How Cotton On’s customer service team drives change

Earlier this year, Cotton On Group launched a ‘find in store’ feature across all its e-commerce sites, enabling customers to see whether any bricks-and-mortar stores near them have a particular item in stock.

Given Cotton On’s commitment to omnichannel capabilities, the update itself is not altogether surprising. Rather, it is the way the update came about that’s unusual, since it originated in the company’s customer service department.

Speaking at a conference in Sydney in July, Brendan Sweeney, general manager of e-commerce at Cotton On Group, explained that a significant number of customer service inquiries used to be made up of customers asking whether a store near them had a certain style of jeans, t-shirt, shoes, notebook or other item in stock.

Often, customers wanted to go in-store to try on clothing before purchasing, but it may also have been more convenient to buy items at a shopping centre than wait for delivery.

By developing the ‘find in store’ feature and giving customers the ability to ‘self-serve’, the retailer not only was able to reduce the number of repetitive requests flooding the customer service department, but also boost sales and customer satisfaction.

This is not the only time that the customer service team has instigated change at Cotton On Group. In fact, that’s its mandate. According to Peter Hutchison, group head of digital customer experience, the team is tasked with identifying any changes that could improve the customer experience, acting as a sort of ground zero for ideas.

“We are continually bringing the solving of the problems closer to the customer service team,” Hutchison told IRW.

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Backed by data

This shift began a little over two years ago, when the e-commerce department was restructured and the leaders of operations and technology and other digital teams started reporting to a single general manager, Sweeney. At the same time, much of the website content, which used to be maintained by the marketing department, was put in the hands of the customer service team.

“They’re the first to know about a problem, and they’re the ones who can solve the problem themselves or find the person who can,”
Hutchison explained.

These organisational changes have been aided by the group’s adoption of the Zendesk platform, which enables the customer service team to provide relevant data about the kinds of inquiries they are receiving.

“Almost every problem we solve is backed up with customer service data,” Hutchison said.

For instance, after the retailer rolled out its cross-brand loyalty program, Cotton On Perks, in Australia earlier this year, the customer
service team was inundated with calls from customers who had problems redeeming their loyalty vouchers in-store.

Hutchison said this is a potential downside of Cotton On’s aim to be fast to market with new innovations, but that the customer service

team is designed to catch any issues as soon as they crop up.

“We gave the feedback to the tech team straightaway. That’s really critical,” he said.

But the team isn’t not only looking for things that have gone wrong. They’re also looking for opportunities to launch new products and services, such as e-gift cards, which the retailer is currently developing.

“The thing that ticked us over was the sheer volume of customers saying I’ve got a gift card but can’t redeem it on the website or across brands. Sometimes it’s simply about changing the way we provide information to the customer, but sometimes it’s something bigger that requires a technology investment,” Hutchison said.

Rise of self-serve

Cotton On’s customer service team is split between Australia, where around 40 people are based and are more focused on insights and processes, and overseas, where team members handle the core volume of calls. Together, they handle customer service requests from around the world.

Hutchison said the retailer’s goal is to grow the business without growing the customer service team. A big part of this will involve
identifying more scenarios where customers can ‘self-serve’, such as the ‘find in store’ feature. But there is little chance of the customer
service team being designed out entirely.

“We have a habit of doing new things, which often have unexpected consequences. But if you’re not going to do that, then you’re not innovating enough,” he said.

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