​How ESK took an evidence-based approach to customer retention

Founders of Australian cosmeceuticals brand talk through the customer experience approach that's driving growth

An investigation of Australia’s bathroom cabinets is likely to reveal an assort of expired and neglected skincare products, used only a few times and then consigned to posterity as expensive follies, never to be purchased again. According to the NPD Group the global skincare industry enjoys a customer retention rate of just 26.9 per cent.

This, however, was not a fate general practitioner, Dr Ginni Mansberg, and her husband, Daniel Rubinstein, were prepared to accept when they launched their cosmetics brand, Evidence Skincare (ESK).

Dr Mansberg and Rubinstein first founded ESK in 2012 with the goal of promoting an evidence-based approach to skincare under the guidance of Australian doctors, dermatologists and scientists, and using active ingredients documented in the US’ National Library of Medicine.

Rubinstein, a former corporate finance specialist, said the intention had been to make evidence-based cosmetic products (also called cosmeceuticals) more accessible by cutting through the meaningless words used by other brands, such as ‘laboratory tested’. The company started by marketing its products through medical professionals, including doctors, cosmetic physicians, plastic surgeons, and dermatologists, and in 2017 began selling directly to consumers.

But it wasn’t until a private equity investor quizzed Dr Mansberg and Rubinstein on how consumers found the products and what they thought of them that the company started contacting its customers to ask.

“What we worked out was there were quite a few customers who weren’t necessarily using the right product for them, or had a settling-in period that they weren’t expecting or didn’t navigate well, and stopped using the brand,” Rubinstein told CMO.

He also noted when the company contacted customers some time after their purchase, they immediately assumed it was a sales call, and became hesitant to provide information.

“We worked out a much better spend of our effort was to contact the customers to make sure they were having a good starting experience with the product,” Rubinstein said. “Instead of calling to ask for information about them and their journey, it started to be a call to say ‘hey, just wanted to touch base and see how things are settling in, and do you have any questions for us’.”

That simple change reset the nature of the conversation.

“We were able to help them navigate through that settling-in period, either with suggestions for usage, or swapping products free of charge, or refunding products that were just inappropriate,” Rubinstein continued. “What it did was open lines of communication, so even if people weren’t having issues setting in but had they had a question later one, they felt much more comfortable to give us a call. And we think that has increased referral business quite a lot.”

Read more: 9 lessons in tackling customer retention and a single customer view at Carsales

Predictions: 10 Customer experience trends for 2021

Empathetic employees

Rubinstein said ESK’s staff are encouraged to not stick to a script when calling, but rather to be sensitive to the person they are talking to.

“And as soon you put ‘just want to find out how you are going’ at the beginning of the conversation, it generally makes people a lot more comfortable,” he said.

Rubinstein attributed this approach as a key reason why customer retention for ESK is now trending towards 70 per cent. And while the tone of the conversation is critical, so too is the timing, with ESK settling on 12 days as being the optimum period before calling.

“Our travel-size products last three or four weeks, and the full sizes last three of four months,” Rubinstein said. “So calling way before the time when they could be finished makes people realise you are not after their money.”

The feedback has also helped ESK tweak the questions included in the quiz that first-time customers complete to determine their best skincare options.

“It also helps us in terms of product reformulation, in that if we find there are consistent issues associated with any of them, we can tweak them,” he said.

However, this personal approach may prove challenging to replicate as ESK expands into the US and Europe.

“It is difficult to do this in different languages, because this is not a script,” Rubinstein said. “Finding the voice and the tone in each market is a challenge for us. And so it is about the staff knowing a lot about skin cream ingredients and people’s skin and knowing about people.”

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