People who are passionate about their outdoor activities, whether they are skiers, cyclists, mountain climbers or off-roaders, like to trade stories with other aficionados. And when these enthusiasts are shopping for apparel and equipment, they seek out particular brands, but also advice from people they can trust — people who not only know the products inside and out, but also how the gear will fit into the customer’s particular needs and style.
Pure-play outdoor retailer Backcountry has built its contact centers based on these facts, staffing them with enthusiastic outdoor adventurers called “Gearheads.” The retailer arms these employees with both technology and extensive, ongoing training.
This army of “Gearheads,” which swells to as many as 300 people during Backcountry’s peak season between Black Friday and Christmas, are “very oriented around building the relationship focus with customers, using authenticity, guidance, and enabling trust,” said Chris Purkey, Vice President of Customer Support at Backcountry. “When a Gearhead is able to build up a good rapport, the customer wants the engagement as much as the Gearhead does.”
Anticipating Customers’ Needs
The results of these positive, proactive engagements, with Gearheads “owning the total customer experience,” are measurable and impressive, according to Purkey:
- Backcountry customers who engage consistently with Gearheads have a Lifetime Value (LTV) that is 40% higher than that of a typical customer;
- Backcountry’s highest-value customers speak to Gearheads more often than lower-value customers;
- Since it began deploying tools and guidance around relationship-based selling, Backcountry has seen a 95% lift in selling behavior and a 105% increase in ordering behavior.
Customers engaging with Gearheads “connect more often and buy more, and they are more satisfied with the brand,” said Purkey in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “That’s because their needs are not only being met but are being anticipated. The Gearheads are doing better at connecting these customers to their perfect experience outside.”
Backcountry is leveraging these relationships by helping Gearheads “amplify their identity and personality during the entire shopping experience,” said Purkey, adding that Gearheads are “in every piece of promotional content, communications and marketing sent to customers.” The goal is for customers to feel like they can call up “their” Gearhead from a mountaintop or bike trail with a question, or just to share the great outdoor experience they are enjoying.
Technology Lets Gearheads Scale Up Effectively
The e-Commerce retailer supplies Gearheads with technology that allows them to scale up their ability to build (and maintain) these personal relationships. A connection manager workflow and customer management tool, developed in-house by Backcountry, “lets the Gearheads know each day what they’re supposed to be doing with their book of business,” said Purkey. “They can leave notes on customers’ accounts and schedule follow-up calls. Essentially, they are getting a 360-degree view of the customer.”
Without the Connection Manager tool, Gearheads max out their capabilities at 200 to 300 customers, but with it, Purkey believes each Gearhead could effectively manage as many as 10,000 customers.
Gearheads who are able to scale up in this way could book as much as $2 million to $5 million of business annually, boosting their own earnings potential in the process. “We’re projecting that the Gearheads will become a $100 million portion of the business within a couple of years,” said Purkey, noting that Backcountry is a pure-play leader in a $90 billion market.
“If the Gearheads produce, they will earn,” he added. “They can create a true career out of being a Gearhead. This idea is shocking a lot of people in this industry,” where contact center work is seen as a job rather than a career — and one that suffers from high turnover levels at that.
Emphasizing Ongoing Training And Education
To help address the challenge of keeping long-term contact center employees, Backcountry invests in its Gearheads from the beginning of their employment. Onboarding includes three weeks of training, with two weeks for systems, policies, procedures and soft skills, followed by controlled contact with customers in a supervised environment.
“That’s followed by one to three hours of training per week for the first year, except during our really busy season,” said Purkey. “We also run clinics, some put on by our vendors, others focusing on soft skills and personal development. Training is critical to enabling the success of our Gearheads.”
Purkey reported that current turnover rates among Gearheads are extremely low, in the 2% to 5% range. That’s a dramatic improvement from three years ago, before Backcountry began really focusing its efforts on making Gearheads central to the customer experience.
“Our turnover then was around 35%, which is pretty typical for a contact center,” said Purkey. “But we invested a lot and worked hard to define our purpose and provide clear goals, accountability, and a lot of communication. We let the Gearheads know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they influence the things Backcountry is focused toward.”