Brooklinen, a fast-growing online retailer that made its debut in 2012, wasn’t founded on a whim.
It was developed as a simple, consumer-friendly solution to a familiar problem: the typically inflated cost of luxury bedding.
After falling in love with the bedsheets in their Las Vegas hotel room and reeling at the $800 price tag, founders Rich and Vicky researched the main cost drivers (middleman markups, mostly) and set out to find a way to make high-quality bedding affordable. They searched for great products in other countries, began developing their own products, and drove around New York City to drop off sheets and get people’s reactions.
In Brooklinen’s first year, Rich emailed everyone directly from his personal email account. He remembered everyone he spoke to, and he crafted a personal message to each of them. In doing so, Rich set the tone for Brooklinen’s exceptional customer experience and inspired a unique approach to customer service training and performance management.
Hands-on Customer Service Training: Building Excitement, Knowledge, and Trust
Brooklinen’s customer experience team is based in Brooklyn, but rapid growth led the company to outsource part of its customer service operation to a call center nearly 3,000 miles away in Portland, Oregon, where its associates share space with several other brands’ customer service teams.
The Brooklinen team includes a project manager, two supervisors, two team leads, two SMEs, and about 30 customer service agents.
The leadership team in Brooklyn goes the extra mile to make remote agents feel valued, build their confidence, and earn their trust. Rather than onboarding via training videos or chats—par for the course for many other call center teams—Brooklinen’s cofounder Rich and its general manager, along with Customer Experience Leads Caroline Nolan and Jack Lorentzen, fly out to Portland and stay for up to a week to meet new associates, connect with them, and train them face to face.
“Going [to Portland] to train hands-on sets us apart and helps new associates feel excited to be part of our team. We get to know each other as people. Once you have that personal connection, it’s much easier to communicate over Slack or email. We’re always on Slack, answering questions and sharing jokes. It’s a very friendly vibe.”Customer Experience Lead
In addition to learning the company’s voice and values from its top leadership, new Brooklinen associates are gifted a set of bedsheets of their choice. It’s both a gesture of thanks and an opportunity for associates to learn about the product firsthand and feel good about what they’re selling.
“Whether they’re sitting next to us in Brooklyn or across the country in Portland, our associates know we’re 100% here to support them and help them succeed,” Caroline says. “They see it in the way we personally train and communicate with them, but also in the way we keep an eye on everything—especially with Stella Connect.”
Customer Service Performance Management: Transparency, Open Dialogue, and Empowerment
In Brooklinen’s Portland call center, employee engagement and retention remain high long after the initial training period. In addition to relying on Slack, email, and phone to keep communication free-flowing, team leaders use a steady stream of Stella Connect customer feedback to monitor associate performance and flag customer suggestions for product and CX innovations.
With average response rates of more than 40% and most responses received within an hour of the initial interaction, Stella Connect offers associates and their supervisors a precise, timely view of individual performance, including specific strengths or weaknesses. Several big benefits flow from this wealth of data.
Micro-coaching: Working Together to Solve Problems
Brooklinen’s Brooklyn and Portland customer service teams are in constant contact, and the interaction-specific feedback everyone sees in real time allows team leaders and associates to tackle service issues as they arise.
When an associate receives a 1-, 2-, or 3-star rating from a customer, team leaders look at the specific nature of the feedback to discern whether the low rating was beyond the associate’s control (inventory-related, for example).
If a poor rating is related to service quality, associates often reach out to explain why they agree or disagree with the customer’s assessment. Supervisors are careful not to call out associates, but to work with them to develop a plan for how to handle similar situations in the future—all within minutes of a dissatisfied customer’s response.
Recognition and Rewards: Keeping the Spark Lit
When it comes to keeping the Portland call center team operating at its peak, accentuating the positive –both high star ratings and customer raves—goes a long way. Team leaders periodically send out “kudos,” or reports that include recent customer feedback highlights, to recognize top performers. Seeing the positive impact they’re making, or that their peers are making, inspires all associates to aim higher.
Often accompanying positive feedback are rewards suggested by happy customers—either coffee, lunch, or a Brooklinen gift card.
Associates relish these rewards not just because they’re fun to receive, but because each one reflects a happy customer and a job well done. From the brand’s perspective, it’s another great way to say thanks for delivering great service and to encourage more of the same.
Immediate, Personalized Service Recovery
When service interactions go bad, Stella Connect feedback enables Brooklinen associates to make things right.
With performance management, they can see exactly what went wrong, and they get the first shot at reaching out to dissatisfied customers and saving the relationship. If they need to talk through an issue and get quick answers, they can easily reach out to CX leaders in Brooklyn by Slack or email, or they can go directly to their supervisors in Portland.
“Some of my favorite phone calls I made as an associate were follow-up phone calls—opening up that dialogue and letting customers know we’re determined to make things right,” Jack says. “Our customers love how transparent we are as a company. Any type of negative or constructive feedback that comes in is an opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship.”
One of the greatest advantages of the Stella Connect feedback stream is the self-correction and friendly competition it encourages. At a glance, thanks to large leaderboards (see image below) in the call center, Brooklinen associates can see how their average star rating compares with that of other team members.
This and performance management motivates them to set performance goals so they can move up in the rankings. As associates track their own progress, they also congratulate each other for outstanding ratings and rewards, which has helped create a positive working environment and a more cohesive team.
“Our leaderboards in Oregon are on huge TV screens, and everyone pays close attention to their Stella Connect scores. They always know where they stand, and the rankings make them want to do well so they can move up. It’s a fun way of empowering our associates to own and improve the service experience.”
–Caroline Nolan, Customer Experience Lead
Brooklinen’s Long-Term Plan: Keep Associates Invested in the Brand
Looking to the future, Brooklinen’s leadership team favors careful, measured growth. They remain focused on hiring well, performance management, and making sure team members have the information and inspiration they need to carry on Brooklinen’s personalized service tradition and to eventually move into new roles.
“We understand it’s hard to retain associates, so we give them the power to move up,” Jack says. “We want our associates to grow in their positions—to become team leads or subject-matter experts. Everyone has an opportunity to grow here, and that’s what keeps the whole team happy.”