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Spanx CX director discusses shaping an experience fit for a DTC shopper

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Spanx CX director discusses shaping an experience fit for a DTC shopper

Spanx CX director

There’s saying “No,” and then there’s using what Eric Carlsen likes to call the “Disney No.”

As the director of CX for Spanx, Carlsen may not seem to be working for a company that has a lot in common with the entertainment giant. Yet while looking at how Disney trains the workforce it calls its “cast,”  he’s found a valuable lesson to pass on to the shapewear brand’s customer service team.

“If you ask them what time the park closes, they won’t tell you the park closes at 8:00 p.m. They’ll tell you the park is open until 8 p.m,” Carlsen said during a session at last week’s Kustomer NOW virtual summit. “You have to take any negative message you may have to deliver and figure out how to turn it into a positive. Play up the benefits.”

These kinds of ideas are not necessarily new to Spanx, but they’ve become increasingly important as the company has grown the direct to consumer (DTC) side of its business. That shift was in part what led to the creation of Carlsen’s role three year ago, which not only includes service but voice of the customer (VOC) programs.

“We didn’t have the expertise to manage all these customer relationships we suddenly had. That was all handled on the wholesale side,” he said.

What the company did have, however, was in-depth product knowledge it can use to build trust when women are making a possibly sensitive purchase. Carlen said Spanx’s approach to weaving greater empathy into its customer experience includes taking a “girlfriend to girlfriend” tone — where employees try to imagine how they could coach or give advice to their best friend.

Fortunately, Carlsen said Spanx was already moving to more of a DTC model prior to the pandemic. That meant it was in a good position when many women were suddenly stuck at home during the pandemic and unable to shop for Spanx at their favourite retailers.

“It’s really allowed us to build more personal relationships — not only that brand connection, but also get that additional data too, which will help us better personalize that experience and those recommendations we can make,” he said.

With that ownership of the relationship, however, comes a responsibility to manage the experience from start to finish. At Spanx, Carlsen said that not only means making sure its products are shipped on time and that it’s the right product, but that its team can be ready to meet customers wherever they are to answer questions or offer guidance.

“Our consumers were used to trying on before they bought, getting that in-person sizing and fit advice from an experienced store associate,” he said. “In a virtual and online DTC world, that whole situation changes. It really puts the pressure on us to make sure we’re able to provide her accurate sizing advice for whatever her body shape or size is remotely.”

Technology can play a role in product recommendation, of course, but Carlsen emphasized the importance of his team’s knowledge and personal experience. Spanx is a brand where building trust is particularly important, he said. It’s why the company offers both free shipping with no minimum order size, as well as free returns.

Instead, Carlsen saw technology offering greater value in offering the Spanx team a simple way to look at prior conversations with customers as well as account histories. If a customer had complained about a product rolling or feeling too tight, for instance, it helps make personal recommendations more relevant.

“Having that situational visibility has really changed not only our efficiency but customer satisfaction and our NPS scores,” he said. “We obviously don’t have the large fulfillment networks of the size and scope that those larger retailers provide. We choose to compete on a brand promise of relieving amazing, high-quality products that are designed and fit-tested across real women of all sizes.”

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At the moment, Spanx is like many other brands in that it’s contending with supply chain issues in the lead-up to the holiday season. Carlsen said the company will be taking extra care to ensure the products it markets match what’s available in its inventory.

However Spanx is not an overly promotional brand, he added. Its approach is usually to introduce a new product or offer a surprise product drop amid a holiday like Black Friday rather than scream “X% off” from the rooftops.

“That messaging gets very lost in the sea of communication that our customers have to wade through,” he said.

Spanx is poised for even greater growth following the announcement a few weeks ago that Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative asset management firm, would be taking a majority stake in the company at a valuation of $1.2 billion.

Carlsen is already thinking about the CX implications of expanding into international markets.

“It will require an understanding of new customer bases, local trends, making sure we’re communicating to her in her language and in the channels she prefers to communicate in,” he said. “Every country is a little bit different. There can be cultural  sensitivities in the way business is done. That means there will be some exciting learnings for the Spanx customer service team, and our insights team as well.”

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