A portmanteau such as “phygital” or “digitcal” may not exactly roll off the tongue, but they represent how closely 7-Eleven is trying to bring together both online and offline experiences for its customers.
Speaking in panel discussion hosted Tuesday by Zendesk, the convenience chain’s senior director of digital product management, Yaqub Baiani, reflected on how 7-Eleven has had to evolve the way it offers products amid COVID-19.
Unlike a lot of retail firms, 7-Eleven is considered an essential service because it offers food and beverages. In a sense, though, Baiani said staying open put extra pressure on 7-Eleven to respond to changes in customer behaviour.
With wariness around shopping in big box grocery stores, for example, 7-Eleven was finding more consumers coming in for everyday staples. It also needed to quickly transition food that was often eaten on site to takeout. It also expanded 7Now, its delivery service, by partnering with GrubHub, Postmates and Instacart in areas it didn’t traditionally cover.
While 7Now had been in operation for a while, the company moved quickly to offer contactless payment.
“When we think about the entire end to end experience, either for delivery on 7Now or in-store experiences, we made so many changes,” Baiani said. “Those two things (physical and digital) married up perfectly and really kind of helped accelerate us into that destination place to get food, batteries, toilet paper.”
7-Eleven also partnered with Zendesk’s professional services team to develop custom apps, whose features included order management and ease in processing refunds. A self-service help centre has also become a big part of the experience.
“It’s the very first new line of business that 7-Eleven has built up with its own dedicated team,” he explained. “Maybe a month or so before we launched, someone asked the question, ‘Well, wait a second — what happens if somebody calls in. What do we do?’ And we didn’t have a solution.”
The first step was building a proprietary tool to manage questions and complaints. While Baiani described it as “scrappy,” he said it become obvious fairly quickly it wouldn’t be able to handle the increasing call volumes. Zendesk has since filled that gap with both a good customer experience and agent experience.
“We get a lot of phone calls, just because it’s a delivery order, it’s in the moment, you get upset if you don’t get your order or there’s an issue that happens,’ he said. “We wanted to ensure that — at those different touchpoints in the experience where it matters the most to the customer — we would be able to surface content and answer questions.”
7Now’s Zendesk-powered help centre is designed to make sure those answers are relevant and contextual, but also to quickly route customers to a live agent if necessary. Chat is used as a first option to deflect phone calls. So far, customers have embraced self-service, according to Baiani.
“Our average handle time with a ticket through the help centre is 4x faster than even a phone call,” he said.
Since the help centre was launched last year, 7-Eleven has seen customer satisfaction scores inch up one percentage point at a time, Baiani added. Given the company sees hundreds of thousands of orders each month, the company sees that as great progress. This even boosts digital adoption via a sort of electronic word of mouth.
“When customers are able to engage with us and get a response quickly, they leave better reviews on our app store,” he said.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.