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In 2003, a new British shoe company, Vivobarefoot, was formed with a vision to make the best ‘barefoot’ shoes in the world. With its products designed at its headquarters in London, the innovative shoe specialist now sells its extensive range of patented, ultra-thin, puncture-resistant footwear across the globe, both on-line and off-line.
In the last year, the firm experienced a phenomenal 300% growth in ecommerce sales and a 73% improvement in its international on-line sales conversion rates.
So what was responsible for this transformation and what can other ambitious global organisations learn from their experience?
One of the common challenges faced by brands operating across multiple countries, is managing the numerous warehousing, logistics, payment and service operations for different regions. Whether these are run together or separately, in-house or outsourced, the duplication of effort can be both costly and time-consuming.
Global sales service becomes specialised
When Vivobarefoot experienced a jump in on-line demand last year, this prompted their head of e-commerce, Paul Walker (pictured), to review how they were supporting their web operations across the US and Europe. Paul says: “We realised that we needed a greater number of external resources that were specialists in key areas, one of which was customer service.”
From Ventrica’s own experience as an outsourced customer contact centre, we have seen there is a growing recognition by well-known brands that ‘customer service’ is not only key to customer acquisition and retention, but it is also vital to rely on experts who specialise in customer care. This is even more apposite for on-line sales as service has become a key differentiator.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said: “In the offline world . . . 30% of a company’s resources are spent providing a good customer experience and 70% goes to marketing. But online . . . 70% should be devoted to creating a great customer experience and 30% should be spent on ‘shouting’ about it.” This sentiment certainly rang true for Vivobarefoot for whom quality of service played a pivotal role in increasing overall e-sales.
Depth of knowledge
Last year, Ventrica was appointed to work with Vivobarefoot as a centralised customer service hub for all its on-line regions, in readiness for the seasonal peaks of Black Friday and CyberMonday. Part of the selection process, though, was around the level of knowledge and depth of multi-channel services we were able to provide. As Paul Walker says: “We require an exceptional level of knowledge across our extensive product range. Although our shoes are fundamentally the same, there are at any one time between 50-60 different styles that differ based on the environment and terrain they are used in, in order that we can offer a shoe for all occasions – from mountains to oceans, with everything in-between.”
According to Vivobarefoot it isn’t just about processing orders though. For a discerning and well-educated audience it is imperative that service advisors really understand the shoes and are able to share this expertise with customers.
Speak their language
Accommodating cultural differences and preferences such as language and time zones is one reason for deploying in-country operations in different territories, but for many e-tailers it simply may not be necessary. One alternative is to have a centralised service hub in a location such as the UK that is dedicated 24/7 and can draw on its deep pool of native language speakers. This is exactly what Vivobarefoot has done and, since they have introduced native speakers, its sales conversions have rocketed. In particular in Spain and Italy, the company’s like-for-like sales rose by a massive 90% in the first month.
Centralising in the UK
Walker says: “We are seeing many benefits from centralising our customer service in the UK. Not only does it reduce our costs it also saves time in training as we only have to do this once rather than replicate in multiple countries for both the English and foreign language teams, plus it helps with the consistency of our overall customer communications.”
Vivobarefoot is London-based so it makes perfect sense for them to have its customer service team in the UK. “The US is a significant market for us and Americans like to speak with someone with an English accent, so it completely reflects our core brand values.”
In Europe alone, Forrester predicts that by 2017, on-line retail sales will reach 191 billion euros, so if you want to capitalise on the opportunity of cross-border commerce but don’t want the hassle or expense of duplicating infrastructure in every county, then expanding your sales could be easier than you think. With centralised, omni-channel, multi-lingual customer service, you can simultaneously save time, lower costs, increase sales and support brand values.
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