How Smoke Cartel Used Shopify Plus to Launch 24/7 Live Chat & Slash Customer Service Response Times 93%

How Smoke Cartel Used Shopify Plus to Launch 24/7 Live Chat & Slash Customer Service Response Times 93%

The last thing we wanted was to make Darby Cox ill…

It’s why we didn’t press her when she refused to provide the actual number of refunds she was forced to make recently during an avalanche of angry customer complaints.

How Smoke Cartel Used Shopify Plus To Launch 24/7 Live Chat & Slash Customer Service Response Times 93%

“We issued a lot of refunds,” Cox says. “A lot of refunds. I’m not going to give you a number because it would make me a little sick.”

Darby Cox, Co-Founder, Smoke Cartel


Cox is a co-founder at Smoke Cartel, an online head shop selling glassware such as bongs & accessories, and recently experienced what she calls a “Black Swan” customer service event during a period of accelerated growth. It was January 2017 and the company was moving into a 30,000 square foot warehouse to better navigate that growth when the company was hit by a trifecta of issues:

  • It had to shut down its customer service for four days during the move
  • It experienced an unexpected and extremely high employee turnover rate
  • It discovered the new warehouse would require new ethernet cabling meaning it’d be without an internet connection for several additional days

“Our chargeback number went through the roof for about two months,” Cox recalls.

Initially, it took more than two days to respond to a customer service inquiry. Without an internet connection at the new warehouse, Cox and her co-founder Sean Geng, who pride themselves on having answered every call and email in the early days, went several days without being able to answer a call or email.

The refund requests skyrocketed.

Then … it got even worse.

Smoke Cartel was also in the midst of a site redesign that led to a system error in which order confirmation emails did not go out. The company’s customer service email backlog ballooned to more than 800 and took more than two weeks to sort through.

“You can imagine how angry people got with that,” Cox says. “This is a pretty obvious damage to a business. There is only a small amount of time customers are willing to put up with bad service, or you risk losing them forever.”

The company’s future was in jeopardy.

So, could Smoke Cartel really win back lost customers with just a smooch?

The Problem Is You’re Sleeping

Everyone says it’s a good problem to have until it isn’t.

We’re talking about accelerated revenue growth that often causes high-volume merchants to stumble. In the case of Smoke Cartel, it quickly became impossible for Geng and Cox to manage customer service while also managing triple-digit growth and the transition to a warehouse five times larger than the company’s original.

How Smoke Cartel Used Shopify Plus To Launch 24/7 Live Chat & Slash Customer Service Response Times 93%

As Cox puts it:

Keeping high-quality customer service standards during periods of immense growth is hugely difficult. Just look at PayPal which famously unplugged its phones during a particularly tumultuous growth period.

Unfortunately, not even the several hundred packs of free rolling papers Smoke Cartel sent angry customers as apology gifts was enough to solve the problem. Fortunately though, Geng had built a highly technical custom analytics dashboard to better understand customer behavior on Smoke Cartel’s site.

Geng and his team dove deep into the data and tracked a variety of issues negatively impacting customers and Smoke Cartel’s service:

  • Out of stock issues
  • Fulfillment mistakes
  • Self-service help desk problems

“We needed to know exactly where we were letting customers down,” Geng says.

The investigation led to a startling revelation; the majority of customer service inquiries were coming in during off hours when no one at Smoke Cartel was online.

“One of our main problems was the hours we were working,” Cox says. “We were hardly online the same hours that our inquiries came in or that our customers were online viewing the website.”

It meant the Smoke Cartel team was faced with a difficult choice: give up sleeping during regular hours to man the customer service desk when customers are actually shopping, or …

Integrating the Smooch

With both Geng and Cox reluctant to stop sleeping, the Smoke Cartel team needed to find an alternative way to increase its customer support coverage so that customers aren’t left waiting for a responses to their inquiries.

“We needed to be there for our customers and provide top-notch support when they needed our help,” Cox says.

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The solution was to launch 24/7 live chat support with heavier staff during key time periods to respond faster and reduce the existing backlog.

To start, Smoke Cartel tapped Smooch.Io, a customer conversation platform, to handle the customer service text messaging. For instance, Smooch has positioned Smoke Cartel to offer future-proof messaging capabilities based on the customer’s preferred mode of communication:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Text Message
  • Email

How Smoke Cartel Used Shopify Plus To Launch 24/7 Live Chat & Slash Customer Service Response Times 93%

Importantly, the messaging platform was integrated into Smoke Cartel’s proprietary system to leverage existing customer information. The stack, as well as a custom built Chrome browser plugin, were then integrated with Shopify Plus so customer service representatives had at their fingertips a one-stop-shop view of all of the data and tools necessary to solve inquiries in real time.

The integrations allow the entire Smoke Cartel customer service team to access real time analytics illuminating:

  • Exactly what the shipping team is processing
  • The exact minute a customer’s order is scheduled to ship
  • How long a customer has been waiting for help and how many chats in the queue that must be answered promptly

In Cox’s words:

“We realized we needed better integration and visibility of all our systems so our team could work from anywhere to solve customer problems. Be it on their cell-phone in Japan, or at 3 A.M. in the morning on the road, they needed all the data and tools at their fingertips to solve for the customer.”

But for just a moment, forget about the future-proof chat and complex integrations that offer the Smoke Cartel customer service team innovative tools and analytical vision it once lacked. Remember Smoke Cartel was plagued by legions of angry customers scorned during the company’s warehouse move.

Is the Smoke Cartel fix enough to stop the refunds nearly making Cox ill?

From Two Days to One Hour with Live Chat

It’s generally darkest before the dawn …

And the customer complaints continued to pile up during the two months it took Smoke Cartel to implement its 24/7 chat functionality. The Smooch platform and Smoke Cartel’s integrations would be all for naught if the mounting customer inquiry backlog wasn’t cleared quickly and future inquiries handled efficiently and effectively.

It’s a tall order, especially as the refund requests continued to mount. Plus, this isn’t the first time Smoke Cartel confronted a near-death experience:

However, since implementing around-the-clock live chat and customer support, Smoke Cartel reports the following results:

  • Overall, customer service response times decreased 93%, from an average of two days to one hour
  • In June 2017, 30% of all customer service inquiries were resolved in less than 15 minutes
  • Customer satisfaction ratings spiked 11% despite Smoke Cartel handling more responses at a faster rate

Understand Smoke Cartel’s results have come amid a 58% increase in email inquiries. Even better, the company expects to slash customer response times even further as the year progresses.

It means the refund requests, and Cox’s queasy stomach, are pains of the past.

“Our customers have been a lot happier and we’re handling more responses at a much faster rate,” Cox says. “Additionally, our team is happier, more diverse, and more collaborative. The team is more motivated to work as a unit and support each other’s success. As an added bonus, everyone is more interested in data analytics as well. We've focused on making statistics easy to read and available to everyone within the company so we can continue to grow, learn and improve our service together.”

About the author

Nick Winkler

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog and founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best-known brands, businesses, and marketers.

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