The Cloud, The Drugstore and The Social Customer

December 24, 2010 Off By David
Grazed from Smart Data Collective.  Author: Brent Leary.

Back in September I had the pleasure of participating in’s online event, On-Demand: Soaring with the Cloud Virtual Summit. They just published the follow up e-Book to that event, a Software-as-a-Service Guide for Leaders of Growing Enterprise. The book contains insight and analysis from cloud computing expert and ZDNet blogger Phil Wainewright, and includes a session by session breakdown of the summit complete with video excerpts. It’s a free download (with registration) and definitely filled with insights from folks like Netflix founder Reed Hastings, former editor-in-chief Jon Byrne, and a host of others.

You can use this link to download a copy of the book.

As part of the event I had the great pleasure of having a conversation with Lisa Larson, Director of Customer Care for Lisa is leading the effort to extend Drugstore’s customer support engagement through social tools and strategies to create a more satisfying customer experience. Lisa is passionate about customer service, and she’s also passionate about building real relationships with them. Below is a transcript to a piece of our conversation. It’s kind of long, but hopefully you’ll feel it’s worth a read.

If you have some time, you may want to check out the audio below, so you can hear Lisa’s words come to life. The words she says are great, but it’s the passion behind the words (and the actions those words inspired) that drives the success Drugstore is having in this area. And it’s that passion for customer engagement that will bring success to those looking to integrate social strategies with traditional customer support to create the collaborate relationships needed to build mutual loyalty and trust.

Brent Leary: When did you start using CRM, particularly on the On-Demand forum, to help grow the business?

Lisa Larson: Really to help grow the business with CRM on demand, we started that back in late 2004.

Brent Leary: What was the driving factor to help make that decision?

Lisa Larson: Really we needed something that would help us manage our contacts. We were growing at a rate that was exponential. There is no way that we could grow the call center at that rate and handle those costs. We needed something that would help us with our cost and our growth. The first step into this was the knowledge base.

Brent Leary: Take us through what it took to get that going, and why you decided to do an On-Demand solution, as opposed to the traditional installed applications.

Lisa Larson: With On-Demand, you actually have opportunities to create the process and programs yourself. That was meaningful to us. We knew that we were going to grow. We actually had many outside partners and sites already. At this time we have 20 sites, back then I believe we had four websites that we needed to personalize and crate a knowledge base for each of our customer care units.

Brent Leary: How did that impact the support you gave the customers? How did that impact their ability to get the information that they needed?

Lisa Larson: This allowed our customers to go right online and find it, if they want to. The important piece of that is you need to create a tool that is easy for them to access. It’s actually something that they own.

Lisa Larson: The tool that we purchased allowed us to customize it to our customers needs, based on how they are using it. That meant something to them. We decreased over thirty percent of our email contacts by using the On-Demand knowledge base and that’s huge. If you think of that and we’re mainly an online retailer, so we have a lot of email contacts. That is a lot of cost savings for customer care and that is growth that we don’t need.

Brent Leary: So, how did that impact the way your employees felt about doing their business, engagement with the customer? Did it actually make them more productive in other ways?

Lisa Larson: OH absolutely, they are more productive. What happens is, the easy contacts go away. What you are left with is the difficult contacts. It is a little bit more time consuming. You will see your talk times go up and your email handle times go up, but you’ll see your contacts go down overall and you do get great cost savings on that. The CSRs perspective, they love it, mainly because they own and they actually manage the knowledge base. The CSRs are the ones that are telling us what is happening with the customers and we go back through and we look at our contacts. We will then update and upgrade the knowledge base based on their feedback.

Brent Leary: CSRs have a tough job and they are on the front line. How is giving them those tools and also giving the customers the tools, how has that impacted their job in terms of are they happier? Do they stay longer with

Lisa Larson: We definitely have seen a decrease in turn over and it was a great decrease. It was over 80% and right now it’s just over 40%.

here are many different reasons, great tools is one of them. If you ask CSRs that is one of their requests is they want good tools. They want to be able to serve the customers. CSRs want to be able that their customers get the information they need, it is important to them. When you are a part of that process and you own it. Then you know that you are going to manage it well for the customers, and they are doing their jobs well.

Brent Leary: How are On-Demand tools and even some of the social media tools, how is that allowing the customers to get a better sense of who you guys are?

Lisa Larson: Right now we are out there in social media, in two areas with the marketing. That’s and But we are also out there within Customer Care; we have Beauty Advisorand Directors Desk. So we go out there and we talk to our customers and the online on-demand tools help us manage those contacts. We can know what they are, who they are, how long they take and then learn from theme to schedule them and what their costs are.

Brent Leary: Was that a big transitional change, being able to start communicating with customers or have them communicate with you over social channels, as opposed to the more traditional channels?

Lisa Larson: It was. It really was. It’s different. You have to learn how to do it. You start out rough. I think most people probably do. Not many people are doing this yet. They are trying to learn how to talk to your customers. You are trying to learn, should it be personal or rally professional. I think there are different areas. With our marketing areas, you will see it purely marketing and professionalism promotions. We have fun and they get to know us as a store. But when you are sitting down and you are talking to someone within Directors’ Desk, its personal. You are talking to me and I am there to solve your problems and you will get to know who I am, or you will get to know who the beauty advisor is, because we are there to serve you. Just like you walk into the corner store and you are talking to the person at the front desk, it’s the same thing. That is hat social media is, it’s the communication and we think that’s important. We want people to know us.

Brent Leary: Does that also translate to better relationships with the customers, now that they are getting a sense for knowing who you are? Does it make it a more valuable interaction between customers and the agents?

Lisa Larson: It does. They start caring for you. Sometimes when you are online or just on the phone or email, people almost forget that you are human. When you put a face out there, or you put people out there and they get to know who you are, they treat you differently. Our goal is to serve them and to solve their problems and did it well. I think I hear that and see it and know it. Social media is a big part of that. They can come and see who we are. We fix their problem, they see us not only fixing their problems, but fixing everyone else’s. That means something to them. You do it well, honestly, and openly and you are going to create relationships. They are going to like you for that. ITs when you don’t do it that way or you ignore them or you don’t resolve their problems that they won’t trust you.

That’s a goal, is to build trust because we want to fix every problem out there. We want to do it well. We want to do it right.

Brent Leary: Talk a little bit about, maybe some ROI, or how the overall hard numbers have been impacted by using the online solutions to integrate some of these things then?

Lisa Larson: The big one was the knowledge base. That was a large one for us with the 30% decrease in the amounts. Social media is one that we are learning. We know that we have a win in social media because we are actually committed to our customers and we joined the community and they are getting to know us. What we are learning and what we are trying to do is understand the costs and the impact. That is something that we don’t know really well right now, we are pushing on it. I believe this is an area of growth an opportunity, but what that tells me is, I need to look at this context like I do chat, email or phone. I need to be able to manage them. I need to be able to schedule them and forecast them even. How do I do that? By learning and I am using the on demand tools right now to help me with that. It’s really looking at them and saying, "How long do they take? When are they coming in? What are the resolutions? What are we doing to resolve that? What is the cost?"

Brent Leary: Have you integrated the social fully into the traditional methods that you are using for Customer Care? Or is it segmented out? How are you handling that?

Lisa Larson: At this point, it is segmented out. This is an area that we are learning. It’s also an area that’s right out there in everyone can see it. It’s not like your normal email or phone call. We have senior agents who help in this area, including myself because we are still learning.

Brent Leary: So they can actually contact you on Twitter?

Lisa Larson: They can contact me on Twitter. They can contact my team on Twitter and we’ll be there to talk to them. We make sure that we actually use our escalation team or a team leads to talk back, because you cannot take things back. There is one shot. If you say the wrong thing or you create the wrong impression, it could be a bad brand experience and that’s one thing we want to be cautious of. We are learning. We have put together processes. We are building on those and the guidelines on how to speak to our customers in this arena.

Brent Leary: Just to give us a sense, how many reps do you have?

Lisa Larson: Overall we have over 150 CSRs, plus a management team.

Brent Leary: A certain number of them are interacting or all of them? What percentage of them are actually out there?

Lisa Larson: Within social media, just a small percentage of my escalation team. I have got a team of ten right now that are trained and being trained. They are not all corresponding. What we have done is we are looking at those sites, because its 24/7. We look at every social media site, every two to four hours, depending on the time. We have a schedule. If there’s an issue that is a Customer Care issue and they can quickly and easily respond to, they do.

If it’s a situation where they are not sure how to handle that contact, they actually bring it forward and we have a social media team that includes marketing, legal, myself and HR. There are some issues you want to be very cautious about.

Brent Leary: What are some of the other challenges that you see as you begin utilizing these services and interacting with customers on social networks?

Lisa Larson: Customers speak pretty plainly out there. This often means that you can go to a conversation that is very interesting and very intriguing and if you respond to them, you’re showing all of your customers the response. You are guiding them. They can click on that. You have to make that decision, should you do it. We have pretty much gone towards everyone. One person we didn’t respond to because they had so much personal information. We thought that we would be jeopardizing this customer. Customers will swear, they will do things and we go out there and we don’t mind responding and saying "Hey, we’re sorry. We’ll take care of this for you."

It’s funny; I had one customer who was so irate. It was amazing. I had read his thing and thought, "Man, if I respond to this customer I am leading all of my customers into this. Do I want to do it?"

I did it. It was an opportunity. He had a problem. We made a mistake and we needed to fix it. So I went right through. I said, "I’m sorry. I am Lisa Larson, Director of Customer Care, how can I fix this for you?" The next thing you know, everything was, "Thank you. I love This is the best place to shop. You guys are awesome." He was tweeting about us everywhere.

That is what we want. You look at that person and sometimes they are emotional. Its okay, when things go bad, customers get emotional. That is not a bad thing. You just need to go out there and try to fix it. Then they are emotional that you fixed it. They are so happy. There hasn’t been one contact yet that we haven’t been able to solve.

Brent Leary: There is a lot of publicity and a lot of focus on social media but web self service seems to help with customers being able to solve their own issues and challenges. Where does web self service fit into what you guys are doing at Drugstore?

Lisa Larson: That’s big for us. Our job is to allow the customers to shop online and we offer them convenience. Web self service just fits in with what we are trying to offer our customers, its convenience.

They want to go online and they want to search for the knowledge that they need to make their shopping experience better, they have that opportunity. I’ll be honest, we use it and we push it out within social media. A lot of those customer questions can’t be handled in 140 characters, but I can definitely push out a page of our self help and they can go online and look for themselves. It’s interesting, we are constantly learning how to meld these different tools together, even chat.

We use chat within social media. We will push out a chat link if we can have immediate conversations with our customers. They use it within social media to chat with our beauty advisors as well.

Lisa Larson: It’s a great opportunity because it is just pushing a link out to the customers.

Brent Leary: Where does mobility fit in? Are you seeing customers trying to get help using their mobile phones? Where does that fit in to what you guys are doing?

Lisa Larson: That is our next project. I am so excited for mobile. I think it is the future. I think it is the way we are going. That is coming up for us within the next month. We have got the beauty advisor team that we actually started to really focus on chat and we saw between 25% and 30% conversion.

It’s a great conversion on sales with larger basket sizes. I believe that mobile will help us reach the same goals. It’s an opportunity that we can look at and we can actually pull the data in and analyze and understand how our customers are using it. Mobile is hard to use. We have an application out there.

I shop and I try to shop mobile and it’s difficult. I know that if my Customer Care team is right there to help them, I can make it easy and I can close those sales.

Brent Leary: What has been management’s biggest goal and objective met at the high level for using these services?

Lisa Larson: There is actually many. I think you look at the customer and what’s the customer level at. We look at our scores month’s customers and it’s higher. Then we look at the cost savings. It’s right there and it’s allowing us to grow. Then we look at our employees and their happier. All of the areas that you look at you can’t look at one because so many areas are affected by this.

Brent Leary: You mentioned mobility is next. Look out a year from now, what are you going to be using? What kind of services are you going to be able to provide your customers that you might not be doing right now?

Lisa Larson: I would love to have forums out there and have the conversations amongst the customers. I’d love them to have the opportunity to teach themselves and have fun and learn about products. I would love to create communities that are based around health and wellness and our company and really get out there and educate customers. We have nutritionists working for us as well, we could use them as well our beauty advisors.

I think it’s just an opportunity to have fun with the customers. It’s not only an opportunity its cost savings because I know my customers are going to solve their own problems with each other. What does that do? It deflects contacts from me. That is a huge part of my business because then I can spend more time hiring more nutritionists and beauty advisors because they are solving their own problems and I can thrive in other services that are cool and fun. That’s always neat to do.