The COVID pandemic inevitably resulted in the physical world closure of so-called non-essential retail, driving firms online to cope with a societal shift to e-commerce on a scale that few had ever anticipated. For some retail sectors, there was a boom, as seen most notably in the grocery trade; for others, the shift online brought considerable customer experience challenges, particularly those retailers who sell items that cry out for the in-store ‘touch it and try it on’ element.
One such firm was Swarovski. Established in 1895, the retailer specializes in products made from both synthetic and natural gems, such as jewellery, stones, chandeliers, accessories and gifts. When you’re dealing with bright and sparkly goods, being up close and seeing them in the real world is something that’s important to the traditional retail model. As Isabella Kosch, Head of the firm's GBS Service Management arm, notes:
Swarovski was affected by shop closures, as most other retailers were. Sometimes more than 50% of our shops were actually closed. As you can imagine, crystal is a material that you would like to touch and see in a shop, especially when you're selling jewellery and watches.
But denied this ability, shoppers went online, which had knock-on consequences for the firm, recalls Kosch:
We had an incredible online boost. We had never experienced that before. We had so many online purchases. Our website got very, very popular…We suddenly started to build up a backlog in our case management tool. Not only were the retailers affected, but also the delivery people, because due to this online boost, they just couldn't cope with the huge amount of packages that had to go to the end consumers. Suddenly they had this incredible amount of traffic in packages and what happened was that we had prolonged delivery times due to that. So the most asked question [from customers] was 'Where is my delivery?', or 'When can I expect my delivery?’.
Clearing the backlog become a priority. Swarovski had rolled out Customer Service Management from ServiceNow in September 2019 as a replacement for an existing tool. This turned out to be savvy move, according to Kosch:
In April we had the COVID peak and had lockdown and the online boost. We actually managed to reduce our caseload by 58% in April. In all other months, we've reduced our caseload in comparison to the former tool that we had. What would have happened if we had still had the old tool in place instead of ServiceNow? On average we managed to reduce the case load by 55%.
It wasn’t through self-service by consumers themselves that this case reduction happened, she adds, but due to case bundling capabilities in the ServiceNow system:
Whenever a customer got in contact with us several times, which as you can imagine, during the pandemic and the delivery times issue, happened again and again, ServiceNow was able to bundle all of these requests into one case. This simple feature helped us tremendously because we did not have five cases and five agents working on them in parallel; we just had one case.
ServiceNow was also able to offer the capability to close off cases as they were resolved, creating a record of such customer interactions and, as Kosch puts it, giving the retailer the ability to “close all cases at once and get rid of the bad luck”.
Given the store closures, Swarovski had to re-think its approach to customer engagement as a whole, including introducing a feature in some markets whereby customers could call from the website into a physical store and have people there act as their avatar. Kosch explains:
[The customer could] see the crystal in the shop, get a demonstration, get some help and advice on what to purchase and so on. Shop assistants could even try it on for you as a replacement for your own shop visit.
Another innovation was appointment booking:
There was the possibility to book an appointment from your online shop in an offline shop. This helped, of course, to avoid lots of people being in the shop. It was important during COVID times that you don't want to meet lots of people, so we tried out this feature and, of course, it's also a more personal shopping experience if you have a personal appointment.
While neither of these features were executed within ServiceNow, Kosch says it makes sense now to implement them in the ServiceNow ecosystem to get the full 360 degree customer community engaging with the system.
Something else that’s changed with the ServiceNow system in place is how departments within Swarovski work together. Customer service is run by Kosch’s Global Business Services (GBS) division, guided by the needs of the commercial function, which tells GBS what kind of features they would like to have, what kind of end consumer experience they would like to build and so on.
This has been a passive model until recently, but the GBS team is now becoming more active in terms of offering up proactive advice on what the commercial arm can do now that the ServiceNow capabilities are in place. Kosch explains:
People are actually not aware of the possibilities they have with these tools, so we have had to educate them and to contact them and help them, to make sure they know about all of their possibilities for them. ServiceNow was seen as some admin stuff that has to do with customer service and has nothing to do the commercial function and that's actually not the case. We just had to make sure people knew that we now have not only a customer service case management tool, we have a full ecosystem you can actually leverage to build a full customer journey for your end consumer. This is what we did and we've got more into a one team working approach, to really work very closely together as one team towards one common end - what is the desired end consumer experience?
GBS itself has also been on a learning curve, she adds, noting that at the beginning of the relationship with ServiceNow the focus was on replacing the old tool and getting the basics up and running with the new provider:
We didn't bother too much about the whole customer journey. Of course we had second language support to integrate and so on, but we did not really look at the full journey, starting with the external consumers towards the internal customers, internal customers of the system, and the final advisor. This is something I would actually recommend to do whenever you implement ServiceNow - really start to look at the full customer journey from the very beginning. Start to think about the commercial functions and maybe their e-commerce requirements, maybe their sales-related requirements, because all of them can be enriched by implementing ServiceNow.
The end result is more internal integration between departments, she says, with 92% of the firm’s advisors saying that they feel it's much easier now to communicate with other departments.
The other learning, Kosch adds, is to embrace that this is an ongoing journey, not something with a finite end:
When you go live, that's when the journey actually starts. That's kind of our learning. It's even more intensive than we thought because we suddenly get so many insights from the customers in or out of this tool. We learn so much about customer behavior, you're able to find more efficiencies and we have this continuous improvement stream. We've gone into a more agile development approach now. We take baby steps to really improve all the time, instead of having big goals. We can also see this also resonates with our advisors because 96% of them say yes, they can feel this continuous improvement stream.
That’s a whole new way of thinking, she concludes, and one that’s for the better in the case of Swarovski:
Normally you have a project and the project has an end. It's different with ServiceNow. You have go live, but that's not when your project ends; that's when it really starts. You just implemented the basics and now you're going to work with it and that is the real project, the more interesting part. This is when it really happens.
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