Pier 1 Imports has been looking for ways to save money, including ongoing moves to right-size its store footprint. A customer contact center overhaul has not only cut costs but also made it easier for customers to add pictures to their communications.
Pier 1 has moved nearly 20% of its communications to messaging options such as text messaging and online chat by implementing software from Quiq, allowing the retailer to significantly lower the costs related to each interaction (communicating with messaging is approximately half the cost of a phone call). In addition to saving money, Pier 1’s initiative enabled shoppers to choose their own method of communication. Text messaging and online chat are now the retailer’s two fastest-growing communication channels, accompanied by a natural decline in phone and email, according to Laurie Simpter, Senior Manager of Customer Relations at Pier 1 Imports.
Additionally, these two messaging options add the all-important visual element to the customer service process, enabling shoppers to provide more context around potential questions, comments or concerns.
“As we started dissecting the mindset of our customers, we noticed that they love to send us pictures, whether it’s a space they’re trying to decorate or accompanied with a request like ‘I bought this from Pier 1 15 years ago, do you still carry it?’,” said Simpter in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s been extremely helpful for us as an e-Commerce business to have customers take a picture of a damaged product, so that we can best understand where that damage is occurring.”
Pier 1 is even anticipating testing some form of chatbots with Quiq in the future, according to Simpter.
Contact Center’s New Roles Include Revenue Generation
Implementing text messaging and online chat wasn’t Pier 1’s first step in improving the efficiency of its customer care team. The retailer needed to adopt call center support technology as it scaled up rapidly, from 25 agents to 150 in an 18-month period. Up to 85% of inquiries the customer reps receive are related to the Pier 1 e-Commerce business, while only 15% are related to brick-and-mortar concerns, a far cry from a few years prior when the calls were predominantly related to the stores.
“We also changed from strictly a support and service center to now a revenue-generating center,” said Simpter. “We are taking orders and placing them on the customer’s behalf. It’s just a really huge dynamic shift in what we were supporting and what talent we needed. We didn’t have processes in place and it was truly us trying to keep our heads above water. Our agents were struggling initially with what they were given because the tools were very outdated and cumbersome. They were having to access over 25 different applications to service our customers.”
In the three years since Simpter took leadership of the Customer Relations department, the team has integrated more systems within the call center, enabling them to whittle down the number of separate applications that need to be used simultaneously. The team was able to change its training philosophy, focusing less on technology navigation and more on “soft skills” such as customer interactions.
‘Work-From-Home’ Agents Embody New Pier 1 Philosophy
With the Quiq software in place, the company now exclusively hires work-from-home agents: 99% of total support employees now work from home, after an initial 45- to 60-day training session at the call center.
“Hiring at-home agents really expanded our talent pool beyond just a small radius near downtown Fort Worth, Texas,” Simpter said. “The caliber of agents and applicants that we’re getting now has significantly improved over what we were getting in the past, and the satisfaction of our agents is very high. We were having so many attendance conversations, and before we shifted to the at-home policy, people were constantly late trying to getting to an office in the middle of downtown. Now, we can focus on performance and not the little things like dress code and attendance — those are things you have to address but they just take time away from what you need to do.”
The mindset behind the shift to working from home is that Simpter and her team believe happier, more comfortable employees are more likely to be more productive and, in turn, produce happier shoppers.
Beyond the contact center shift, Pier 1 plans to close 70 stores in fiscal 2020 and may shutter as many as 70 more as part of its cost-cutting plan. The retailer is negotiating lease terms with its landlords to avoid the additional closures, but is prepared to downsize up to 15% of its 951 stores if necessary.
The Pier 1 turnaround efforts have included new leadership: the company appointed Douglas Diemoz to the newly created role of President to help oversee daily operations and performance, while Lance Wills was named EVP and CIO to help the company build on its existing technology platform and develop new capabilities.