“We had to operate on overdrive,” Michelle Yanez-Olivares, Accent Group’s head of customer experience (CX), told Inside Retail.
To help the CX team keep up with this increased demand, the company has opened a new CX hub at its head office in Melbourne.
“This new space will give us the ability to work collaboratively, be innovative, thrive as a team and bring all the Customer Experience ideas to life,” Yanez-Olivares said on LinkedIn last month.
At the centre of the hub is a large circular screen showing all of the team’s live queues. There’s also a ‘think tank’, where staff can brainstorm new approaches to customer service, and a podium, where team leaders can make department-wide announcements, such as the procedure to follow if a store is forced to close due to Covid.
But the most significant feature is the new virtual sales wall, where the CX team can take live video calls from customers, show them different products and even carry out transactions. In this way, the hub is not only an office with desk space for around 50 people, but also a store.
“It’s really bringing the digital and the physical world together to create an innovative customer experience,” Yanez-Olivares said.
This was a key part of her pitch for the CX hub to Accent Group CEO Daniel Agostinelli, not simply the increase in customer service enquiries.
“We’re a retail business, but as we see the shift in consumer behaviour towards online, we want to make sure that we still embody the retail way of doing things online,” she said.
“So we came up with this concept of building out a customer experience hub that is part online support office, part store.”
The rise of virtual selling
Accent Group is Australia and New Zealand’s biggest specialty footwear retailer, with over 500 stores across its portfolio of retail businesses, including Platypus, HypeDC, The Athlete’s Foot, Subtype, The Trybe, Pivot and 4 Workers, and global brands, including Skechers, Vans, Dr Martens and Merrell.
But when the retailer was forced to close those stores during lockdown, it quickly turned key locations into ‘dark stores’ to help fulfil online orders. It also launched a video chat option on its e-commerce sites so online shoppers could connect with sales assistants to see products and ask questions.
As a result, Accent Group saw its biggest month of online sales in May 2020, with $29 million in transactions. The company now aims to have at least 30 per cent of sales occur online, and its new virtual sales channel will be a big part of that.
Today, the sales assistants on the other end of the video calls are based in the CX hub, rather than stores.
The hub’s virtual sales wall has separate sections for seven key brands – Dr Martens, Skechers, Vans, Merrell, Platypus, Hype DC and 4 Workers – and the team has access to stock and a POS system to carry out transactions.
“We’ve sectioned it off in a way so the customer doesn’t know that if they were to go 100 metres to the left or the right, there’s actually another banner,” Yanez-Olivares said.
While it’s still early days, the advantages of virtual selling are compelling. Retailers can provide personalised, one-on-one customer service without the limitations of store locations and opening hours – or the cost of rent.
“Virtual sales didn’t exist 18 months ago, it’s a brand new stream of revenue, and at the moment, we’re focusing on how we can continue to tailor the service design online, and have a value add approach,” Yanez-Olivares said.
One thing is clear, it has elevated the role of the CX department at Accent Group.
“It gives us a voice across the business and empowers us to move forward with our agenda and really get what we need for the customer,” she said.
Tripled in size
Currently, virtual sales represent less than 20 per cent of the CX department’s workload. Most of the time, the team is handling traditional customer complaints, such as delivery delays, return requests, or stock issues.
On top of this, the CX department supports Accent Group’s retail stores, largely around fulfilment, such as click-and-collect and ship-from-store, and maintains the knowledge base for each of the company’s retail businesses and brands. This involves making sure all content and branding is consistent with corporate guidelines. It also conducts training and quality assurance.
With around 95 people working in CX, split between Melbourne and Sydney, it’s one of Accent Group’s biggest departments.
“I would say we’ve comfortably tripled the size of the team over the last 18 months,” Yanez-Olivares said.
“In comparison to other departments, we’re absolutely massive.”
And now that her team has a dedicated space to work more collaboratively and creatively to solve common customer pain points, Yanez-Olivares plans to keep pushing the CX department forward.
“The business sees customer experience as a point of difference, which I’m really grateful for,” she said.