Customer Case Study

The Container Store

“The reality in business today is that you cannot afford to have a digital experience that doesn’t allow customers self-service access.” — John Thrailkill, Executive Vice President of Technology, The Container Store

Why The Container Store Is A Trailblazer In Retail

1978 was a great year for new experiences. Americans flocked to see the movie “Grease,” people went crazy for a new electronic game called “Simon,” and on July 1 in Dallas, Texas, consumers finally got what they always wanted for their homes: more space. The Container Store was the first retailer to offer Americans a one-stop shop where they could find solutions to their organizational dilemmas.

The company continues to grow and maintain its leadership position decade after decade by identifying and fulfilling customer needs, using new technology whenever possible. One of the most important decisions The Container Store made on the tech front happened in 2014 when they signed their first contract with Salesforce and began using Service Cloud Chat and Knowledge to maintain consistent customer service levels across multiple channels.

Mastering The Art of Chat

“The initial push we made with Salesforce was just trying to make sure we had the right chat experience for our customers,” said John Thrailkill, Executive Vice President of Technology. “But from the very beginning we also wanted to extend the platform to our stores and our online presence to create a better experience overall.”

To give customers more service options, The Container Store added Service Cloud Chat as an alternative to in-store visits or phone calls. This lead to a 25.2% decrease in call volume, reducing the strain on the contact center—and dramatically reduced costs by moving customers off the phone. Using Chat, The Container Store increased conversion rates by 8.25% and the average sale amount by 11% for customers who used chat compared to similar customers who did not use chat.

“Since rolling out Chat, conversion rates went up and talk time was reduced by double digits,” continued Thrailkill. “Customers started to engage for a longer period of time using chat and they were much, much more likely to buy from us as compared to phone calls—there just seems to be something that leads to a checkout on a more regular basis with chat.”

Some of those sales can be attributed to a new design tool the company’s IT department built on the Salesforce platform. Using Chat, The Container Store’s agents can ask questions that populate a template based on a customer’s needs. Agents can send customers a complex custom closet design within five minutes and include a reference number that customers can use to pull up the design details later on, whether they’re visiting the store, talking on the telephone, or chatting online.

Connecting The Real World To The Digital World

At The Container Store, sales associates easily fulfill the needs of people making small, single purchases but for customers who want to outfit every closet in their house, it hasn’t always been easy.

“When a customer is trying to organize a whole closet, or multiple closets in their home, it’s a very different sales cycle,” said Thrailkill. “There’s more design involved and typically it involves consultation with other people, whether it’s their contractor, interior designer, or their partner at home. It can be five or six points of contact before a purchase is made.”

Retail sales associates found themselves frustratingly unable to follow up with customers on bigger projects, resulting in lost opportunities. The company rolled out Sales Cloud to give its sales associates access to a more complete view of the customer, and everything changed.

“In the past, we weren’t really doing follow up on the big projects,” continued Thrailkill.  “People left the store and we just hoped they would come back. Then we tried to do some things with Microsoft Excel to follow up with customers but nothing worked until we started using Salesforce. Sales Cloud has had an incredibly positive impact and it’s a big part of our success in improving the follow through.”

Developing Customer Loyalty and Agent Satisfaction

Contact centers are known to be very challenging work environments, often with high turnover and low rates of employee satisfaction. A forward-thinking management team allows The Container Store to defy convention and give agents considerable leeway when handling customer concerns. In employee surveys, agents consistently report satisfaction around team cohesion and individual empowerment to make decisions. The contact center grew from a single channel call center with 18 employees in 2007 to 130 employees in a multi-channel customer service org today.

“Our agents aren’t micromanaged,” said Jason Lomonaco, Customer Solutions Director.  “If you just let people run the business as if their name was on the marquee you're going to get good results without having to define what they should do in every single situation that might happen. The average tenure in our contact center for a full-time employee is a little over eight years right now.”

Service Cloud helps The Container Store build on this history of employee satisfaction. Using Chat enables contact center employees to handle multiple online conversations at one time in a way that feels seamless to the customer. The benefits aren’t just about cost savings, but also increased agent job satisfaction.

“If you had told me five years ago that we’d have agents doing three chats at once and they’re going to be happier doing that than they were taking one phone call at a time, I would have said, ‘I don’t see that happening,’” said Thrailkill. “But the reality is that  the agents enjoy this experience more because they’re getting more accomplished in each day for the customers. Good people want to get more done every day.”

Enabling A Better Field Service Experience

On-site installation is a huge part of what The Container Store does but the company had challenges around communication between retail sales associates, dispatchers, and installers (many of which are third-party contractors). Service offerings became more complicated over time but the infrastructure needed to maintain a consistent customer experience wasn’t in place. The Container Store started looking at potential solutions and reached out to Salesforce for help.

“Because we leverage third-party contractors to serve our customers in the home, we needed a way to have security at the opportunity level when we go into the homes,” said Jason Lomonaco, Customer Solutions Director. “We wanted to lock down information so contractors couldn’t access our entire customer database or other contractors' opportunity records. We explored some options but when we found out what Field Service Lightning could do, I said, ‘I think we got a winner.’”   

Having one platform with hundreds of contractors all over the country has been a long-term goal for The Container Store. The company is now testing Field Service Lightning and Flow to improve the customer experience in the home. Flow allows the company to charge upfront for installation before the installers even arrive. Doing it this way means the company can completely eliminate unpaid installations and avoid unpleasant situations where consumer debt goes to collections. Using Flow also means that all contractors move through the process in a standardized way and they can’t move onto the next step until the previous one is completed. By capturing 100% of the correct information, they qualify for payment every time and things like closet measurements get submitted automatically as part of the installer payment process.  

“Salesforce has allowed us to put in some guardrails that will ensure accountability and consistency for the experience in the customer’s home but without it feeling like it’s something that’s forced upon an installer,” said Thrailkill. “It’s very natural within Flow for contractors to upload pictures of the completed installation and fulfill all the mandates that enable them to invoice us and get paid.”

Field Service Lightning is improving the overall experience for dispatchers. The company’s previous system didn’t allow every type of order to be scheduled from the store, leading to delays of up to five days. Now all installation orders can be scheduled right away, resulting in a 99.9% decrease in time to schedule installations in some cases. Field Service Lightning provides a much deeper and more complete view of every job and allows greater flexibility to shift around resources in an environment that changes in real time.

“Folks were previously doing this with paper and just being on the phone all day long,” said Thrailkill. “Field Service Lightning is making the dispatchers more productive but also allowing them to communicate better with the installers in the field which makes everybody happier.”

Meeting Customers Where They Are

The Container Store gives customers more control over their experience by providing self service options that meet the expectations of net-savvy consumers. Using Service Cloud Knowledge Base and Chat gives customers access to important information whenever they want it, resulting in a 32.8% decrease in email volume for the company.

“The reality in business today is that you cannot afford to have a digital experience that doesn’t allow customers self-service access,” said Thrailkill. “If they’ve got an appointment scheduled at the store or in their home, they shouldn’t need to call the store and talk about changing it. They should be able to easily reschedule that themselves from their mobile phone.”

Envisioning A Brighter Future

Using Salesforce allows The Container Store to provide end-to-end service for its customers. Employees in the stores have the same information as agents in the call center and contractors in the field, enabling seamless transactions and an enhanced customer experience.

"The addition of these tools allowed us to take on new responsibilities and build new revenue streams,” said Lomonaco. “We're selling sophisticated solutions. We have to keep offering sophisticated services to match that.”

As for what’s next, the company plans to incentivize and enable contractors in the field to upsell. By leveraging the tools that The Container Store now has in place, they are hoping contractors will be able to fulfill additional customer needs while on site using a mobile phone.

“We can always sell better and there's no better place to sell than in the customer's home,” continued Lomonaco. “We’re looking at CPQ to allow contractors to draw up fast quotes for upsell opportunities. There's a cost associated with field service but we can mitigate that cost by selling additional closet solutions and products while we're in the home.”

Going Forward Like A Trailblazer

The leadership team at The Container Store knew they needed a solution that could help maintain rapid growth and expansion. The fact that Salesforce is a cloud-based solution designed to be flexible was a key selling point for the company.

“Knowing that Salesforce is built with the future in mind was really important to us,” said Thrailkill. “And the idea that you’re not going to make a mistake—like not building a big enough server, for example—isn’t something we worry about. It’s a huge relief to know that scalability is something that is completely at the heart of what Salesforce does.”

The Container Store began as a leader, doing something that hadn’t been done before in retail.

With Salesforce as its platform, the company is making a name for itself as a trailblazer, using technology to grow its business and transform the customer experience at every touchpoint.

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