FreestyleXtreme is disrupting the sports clothing industry with a unique approach to customer experience. In an exclusive interview with Founder and Customer Experience Director, Ben Richardson, we find out how they have achieved a 20% response rate on feedback requests.
With great products and the right approach to customer support, Ben found that his buyers were happy to spread the word.
Find out what it takes to get over 800 5-star reviews every month.
Lorna: Can you tell us a little about FreestyleXtreme?
Ben: FreestyleXtreme is one of Europe’s largest action sports retailers, specializing in motocross, mountain bike, snowboard and skate apparel. We’re a global brand, so 80 percent of our business is outside the UK, mostly in Western Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.
We’ve been in business for just shy of 14 years and our USP is localization, so our website is available in 11 different languages and we ship to over 80 different countries.
Lorna: So you have a lot of ecommerce experience with 14 years under your belt!
Ben: Yeah, it’s been a ride with a lot of ups and downs, lots of success, lots of low points, but there’s a lot more we still want to achieve.
Lorna: Over the years the main focus has been on building your brand and your website, but I want to find out what role your the customer experience and your brand reputation has played in your expansion to online marketplaces. What challenges do you think e-commerce businesses face when it comes to multi-channel customer support?
Ben: There’s a multitude of issues to contend with, first being you’ve got some big players that set their standards very high so you’ve got a lot of competition. Secondly, we’re on 17 different marketplaces in 12 different languages—how do you maintain a constant customer experience when you don’t speak those languages? As well as that, last Christmas we grew 140 percent and we’ve really built our brand on the customer experience, meaning that we care about our customers and try to build a community around them. If you grow 140 percent there are inevitably growing pains, but making sure those growing pains don’t affect your customers is a huge challenge.
Solving these challenges comes from doing the simple things right and having the right ethos, the right structure and having standard operating procedures—which has been my biggest learning curve over the years. It’s something you need to engender right from the top and keep beating that drum.
Lorna: So, what do you do to give customers that experience that they don’t get elsewhere?
Ben: Well, we were quite lucky when we started, that the bar was set quite low in our industry. Before we started, myself and my business partner all had bad experiences purchasing from other companies. It was kind of a “too cool for school attitude,” where it was seen as cool to tell the customer “this is what you’re getting” and telling them to F off basically, if they don’t like it.
From that perspective, we looked at really successful retailers like John Lewis and M&S and decided that was the ethos that we wanted to bring into the action sports market.
I’m from a design background, so I’ve treated the customer experience like a design project—where there’s a timeline and a journey. So once you order a product, I know the exact steps you go through, the points of communication you’ll receive—and it’s just about being polite and a great communicator all along that process.
A customer doesn’t understand the intricacies of an e-commerce operation and they don’t really care how their products gets from A to B, but if you keep them in the loop, they won’t feel the need to contact you. The aim being to reduce call center volume and costs through a great experience, because at every point the customer knows exactly what’s happening with their order.
Lorna: This approach has obviously been fundamental to the success of your brand and website, but on marketplaces do you find it’s hard to keep those lines of communication so open?
Ben: Well, it’s definitely a challenge because the relationship, in general, is different. When you purchase something from eBay or Amazon, you don’t say you purchased it from FreestyleXtreme. So, the first thing you have to do is make a slight impression that lets customers know it has come from you and not Amazon or eBay.
For us, the reason we want reviews is because we want to keep giving people great customer service—and getting reviews is easy when you do that. It makes sense to give a good service because those channels are so feedback-driven. Reviews play a huge part in winning the Amazon Buy Box and how you perform as a seller on both Amazon and eBay.
Lorna: Can you tell us a bit about your strategy?
Ben: From day one our brand has been about keeping our values as a family-run business and we want to project that at scale.
When you order from us the first email you get is from Karen, our Head of Customer Care, to outline what you’ve bought, what will happen next, your estimated delivery date etc. and to introduce herself as your point of contact for any problems.
As soon as the item is dispatched, you get an email from Mary, our Head of Logistics. Here we let the customer know the item has left the warehouse and they will be updated with a tracking code as soon as possible. The reason we don’t provide the tracking code right away is because customers tend to put this in before the parcel has been received by the courier, which causes them to contact us. Instead, we send another email when the courier receives the parcel to let them know the item is en route—so, it’s a quite a seamless experience because the tracking code always works. Then, you get a simple “Out for Delivery” email from Mary again and at every point in this process we make sure the customer knows to contact us if there are any problems.
A new one we’re trialing is that 24 hours after the parcel has been delivered, they get an email from me saying hey, I’m in charge of returns—if you’d like to return your order here’s a link to our online returns portal, or if you didn’t enjoy your experience let us know and we’ll do what we can to resolve it.
Finally, we follow up with an email between seven and 14 days after delivery from Karen again, to check that their interactions with the team have been good and if everything has gone smoothly would they mind leaving a review. The review section of that email is very small, only a couple of lines, the rest is purely about making sure they’ve received their parcel and that everything has met their expectations.
It’s a really simple strategy but it’s just about communication at every touch point. We designed the process by simply looking at why our customers were contacting us during the purchasing process and providing information at each of these points. This helps us both save money on customer support and get more reviews.
Lorna: So the key here is that everything is really transparent for the customer?
Ben: Yeah, I guess it’s hard for people to get angry when you’ve provided this experience all along. Of course, we’re not exempt from having problems and mistakes do happen, but hopefully we can minimize this by providing such effective communication. If you look at our feedback ratings, you’ll see that 99 percent of the time customers comment on how great the communication was.
We have over 70 staff and we want them to take pride in what they do. So if it’s the guy in the warehouse, we want him to be proud of the way he packed something, if it’s someone in the customer care department, that feedback is an ego boost because they know they’ve done their job well.
It’s hard to keep people motivated if they don’t get a pat on the back from time to time and that’s what positive feedback allows us to do. That’s the main reason we do it and obviously, it results in more sales, too.
Lorna: What do you think are the biggest challenges for sellers when trying to get reviews?
Ben: I think it’s mostly about timing. By the time you ask for a review, you should have diffused the situation if there was a problem. Also, a lot of it comes down to the fundamentals: using the right logistics partners, having the warehouse organized in the correct way. This isn’t something we’ve done overnight—it’s been a steep learning curve but you learn a lot from negative feedback and making mistakes. How you learn from negative feedback makes a huge difference.
Lorna: So, do you have a strategy for dealing with negative feedback?
Ben: Yes, this is mapped out, too! Both positive and negative feedback is dealt with in the same way. Once it comes into our helpdesk, we’ll tag it with a label. Generally, I review all negative feedback to get a feel for what’s happening in the business. As I can’t be in the customer care department every day, I still know what’s happening and if things have been handled to an acceptable level. We also have a daily team meeting where we talk through any negative feedback and discuss what we could have done better and how we can turn the customer around.
Our ethos is—if we get negative feedback, turn that customer into an Exocet missile who loves your brand!
The way we do that is through our program called “Make a difference.” This is a cash budget that our customer care team can spend on whatever they want. For example, we had a customer wrote to say that he received his T-shirt but his dog ate it! So the guys bought some doggy treats, re-sent the T-shirt in a box so it didn’t get eaten again and included some treats for the dog. It only cost us about £4, but the customer absolutely loved it. We had another customer who was quite unhappy as his parcel had gone missing. Somehow it came up in conversation that there was a heatwave in his country and he had bad sunburn; so the we re-sent his order with a bottle of St. Tropez sun lotion with a little note to say “We thought you might need this.”
At the end of each month we’ll give a prize to the person who came up with the most creative “Make a difference” use—so they get the satisfaction of making a customer happy and there’s something in it for them, too. So whether it’s one of those little personal touches, or a free courier collection, we always gauge what’s the best option for a particular customer. We have an arsenal of weapons available to our team to make sure that every customer is kept happy. It’s very rare that nice commercial gestures don’t work to resolve issues.
As well as this, all negative feedback is put on “The Dream List”—things that we would change or do differently. Once a month we go through this list and make a plan for what we’ll do to improve. If there’s something we don’t have the resources to do, we make a point of telling our customers why we can’t do that right now, but that we’d love to do it in the future.
Lorna: Wow, that’s a great strategy you have there!
Ben: Yeah, but once you have the idea, it’s actually really easy to implement. The thing is, when you work in customer care you don’t want to spend your days saying no to people. You want to be able to say yes and have the freedom to express yourself within certain boundaries—and I think we have that balance right.
When you look at the percentage of what it costs us to keep this process in place it’s very small, but we just allocate it as part of the marketing budget and view it as part of our marketing strategy.