Missouri Star Quilt Company uses Zendesk to offer deeply personal customer support
Missouri Star has transformed a struggling town with its booming business. At the heart of its deeply personal customer service, is Zendesk.
18 (down from 34)
95%, a 30% improvement
Answer rate (calls)
With her successful YouTube quilting videos, Jenny Doan has been called the “Oprah” of quilting. She’s the face of the world’s largest online retailer of fabric and quilting supplies—the Missouri Star Quilt Company—and her connection to her fans is no surprise given the profoundly communal and relational DNA of the quilting art form.
The company now ships thousands of packages every day to customers all over the world as the world’s largest online retailer of fabric and quilting supplies. Its YouTube popularity turned Missouri Star Quilt’s 12 brick-and-mortar shops into a quilting destination, attracting quilters from around the world to the small town of Hamilton, Missouri. As one of the largest employers in Caldwell County, it employs 400 people across its e-commerce warehouses and retail storefronts, as well as in three restaurants and a quilting retreat center.
Although the company is on the national stage—honored by the White House, featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, and boasting more than half a million global subscribers on its YouTube channel—maintaining that connection with customers is paramount to Missouri Star Quilt.
“Jenny often notes, and our experiences serving customers has confirmed, that many quilters come to quilting because they suffered some kind of loss—loss of a loved one, loss of a friend,” said Wendi Mills, Missouri Star Quilt’s customer service manager. “They just want to heal, and being able to be trusted enough to be part of their process is huge. Whether Jenny taught a quilter how to quilt, or they trusted us enough to share their works of art, we keep that in mind when we make decisions.”
The company refers to customers as its “quilting family,” and during the meteoric rise of the business, maintaining those relationships became a significant challenge. One way Missouri Star Quilt ensures it retains that personal touch is by having Doan’s voice be the first thing callers hear when reaching out. “When you call us, you’re going to hear someone you recognize,” Mills said. “You’re going to hear Jenny. Jenny has her own method of, if you want to talk, press this. If you need a little problem solving, press this. If you want help with your sewing, press this.”
Be more human, get more data
With an innovative precut fabric business and retail and wholesale operations that include both ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores, Missouri Star Quilt fields more than 22,000 service tickets a month. Due to complexity and volume, the company’s customer service challenges were threefold: getting the right information to agents; reaching a multigenerational customer base in its preferred channels; and turning all of these conversations into actionable data the business can leverage to improve not only the customer experience but processes and products, too.
Before Zendesk, Missouri Star Quilt had tried other customer service solutions—namely Help Scout and LiveAgent—but didn’t get the required results. “One of the biggest problems we had is we kept dropping calls. We weren’t actually able to get to all the calls, to reach people,” said Mills.“We were having problems with reporting. We didn’t get good insight into customer conversations. I wanted to know the customer’s journey. I wanted to see how many times they contacted us. I also wanted the capability to see notes and to grow live chat. We noticed that the younger generation of quilters prefer to do live chat, including me. I’d rather live chat if I want answers, so success is just having the ability to reach everyone the way they want to be reached.”
To meet these challenges, Missouri Star Quilt turned to Zendesk. Since most of its customers prefer speaking to someone in person, the company put Zendesk Talk to work, namely by taking advantage of the custom IVR in the telephony system and setting up greetings from Doan. “We’ve really been able to customize our greeting to meet our customers who call into customer service with a familiar, friendly voice,” Mills said. “Less robotic, more human.” That supports the idea that quilting is a communal experience, which leads to a unique approach to agent efficiency.
“We don’t time a phone call. We absolutely don’t believe in that,” Mills said. “They make us part of that creative process. We’ve had people come to town just to meet the rep. We’re dealing with people who make quilts for their best friend who’s going through chemo, for Quilts of Valor, for a birth in their family. Quilts are an emotional attachment for people, and they often donate them. Being a part of that is very humbling to our agents.”
In addition to not timing calls, Missouri Star Quilt has also set up skills-based routing for the phone system. “My agents reflect the different types of customers we have,” Mills said. “I split it up so that my experienced quilters talk through [technical quilting questions], because they’re able to speak the unique language of quilting. We built out customizations for our call queue with the API. We have a sales group, a retention group, and we have a quilting group that’s just talking you through how to sew. We also have a general customer care group. Our IVR for everything is through Zendesk.”
Meanwhile, Missouri Star Quilt also implemented Zendesk Chat, putting the widget to work in the help center, where customers are served FAQ articles. The company also built out Zendesk Guide, providing customers (and agents) an easy-to-navigate knowledge base. “I have the FAQs for our customers, but I also have an internal-only agent guide that houses a lot of our processes—houses a lot of our internal information,” Mills said. “And the thing about quilting, it’s a complicated business.”
Mills’ agents rely on the internal guide to keep up with ever-evolving operations and product processes. “We cut fabric to order, and we’ve done a lot of changing on how we do that—so we have a lot of processes,” Mills said. “Customer service touches everything, because they need to know all the other processes that happen in operations, in order to help solve issues for the customer.”
Because customer service really does touch everything at Missouri Star Quilt, the company will be adopting Zendesk Sell soon. “The wholesale team and customer service team often share customers. Wholesale is more of a sales-driven team, and I wanted something to support that,” Mills said. “Since we were already using Zendesk, it made sense to connect the two with Support and Sell. Right now, our customer service agents can take wholesale orders. They’ll do basic needs, and then my wholesale agent will take care of the very detailed stuff.”
Missouri Star Quilt’s data-driven CX
Since adopting Zendesk solutions in 2016, Missouri Star Quilt has seen its answer rate for customer service calls improve by 30% to a rate of 95%, and its customer satisfaction rating regularly hits 97%, an accomplishment few businesses achieve. However, the biggest effect comes from having access to game-changing data. “Zendesk has allowed us a better connection to our customers,” Mills said. “It’s given us visibility into who’s talking to us, why they’re talking to us, and it enables us to capture that data and use it to see how we can be better.”
That data helps Missouri Star Quilt chart trends that in turn inform its product offerings. If the company gets multiple returns for a particular product, it can track those and make decisions about whether to change the design of the product or not offer it to customers. If it gets many requests for a certain kind of product, it stocks more. “We really take those kinds of things to heart, so our customers don’t have problems,” Mills said.
As a result, the company configures its ticketing with data collection in mind, from request types to a bevy of dropdowns that enable the team to get a granular view into customer needs. “If we were to overhaul our BLOCK Magazine, for example, we would really dig into why customers are canceling their subscriptions. What isn’t working?” Mills said. “We can dig into those tickets and really have that conversation with our customers, reach back out to them. We can see why they’re calling us in general. What is the number one reason customers call customer service? We use that quite a bit, and I report that to our senior leadership team to help make decisions. Combined with our social media platforms, we try to get a holistic picture.”
This data-rich view of products, processes, and the customer journey gives Missouri Star Quilt the ability to offer proactive customer support. For example, the company used Zendesk data to implement a website change that automatically answers customer queries about product availability—often before the customer even knows they have an issue. “We have internal flags that say, ‘This fabric sold out, never coming back,’ or ‘This fabric is coming back, here’s the wait,’” Mills said. “We have a lot of internal flags like that that say, ‘Time to call the customer and have that conversation with them.”
Ultimately, this enables the company to create something that goes well beyond a call center. “It’s the continual feeling you’re talking to a quilt guild,” Mills said.
“The wholesale team and customer service team often share customers. Wholesale is more of a sales-driven team, and I wanted something to support that. Since we were already using Zendesk, it made sense to connect the two with Support and Sell. Right now, our customer service agents can take wholesale orders. They’ll do basic needs, and then my wholesale agent will take care of the very detailed stuff.”
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