Online mattress retailer makes managing remote representatives a dream

This article was published in the August 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.

As an online seller of mattresses, Tuft & Needle finds its customers have a lot of questions — both before and after purchases of its products.

Before the purchase, they want to know about the product itself and whether it will meet their needs. After the purchase, they’re looking for information about delivery dates, how to set up the mattress and what bed frames they will need to buy.

Complicating the situation for Tuft & Needle is that its customer experience representatives typically work from their homes, so customer service calls are sent to multiple locations, often to mobile phones.

That requires a complex customer call center system that can route the calls to the various locations but still keep records of all the communications in an integrated environment.

Two years ago, Tuft & Needle had three customer service representatives and the job was straightforward enough that standard service center technology was able to meet its needs. But within a little over a year, sales grew by more than a factor of eight, and the number of customer service representatives increased to more than 60.

“We wanted a system that analyzed our calls so that we could determine when our busiest call times were and allowed us to adjust our staff size according to our needs.”

Evan Maridou
Tuft & Needle

Needing a new customer service platform that could keep up with that growth, Tuft & Needle settled on a system from Talkdesk.

“We wanted a system that gave us transparency as to who was calling in and analyzed our calls so that we could determine when our busiest call times were,” says Evan Maridou, head of Tuft & Needle’s operations, “and allowed us to adjust our staff size according to our needs.”

Maintaining flexibility

Tuft & Needle did not want to change its practice of allowing employees to work from home. Not only does that practice allow the company to lower costs, it also provides additional benefits to employees. “We wanted an employee-friendly environment, and this allows our employees more flexibility,” Maridou says. “They can visit friends and family out of town for a few days and keep working.”

The challenge is that customer questions can be complex, and a lot of data needs to be kept regarding the questions customers are asking and the answers they are receiving.

“We’re not like Amazon or a lot of other online shops that sell products that are pretty straightforward,” he says. “Our customers have a lot of questions about the product itself and how it will work for them, and the majority of the contact we have with our customers comes over the phone.”

“Our customers have a lot of questions about the product itself and how it will work for them, and the majority of the contact we have with our customers comes over the phone.”

Evan Maridou
Tuft & Needle

All this was important considering that Tuft & Needle, currently based in Phoenix, was formed by two software engineers from Silicon Valley who were frustrated with the complexity of purchasing mattresses online and the ability for customers to understand what they were buying.

Some customers use multiple channels to communicate with the firm, including email and chat. Tuft & Needle needs records of all previous communications so that customer service representatives have access to that information. If a customer e-mails a question that is not answered to their satisfaction, the customer service representative needs to know what the customer asked and was told previously.

The Talkdesk system keeps communications from all channels in an integrated environment so that customer service representatives can access all the necessary information.

Another benefit is that the Talkdesk system has a good deal of flexibility. If the company experiences a sudden surge in calls, an employee who has been assigned to answer emails can transition in seconds to answer phone calls. In addition to the online operation, Tuft & Needle has stores in Phoenix and San Francisco. Employees in those stores can answer calls if the system becomes really busy.

Tuft & Needle’s goal is to answer all calls after two rings or sooner.

CRM integration

Talkdesk’s advanced analytical tools were critical to Tuft & Needle as well. “We can look at what kinds of questions are being asked,” Maridou says. Then, for example, if the company finds certain questions are being repeatedly asked, it can clarify the information on its website to reduce the volume of calls around that issue.

“We like to stay as proactive as possible rather than reactive,” he says.

For the near future, Tuft & Needle wants to integrate customer profiles with the call center so that representatives have a lot of information about the customer’s history with the company, and that information can immediately appear on their screen when customers call.

Tuft & Needle’s use of Talkdesk is reflective of the change in how many companies are providing call center service, says Kaan Ersun, Talkdesk’s vice president of marketing. “There have been a lot of changes in how retailers are providing customer service, including the use of mobile phones. They need calls routed to a number of locations so that they can be answered in a timely matter,” he says.

While there are a number of systems that offer cloud-based, real-time call center technology, Ersun says they are typically only affordable to very large retail chains. Talkdesk has been able to adapt its system to handle the needs of both large chains and smaller companies like Tuft & Needle and still be affordable to the smaller firms.

 

Retailers see a number of benefits with using a cloud-based system, including the ability to integrate to their customer relationship management systems, Ersun says. That allows customer service representatives to keep track of orders and provide useful data to the sales team when customers call in. That allows them, for example, to up-sell or cross-sell products to customers when they call in.

Additionally, having information about customers’ prior interactions with a retailer avoids wasted time. “If a customer service representative has previously suggested an answer to a posed problem and the suggestion didn’t work, they don’t suggest it again,” Ersun says. “You get a faster resolution to the problem.”

Talkdesk is finding more retailers are moving to operations such as Tuft & Needle’s where employees work remotely and need calls routed to their home or cell phones. One online printing company offers 24-hour customer support where agents can work from home. In some cases, customer service agents can be running errands and still answer calls, Ersun says.

Another feature that many retailers like is that if a call is dropped — something that is more common with cell phones — the system recognizes the customers’ phone number and can send them to their original agent so that the customer does not have to start explaining their situation all over again to a new agent.