How Shinesty Delivers Seamless Holiday Support (Despite Handling 6x as Many Tickets)

Holiday customer support.

Shinesty doesn’t really do “business as usual.” Known for their outlandish clothing and super comfortable underpants, Shinesty's brand is built on fun and keeping it weird. But that doesn’t mean their customer support is chaotic—they run a tight ship and prioritize getting customers the help they need.

We caught up with Antonio King, Director of Experience at Shinesty, aspiring model, and all around smart guy to learn more about how their team prepares for the busiest shopping season of the year. In this interview, we cover:

  • The customer support tools Shinesty can’t live without
  • What onboarding seasonal staff looks like
  • How to manage shipping expectations when it comes to the holidays
  • How Antonio takes care of his team during the busy period

How Shinesty supports their customers

Sarah Chambers: Can you tell me a little bit about how customer support is set up at Shinesty right now?

Antonio King: Absolutely. We have about three full-time people. The beauty of our situation is we haven't really had to scale, especially with full-time staff, even as we've grown 40% in sales over the past few years.

With that level of growth, we’d typically expect a big increase in customer contacts, but we've actually been reducing our overall number of support requests, which is great. Growing the business without exponentially growing your contact rate is ideal.

"Growing the business without exponentially growing your contact rate is ideal."

To keep unnecessary contacts low, we invest heavily in technology to help mitigate lots of simple questions, as well as in agent training and reducing customer effort as the major part of our internal strategy. This allows us to capitalize on the very first interaction to ensure we don’t have many repeat contacts.

Currently, we manage two main channels—email and chat. We used to offer phone support, but it wasn't the right fit so we got rid of it and kept our focus on email and chat.

Sarah: With Shinesty being a seasonal business, can you tell me more about how Black Friday Cyber Monday affects your support volume?

Antonio: Black Friday and Cyber Monday are typically the main events for us during the year. We have a small bump in June for Fourth of July sales. But June is essentially the precursor before BFCM.

Black Friday, we typically run a joke-y promotion, like 1% off of everything on the site. That’s obviously nothing to write home about, but people still show up. We've done it every year and it's been really fun to watch everyone engage with the campaign. During Cyber Monday we see our biggest surge of support requests, because we historically have done a tiered stacking gift system.

Shinesty's tiered stacking gift system
A 2017 campaign featuring Shinesty's tiered deals.

Throughout the year we’ll see roughly 520-600 tickets a month. When we get to Cyber Monday in November, we start the busy rush for two weeks. Then around December 15th, we’re into the final weeks of the holiday rush. We have a four-week span where we see an uptick in activity, and we'll usually expect around 4000 tickets in November, and around 2000 in December.

This year, we may be closer to 3000 in November and 1000 in December. But compared to the ~500 we received the months before, it goes to show you how much of an increase we’re really talking about.

How to stem the tide of support requests

Sarah: You've put in a few different things to minimize that effect on your support team. What are your main processes you’ve put into place to help your team deal with that traffic?

Antonio: There are a couple things. I'm technologically driven, because I understand the value of technology and what it can do, especially when you have a model with growth or such volatile seasonality.

I also look for technology that not only assists in our busy times, but that’s useful throughout any other time of the year. First, we employ technology to handle a lot of the black and white questions from customers. Solvvy is something we've been utilizing since April of last year. At our busiest, we see about a 27% to 30% ticket deflection rate with Solvvy—that allows more time for my team to deal with more non-obvious, gray issues that require a human touch.

"Technology gives my team more time to deal with non-obvious issues that require a human touch."

Now, we’re focusing on the things that we can automate that may currently require one single touchpoint from our agents. For example, say someone wants to change the contents of their order, whether that’s the shipping address or billing address or cancelling the order altogether. That’s a really simple thing to do, but it still requires a human touch.

That kind of contact typically climbs in Q4. That's what we’d expect, because we also see the number of orders climb. It's a twofold problem, because at that point the window for shipment is much smaller. The warehouse is producing things much faster because they have a bigger volume to turn out, and customers have a smaller window to make changes. The quicker it can be handled, the easier and more effective that handling will be.

Shinesty products.

Sarah: With the timeframe of shipping for the holidays, people are more stressed and you have less time to act on things. Do you change the way that you set customer expectations?

Antonio: Normally, regardless of the time of the year, there’s an estimated delivery date customers will see when selecting their respective shipping methods. We automatically add a one-day buffer to that; I think in Q4 we add a two-day buffer, just in case. So what ends up happening is we intentionally under promise and over deliver.

Sarah: Do you hire new people for your seasonal traffic?

Antonio: We likely will for the first time this year, and that’s for a few reasons. We initially planned on doing that last year. My team did an exceptional job post-Cyber Monday—then that Thursday, a team member resigned due to personal things going on in their life. Soon after they resigned, we had a viral video hit 55 million views on Facebook in two days. So the weight totally shifted. That was a bit of a challenge, but it was good problem to have.

We also want seasonal staff available to handle the extra volume, especially during the holiday time frame my team is responsible for staying on for. I want to give my team Christmas and New Year's week off, too, because we give everyone else off during those weeks. Having seasonal staff keeps our support available while giving my team time off during those weeks.

Setting new hires up for success

Sarah: What does your onboarding process look like? How can you get them up to speed to get them on tickets as fast as possible?

Antonio: It depends on a number of factors. We have people we're recruiting that know who we are and hopefully shop with us. So they already understand what the brand about. If not, that's a starting point, as that's genuinely one of the hardest things to train for. The first step is familiarizing people with the brand, our voice, and how to write and communicate in our voice. We also want people to learn about our products as quickly as they can.

Shinesty's team.
The Shinesty team gets together for a retreat.

The other half is learning how to navigate our systems quickly. My teammate who I put in charge of leading a training initiative this year is building out activities, similar to a classroom setting, that will go over the basics, and navigate new hires through some of our systems. They’ll have activities to help them learn our systems as well as a scavenger hunt, so they get to explore situations that are relevant to what they will be working on.

"We familiarize new hires with the brand, our voice, and how to write and communicate in our voice."

They'll get opportunities to write in the Shinesty voice, in a way that reflects our brand. But admittedly, there’s also going to be expectations to learn and figure things out—you’ll have to jump right in, but we’ll be with you side by side to help you succeed.

Along the way, we’ll provide continuous and immediate feedback consistently, as opposed to waiting for a week to share ways to improve.

Keeping standards (and spirits) high

Sarah: When volume shoots up you said that you were kind of expecting your metrics to drop. When you're tracking your customer happiness metrics, do you build in that buffer for the team? Or do you try and keep team expectations to the same level as the rest of the year?

Antonio: Great question. It depends, but usually I try to keep it similar to the rest of the year. We’re trying to meet the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, but after a certain time, I can recognize when our resources are taxed. Let’s say maybe the volume is more than we expected, then you can adjust that metric accordingly.

But in most cases, I will keep similar expectations because I want to keep our bar consistently high, as opposed to viewing a lower standard as necessary just because we’re a little busier. Especially if it's stuff that's within our purview of control.

Sarah: With your team working especially hard to keep standards high, do you do anything special for your team during the holiday season?

Antonio: Totally. We usually have monthly team lunches and that will start to shift to weekly team lunches. The conversations that come from that are also a good opportunity for me to understand where people are struggling. It allows me to make sure my team's OK, and check their happiness levels every now and then.

"Casual conversations provide a good opportunity for me to understand where people are struggling."

This year, we're also trying to automate a lot of the areas we typically hit a snag on. Automating refunds, allowing people to upgrade or exchange orders on their own through our in-house return application—a lot of the manual labor we have to do during the holiday season, I’m trying to reduce that workload.

I usually try to do things after we’ve made it through the season, too, in addition to random gestures during the rush hour—organizing lunches or drinks for them, or whatever the case is. Then we give them the week off between Christmas and New Years, which customer service teams don't often get off, even when the rest of the company leaves for the holidays. That’s something I want to do for them this year and going forward. Because they work just as hard as the rest of the company does. So I want the team to have time with their families, or for travelling, whatever they want to do.

Shinesty support team.
Cody Szymanski, Customer Experience Specialist, and Brittany Olsen, "Happiness Maker" on the Shinesty support team.

Sarah: You’ve mentioned a few ways you’ve used tech to shift the workload. Are there any other Shopify Apps or tools you'd recommend putting in place for a seasonal spike?

Antonio: Most of what we use is essentially modified workflows in our Help Center that helps us get to things faster. For example, depending on what category a support request comes in under, it'll automatically have a tier color assigned to it. Then those tier colors are different views. The team knows that anything that comes in with the red tier requires the fastest response time.

Ticket tiers.

It might represent someone looking to change orders, or someone's order not being found where it's supposed to be sent. This is particularly important for customer changes or cancellations because there's a smaller window to get that done. Workflows like that are the main thing that help us optimize and get things done faster.

The best time to plan was yesterday

Sarah: If you could share one tip with any support managers who are getting ready for their black Friday, Cyber Monday traffic, what would you suggest?

Antonio: We actually start getting ready in July, so I would say to test early and plan even earlier. For our business in particular, we use that small traffic bump in June as an opportunity to test for issues that could arise during BFCM.

Shinesty interview.
Interview featuring Antonio King with KDVR about Shinesty's summer line.

In May 2016, for example, I knew to make note of whatever needed my attention the most. And it was pretty apparent, so I made sure to get those things done by June. So I can use June to say, “Let's see what impact these improvements have on a small bump in traffic, as opposed to implementing them for the first time when we're extremely busy.”

That way, if it doesn't work out, you have another opportunity to rethink and retest your approach before you get to the holiday season. Because you don't want to get to Q4 and roll the dice on a big bet that may blow up in your face. That's just unfortunate.

Sarah: Nobody wants to be that busy and trying new things on the fly for sure. Thank you so much, Antonio. I definitely owe you one for your time and insight—hope to catch up next time we're in the same place.

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