Women's handbag and accessories brand Vera Bradley recently opened a new line of communication with its customers: text messaging. The company is using text messaging to provide speedier and more personalized customer service. Prior to implementing the contact-center solution that enabled texting, Vera Bradley recognized its customers might be trying to send text messages to its current toll-free customer service number. To address this, the brand partnered with NICE inContact, a cloud-based contact center solution suite, to enable customer service representatives (CSRs) to begin sending text messages to customers looking for help.
In this interview with Susan Campbell, director, customer service at Vera Bradley, and Chris Bauserman, vice president, product and segment marketing at NICE inContact, we learn more about the brand's use of text messaging as a customer service tool.
Total Retail: Why did Vera Bradley decide to begin using text messaging as another channel to communicate with its customers?
Susan Campbell: After realizing that our customers could be trying to send text messages to the customer service numbers — which could not receive text messages — we knew we had to be there when our customers needed help. Additionally, we know consumers expect to be able to contact companies in the way that’s most convenient for them, so we wanted to be present where we knew our customers would be.
We were able to accomplish this by using Textel integrated with NICE inContact CXone, which has worked seamlessly to enable better communication with our customers.
Chris Bauserman: Texting is an integral part of consumers’ daily lives, and when millennials or Gen Z shoppers see a phone number from a business, they naturally assume they can send a text. Text, voice, chat, email, social — if it’s a channel your customers are using, they expect you to be there. In fact, a recent study found that 87 percent of consumers are more willing to do business with a company that offers more ways to communicate with it.
Consumers also expect to be guided to the channel that resolves their issue the quickest, and if they go from text to a phone call, nine out of 10 expect a seamless transition. This means they don’t want to go through the whole process of providing their name and account number a second time, as if the first point of contact never happened.
In Vera Bradley’s case, simple requests and questions can be resolved through texts. If it’s an issue that would be more easily resolved quicker through another method of communication, texts can be used to guide the customer to the next step in the process, keeping all points of contact seamless and simple for the customer.
TR: Vera Bradley has enabled text messaging as a means for customers to communicate with its CSRs. What are the ways that customers are using the service?
SC: Many of our customers are opting to send a text instead of calling. While more complicated needs are best solved by an intelligently routed phone call, simple tasks such as checking the status of an order, retrieving a receipt or inquiring about shipping information are quickly and easily handled through texting. This method of communication allows our customer service agents to handle more than one conversation at a time, while the customer enjoys heightened convenience and can multitask while awaiting a response.
TR: Have Vera Bradley's CSRs been trained on how to best communicate with customers via text messaging?
SC: Yes. We created best practices for our team made up of four components: texting overview, brand voice, etiquette, and English/grammar. Our dedicated chatters picked up the texting campaign skill. We've seen this group of CSRs maintain much higher productivity throughout the year. We actually have one CSR at 99.90 percent for the quarter. We recently had to update our metrics to measure productivity for our chat and text team.
Inadvertently, we also created an internal career track within the department. Chat/Text roles are very desirable and we shift bid when a position opens up. We “promote” our phone CSRs with a proven track record of the highest productivity. We have CSRs currently working to improve their productivity so they're considered the next time we have a position available.
TR: What are the benefits that Vera Bradley has seen since it began using text messaging as part of its customer service channels?
CB: Vera Bradley has been able to decrease call volume by 7 percent and increase overall contact center efficiency and cost effectiveness. The brand is now able to handle more customer contacts faster, and at a lower cost, as dedicated agents can manage three customers at a time via text rather than just one at a time over the phone. Vera Bradley has also experienced a 0 percent abandon rate when interacting with customers over text.
TR: Does the brand foresee expanding its use of text messaging to other areas — e.g., marketing? If so, in what ways?
SC: Our text team can answer product and service questions, track and replace orders, and now we're actually able to complete a sales transaction securely. In August, we launched a secure payment process through text and we're very pleased with the results. This step allows our customers to complete their transaction without changing communication medium. Our customer feedback has been extremely positive and our CSRs have a sense of accomplishment.