails later.
Working With Live Chat
“Chat is a great way for us to pull customers into the purchase process," Gammarino says. "People love to use chat to ask pre-purchase questions. It helps us win conversions.”
The Black Tux has made Olark's live chat solution even more dynamic by integrating it into its training course. New employees watch live chats unfold and learn best practices. “We bring Olark up on the screen and we do chats with every group of new trainees," Gammarino says. "For half a day we’ll take chats and walk them through the process. The teacher has his fingers on the keyboard and he’s asking the class, ‘How should I answer this question?’ The combination of online training and real-world practice makes a big difference.”
The Black Tux has a very visible style that’s apparent everywhere on its site. Gammarino explains, “When we started, we really wanted to build a brand. If you check out the look of the site, of course we rent tuxedos and do weddings, but you might also think we’re a retailer. Our Olark chat window matches the site, so it’s integrated in terms of branding.”
Customization isn’t the only Olark feature The Black Tux put to work. “We use everything," Gammarino says. "The co-browsing is great when someone’s having a checkout problem or an issue you can’t describe. On certain pages we have a delayed pop-up. We also use the Google Analytics feature.”
The Customer’s Perspective
The Black Tux’s founders knew their business was making a difference when one of its first customers sent a glowing email. “He wrote to say how thankful he was that we were around," recalls Gammarino. "The tuxedo he rented made him feel good. It gave him confidence. You don’t hear that a lot from guys. We might not outwardly talk about it or even understand we’re feeling it, but when we put on a good-fitting suit, we do feel more confident.”
And it’s not only the grooms who are happy. “We’ve heard that brides tell their groomsmen, ‘The tuxes are your responsibility, but please, don’t go to big stores with outdated inventory. Go to The Black Tux because I want you to look good.’”
Ted Carmichael writes about e-commerce and everything else.