What 1800 Flowers is doing to create a consistent customer communications experience

US flower and gift hamper online retailer talks through efforts to unify its customer service communications approach

Deploying an automated chatbot in less than two weeks, contextualising communications regardless of channel and improving internally efficiencies are just some of the wins for 1800 Flowers after overhauling its customer service approach.

Over the last year, the US-based online floral and gift hamper retailer has worked to unify an ever-increasing array of customer communications channels. Digital marketing manager, Steven McDonagh, said that as a brand quick to adopt new channels, 1800 Flowers had been left with a siloed and inefficient communications approach.  

“We were one of the first brands on Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat and Snapchat. But over time, we developed siloed customer experiences across various comms channels,” he said during a presentation at Twilio’s Signal virtual event. “For example, our tech stack on Apple Business was very different to Alexa or Messenger. Workload inefficiencies and inconsistencies have arisen as a result.”  

With a mission to ensure customers can interface in way that’s true to 1800 Flower’s vision of realising more human expression, connection and celebration, the group kicked off a program of work to unify communications. To do this, the company has been adopting several technologies from Twilio.

“Over the last year, we worked to think through a best-in-class customer service experience, then have worked backwards from there, analysing all our communications channels then mapping each one to its most effective leg in the customer journey,” McDonagh explained.

“For example, SMS is great for order updates, but not so much for shopping assistance. Live chat might be great for onsite and order assistance, but not order updates. By viewing each channel in that customer experience puzzle, we could build a more unified an optimised cross-functional customer service experience.”

Start with the customer journey 

Four guiding principles led the work. The first is to be everywhere customers are, while the second is to be relevant in the medium and platform.

“This is about tailoring our content and approach so it feels native to the medium and platform in which we are communicating,” McDonagh said. The third principle is to empower customers with seamless opportunities to answer their own questions. Lastly, 1800 Flowers is keen to enhance the live agent experience by providing easy and thoughtful pathways that also deliver agents more information and the time to handle each customer with care.

A big step forward was creating one centralised hub for all communications channels so the business could tailor content to each platform and easily integrate new channels in the future.

“The aim was for customers to receive the same resolution from one chat as they would from SMS or messenger platforms, while style and content felt intuitive to the channel,” McDonagh continued. “This would eliminate resource and staffing inefficiencies internally, and allow us to add more chat channels as they come on-board.”

An example of this in practice is handling the common use case of modifying the card message on an order. McDonagh said these forms of communication tends to be more reactive as the retailer doesn’t necessarily know upfront that a customer wants to modify their order or what they want to change.

“From a customer experience perspective, our goal is to collect the information we need to help them as quickly and seamlessly as possible,” he continued.  

Using Web chat embedded in its site, the group created a highly guided experience with customised button prompts that adjust based on context of the conversation.

“We were able to easily customise the [Twilio] Flex chat panel with our own react-based UI and because the UI is integrated in normal Flex chat, a customer can type their own response just like in normal conversation,” McDonagh explained.

Text is then processed via an Autopilot natural language processing (NLP) flow to generate the correct information. “By providing guided plus free-flowing options, customers can solve those questions in whatever format is most comfortable,” McDonagh said.  

With SMS, there’s less uniformity in how messages are handled. To get around this, 1800 Flowers focused on creating an SMS experience similar to Web chat, but used basic text.

“We formatted questions in way so customer can respond in quick, short answers, passed through Autopilot,” McDonagh said. “The business logic and infrastructure to ensure customer resolution is the same, but the experience via SMS feels intuitive to this medium.”

1800 Flowers also leveraged Twilio’s Autopilot and Studio workflow builder products to build an automated service bot to handle common text queries. However, given there will always be instances where live agents must respond, the group is now looking into live agent hand-off through Twilio Flex. McDonagh said it will also arm customer service agents with detailed info about a Web session, order status and customer history through API integrations with Flex CRM panel.

Behind the scenes, 1800 Flowers is using Studio to handle the communications routing. This receives input via any chat channel, then uses custom routing logic to determine how each user input is routed within the Twilio ecosystem. When message hits the flow, it is passed to Autopilot, where 1800 has trained a customer NLP model to identify the message intent. Once identified, this intent is passed to the Twilio Functions runtime environment, which houses a set of business logic and determines how to handle the request. Business rules prompt an automated response, which is then passed back through Autopilot and to the end user.

“We can also leverage information outside the Twilio platform to make decisions or change outputs to the user,” McDonagh said. For example, with order tracking, the system can call 1800 Flowers’ CRM to pull order status then pass all that information to the customer.

As a result of this technology investment, 1800 Flowers was able to deploy a fully functioning automated onsite chatbot in less than two weeks ahead of Mother’s Day, handling tens of thousands of interactions at one of its busiest times of the year. This could automate common customer request, like order tracking, modifications and FAQs, and provided live agents with more time to provide support to customers with more complex questions, McDonagh said.

“We’re now testing how each channel fits into the customer journey,” McDonagh said. 1800 Flower is also planning to pilot new channels, ensure live agent hand-offs and deliver pre-order support through this centralised communications approach.

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