Seasalt: Innovation and empathy win the day for this retailer

For some organizations, caring for the qualitative appeal of their product, concern for the environment and the communities where they’re rooted, and being empathetic to customers in these difficult times just seem to converge in a beautiful way.

UK-based Seasalt is one such company.

“We are very aware that for a lot of the people we are talking to, we might be the only voice they speak to during the day, especially when they are locked down in their homes. So we are trying to make these conversations matter,” Sophie Cotton recently told Freshworks over the internet. “We don’t target teams on call time; we think it’s important that they are talking to the customers with all their attention.”

Sophie is the head of omnichannel customer service for Cornish fashion company Seasalt, and oversees customer service for the retail, B2B, and B2C channels. Seasalt started with a single store in Penzance way back in 1981, selling traditional workwear to local farmers, fishermen, and artists. Today, it is one of Cornwall’s largest employers and operates 68 stores for lifestyle clothing, mainly for women, around the UK and Ireland. The company has a strong online presence and sells to stockists around the world, including in Australia, the USA, and Europe.

Not unlike other retailers braving lockdowns and drastic drops in store sales, Seasalt upped the ante on digital transformation by doubling down on online sales and accelerating the move for employees, including customer service staff, to work from home.

“All our stores across the UK and Ireland had to be closed for the time being and it was immediately apparent that contact levels to the customer service team were rising,” Sophie said. Some customers, for instance, just wanted to chat with Seasalt, some wanted to talk about its products, and some were wondering when things would get back to normal.

“The conversation with the customer, especially at this difficult time, is vitally important,” she said, emphasizing the need to have a business continuity plan for customer services.

Luckily for Seasalt, it already had comprehensive business continuity plans in place to tackle disruptive events. “We were lucky that we had a business continuity plan which we activated and ramped up,” she admitted. Nevertheless, the speed and decisiveness with which the company acted have mattered, too.

Seasalt got all its customer service agents working from home in a matter of three days. Talking about its use of Freshworks tools, Sophie said, “We’ve got around 35 agents who use Freshworks products across three teams—a B2B team, a B2C team, and an omnichannel team that supports both B2B and B2C teams. Most team members are based in Cornwall but some remote members also work from Ireland.” The company uses a trio of tools—Freshdesk, Freshchat, and Freshconnect—from Freshworks.

Operating on an omnichannel model, Seasalt always tries to gain as much visibility into consumer contacts as it can over the various channels of communication—mainly voice, email, and chat, according to Sophie.

Over the past few weeks, Seasalt noticed a shift in customer behavior and a bit of a channel shift. “We are seeing a significant change in chat volumes, for instance, and chat is taking a higher percentage of our contacts. We are also seeing an uplift in social conversations, so we have ramped up our interaction in this channel too. That has affected how we use the systems, as our agents started to work from home—and that’s been implemented really quickly. We found that Freshconnect has been really valuable for this and it’s really helped us keep in touch with other agents,” explained Sophie. Using Freshconnect allows agents to ask questions or raise queries promptly. “We can have social conversations within teams.”

The key to success in such times, according to Sophie, is to be agile. One of the smart moves the company made was to quickly retrain its retail sales personnel to double as customer service agents. “As we had retail team members who were really well-versed in sales and products, it made sense to ask them to come and support the customer service team. So they are supporting the sales channel in the sales conversation. Getting training on Freshdesk was really easy: we’ve got a fantastic knowledge base, which has got a really good repository of information that teams can use,” she said.

With all this retraining of staff in Freshdesk, now Seasalt has additional team members who really help support the conversation with customers and also take in some sales as well. “It’s been very valuable,” said Sophie.

Post its move to remote working, Seasalt has had “some absolutely fabulous feedback” from customers. “While customer feedback is a very small percentage of our customer contacts, we are finding at the moment that around 20% of our emails are about positive feedback from customers,” said Sophie. What the company is doing is sharing this feedback with other teams in the business, including in board meetings. “That,” said Sophie, “is really, really uplifting. It’s important to know in these difficult times that we have actually made a difference in a person’s day.”

So, how does Seasalt expect things to change when Covid-19 recedes into the background and what’s its future outlook on customer engagement?

“I think the way we interact with customers will change. A lot of customers who were just shopping through retail have started to shop with us on our website. We expect that behavior to continue to some extent. So we expect to see more omnichannel customers—and our research tells us they are going to be quite valuable to us,” Sophie said.

Within the technology space, Seasalt is keeping “a close eye” on bots. “I’m not sure our customers are looking for a bot response yet, but I do think there’s a lot of benefit in workflow automations. We are also looking for alternative channels of communication, including integrations with WhatsApp,” she added.

Going forward, Seasalt is planning to build on its experience of working with the remote workforce. “We’ll be exploring this in more detail in the future,” concluded Sophie.