The Pivot to Chat: How Blue Nile Doubled Their Chat Revenue in 2020

Jewelry is meant for special occasions, and often customers want to see and feel the product before making that special purchase. Major players in the jewelry market like Tiffany’s and Cartier started out with purely physical retail stores, before eventually incorporating online identities. That’s why Blue Nile, one of the first companies in the jewelry space to establish an online-first business, has had to work harder than most in making their business a success. Today, they serve over 60 countries around the world and are considered pioneers in bringing pricing and quality transparency to the jewelry industry.

Over the course of 2020, Blue Nile had to pivot largely to chat-based sales and support in order to be able to continue providing world-class experiences to its customers. We spoke to Michael Hopkins, VP Sales and Service at Blue Nile, to discover the secrets to CX at Blue Nile, and to understand how the business translates special, once-in-a-lifetime shopping experiences to the online world.

Establishing a customer-first mindset

Blue Nile was founded 21 years ago and started off as an entirely online business. Over the years, the company has gradually opened physical stores across the United States which are referred to as ‘showrooms’. 

“Jewelry are high-value products that are traditionally sold through face-to-face service that allows customers to touch and feel before making a purchase.” Michael explained, “Blue Nile initially overcame that obstacle by offering a ‘free returns’ policy, but we’ve found that often customers like to start the journey online, but complete the purchase offline.”

Blue Nile still offers an entirely online order process, but their physical stores now serve as a point of service that supplements the online experience. The intention is to provide customers with an omnichannel experience. Unlike typical B2C e-commerce businesses, they have a very high-touch sales process with concierge-like services. The company’s goal is that for every touchpoint that the customer has with their brand, they delight them and ensure a positive experience.

Identifying chat as a critical channel through the crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it many new challenges in 2020 for businesses around the world, and the jewelry industry was not spared. 

With stay-at-home orders in place, people were forced into a novel situation of having to purchase gifts and engagement rings while being locked in an apartment with their significant other. Getting on the phone to enquire about a piece of jewelry was difficult, but the introduction of chat at this critical time made it possible for Blue Nile’s customers to make their purchases in secret.

“With Freshchat incorporated, our customer could be sitting on the couch next to their partner, chatting with one of our agents, purchasing and picking out the perfect piece of jewelry for them, and he or she would never know! We’ve doubled the amount of revenue that’s coming through our chat platform.”

Serving over 60 countries meant taking into account the preferences of customers in each location. Michael observed that the messaging platform used for chat varied depending on where their customer was chatting from. “Some markets prefer text messaging, some prefer Facebook Messenger, others like WhatsApp, and China is on WeChat. We plan to support all engagement channels for our clients to allow them to engage with us on the channels of their choice.”

Before the introduction of chat, Blue Nile primarily sold their higher-priced items via phone consultations. However, within a few weeks of introducing Freshchat and enabling customers to complete their purchases via chat, the company found that they were able to sell some very high-priced items through this channel as well. “Our conversion when customers chat with us first is actually a little better than our phone conversion, which was surprising. We’ve sold some very high-price items exclusively through chat where the customer hasn’t even ever picked up the phone.”

Ensuring constant innovation to stay relevant

In addition to introducing chat as a channel for sales and support, Blue Nile also began to look for ways to incorporate innovative new software in order to provide its customers with a safe, socially-distanced way to examine the jewelry pieces they’re interested in. 

Today, the company offers customers the opportunity to set up virtual appointments where customers can meet with their personal jewelers in a virtual showroom. The fun and interactive experience provides customers with a virtual studio where multiple cameras highlight each jewelry piece from different angles. 

Michael Hopkins: Words of wisdom

In conclusion, Michael rounds up with four pieces of advice for his peers on building the ultimate customer-focused experience.

  • Be a customer for your own company: “You’d be surprised how few people who are in leadership positions actually shop from their company regularly and put their ‘customer hat’ on.
  • Hear directly from your customers: “Spend thirty to forty minutes a day and listen in on customer phone calls, or read their chat transcripts. This really helps to shed light on what your customers are experiencing on a daily basis.”
  • Provide blended experiences: “With any technology, the devil is in the details. You see chatbots going sideways, but you also see them providing excellent experiences with the help of human touch. Where companies are getting it right, they have the good intelligence to understand situations and provide a blended experience with both the bot and human as needed versus companies who think they can solve everything with bots.”
  • Self-service can’t be the only option: “Self-service (Website portals, FAQ pages, etc.) is great in that there are a lot of customers out there who don’t want to chat or call in for service, but the key thing is to be there when customers actually do want to talk to us. Self-service can’t be the only option, but it should be a great option for customers who choose that option.”