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How VistaPrint Continues Improving its Customer Experience Through Cloud-Based Contact Centers
No Jitter (NJ) spoke with Paul Harraghy is the Vice President of Care at VistaPrint about the customer experience he’s helping to build. He oversees the brand’s global customer care teams in Tunis, Berlin, Manila and Montego Bay. Prior to joining Vista in 2021, Paul held various customer experience and change roles at PrepayPower, Bank of Ireland and Amazon.
VistaPrint began more than 20 years ago with providing customizable printed products to both consumers and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Today, the company, part of the mass customization company Cimpress, generated more than $1.6 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2023, has more than 6,000 team members across 29 offices and manufacturing facilities worldwide, and runs 22 market-localized websites.
Harraghy said that their model has evolved from being mostly transactional to fostering more of a partnership with the small business owner by providing guidance and support. Developing this relationship might involve a VistaPrint agent engaging with a customer who’s reached out for assistance to really understand what they need for their individual use case and then guide the customer to an appropriate product – a portable rigid sign rather than a fabric banner, for example.
Providing customers with that level of interaction was facilitated by VistaPrint’s implementation of Amazon Connect (Connect), which is highlighted in this video. Harraghy said they began a staggered rollout of Amazon Connect about two years ago to replace a previous system that only handled call recording. In addition to Connect, VistaPrint uses Salesforce for CRM and chat capability between agents and customers.
VistaPrint’s prior call recording system was on premise and, while they did have the option to remain with the previous vendor and move to a cloud solution, the company went with Amazon Connect (this transition occurred just before Harraghy’s tenure). “It has been a big change but it’s a lot easier when you're maintaining and utilizing a cloud-based solution rather than on prem solution – that usually requires a more dedicated operational support team,” Harraghy said.
Harraghy’s customer care team has just over 2,000 team members spread across Montego Bay, Jamaica; Tunis, Tunisia; Manila, Philippines and Berlin, Germany, almost all of whom are VistaPrint employees. Some of the team members are hybrid workers while most others physically work in the call centers. VistaPrint’s transition to Connect, which is a cloud-based contact center, has greatly aided their hybrid operations. “It gives us greater options for where to hire and place people based on the markets we serve,” Harraghy said. “And we can leverage specialists who are multilingual which helps us dynamically flex agents to meet demand.”
About 70% of VistaPrint’s market is in the U.S., so from a customer care perspective they use a “follow the sun” model: specialists in Manila start taking calls early in the shift and then calls hand over to Tunis later in the U.S. day and then back to Manila again.
The average tenure of their agents across all sites is about 6.5 years, which is unusual for the contact center industry. In fact, some of the agents in Montego Bay have worked for VistaPrint for more than 15 years. “I really feel that Vistaprint is an employer of choice not just from a financial perspective, but also because of the type of work, the interactions they have with customers, and how people believe that they're going to grow with the company,” Harraghy said. “That's a core component of what we try to foster. And, obviously, we’re balancing our technology adoption against some of those core pieces and values in how we support our people.”
That long agent tenure is a boon in another respect, as well. “We find that tenure really helps us build relationships with our customers. It’s great to see that ongoing relationship,” Harraghy said. Some of VistaPrint’s specialists have dealt repeatedly with some of the same small business owners going back six months, a year or even two years ago.
Like any call center does, Harraghy said that VistaPrint examines its overall costs and the components of those costs, but they’re also intent on the type of service they’re providing. “One of the things we do get from our teams, particularly those with very long tenures, is that they really feel a part of the company,” he said. “Whenever we change anything, [our agents] are very quick to give us feedback on how its working not just from their perspective as an employee but how they believe it will impact the customer. It’s great when your employees feel empowered to advocate on behalf of the customer.”
VistaPrint’s care team members are a mixture of agents who handle initial and/or more run-of-the-mill customer issues. These agents handle the bulk of the interactions. “We look for people who can engage and talk to customers. We want them to be curious about what the customer is seeking to achieve and curious about the customer’s business,” Harraghy said. “That’s because, from a service perspective, when we ask you about something that you love, and you talk to us about that, you make a connection.”
Agents go through a 15-day training period on how to use the Design Studio and, of course, how to operate the interaction tools provided by Connect and Salesforce). They spend another 30 days nesting. (Design Studio is VistaPrint’s browser-based design tool customers use to create their designs and customize the products they need to build and grow their business, including business cards, marketing materials, promotional products, websites, etc.)
“A lot of our interactions involve guiding the customer through the design or helping them complete it and that’s maybe a little different from the traditional contact center,” Harraghy said. “If the customer wants to design or customize something from an initial brief, then VistaPrint also employs designers who help in that regard.
And that raises one key challenge, of course: Design is inherently visual. So the support interaction may involve the agent needing to see what the customer is working on. Harraghy said the support interactions usually start on chat and even if that’s the case the customer can see what the agent is changing – maybe the font, placement, or a color. But going back and forth over design choices can get cumbersome in chat versus doing so over the phone. So, VistaPrint has implemented a capability that allows the agent to make an outbound call to the customer.
“Many of our customers like to have voice conversations with us, particularly when they're trying to do something a little bit more complex, like a design, so our agents always have the ability to initiate an outbound call to those customers,” Harraghy said. VistaPrint also provides a voice over IP (VoIP)-based “click to call” (and click-to-chat) button on its site that customers can use to get assistance. The following screenshot shows both Design Studio and the “click-to-chat/-call” utility on the right (note that the main portion of the screenshot is grayed out because the sidebar is the active element).
One of VistaPrint’s current challenges is that its support and back-end solutions are currently architected to view a voice call and a chat as separate interactions. For example, a chat comes in and during that interaction, the agent and/or customer decide that it would be easier and faster to transition to a voice interaction (as referenced above). So while the agent can initiate an outbound call, the current system architecture does not recognize those as the same interaction; they appear as two separate ones. And, because the systems are not integrated right now, the agent essentially ignores the chat interface while they’re on the call. Afterward, they must annotate the record to make sure it’s clear what happened.
“Right now, we can find those interactions and associate them with each case, but it would be laborious,” Harraghy said. “In the future it will be seamless because the system will automatically pull the two interactions and link them to the same contact.”
Inbound calling has other challenges, as well. Harraghy said that currently they only match about 25% of inbound calls to customer records, but through the “click-to-call on our site we match more than 90% of those calls to customer records. When that happens, the case history is brought to the agent desktop and saved after the interaction.”
Note that even this level of customer record matching is relatively new and largely thanks to the implementation of Amazon Connect – and better matching is on the roadmap. “When we identify the customer before they speak with agent, we can shave 45 seconds off the interaction,” Harraghy said. VistaPrint also uses Amazon Lex, Amazon’s conversational AI product, to allow customers to identify themselves via natural language rather than using their device’s keypad.
Harraghy said they handle more than 5 million customer interactions each year. The split of those is approximately 45% chat, 45% voice with the remaining 10% as email – though the exact mix across the three channels varies. “Over the last three or four years chat has become more the channel of choice for customers,” Harraghy said. “We’ve seen about a twenty percent reduction in voice volume over last year.”
He attributed most of that reduction to VistaPrint making the option to chat more available via “click to chat” buttons across more entry points on their site. Note that whether the interaction is handled via voice or chat, the agents are still able to collaborate with customers in real-time on their designs.
And now with Amazon Connect, call recordings are available and those are linked to the individual customer records. So, if the agent wants to go back and review, or if a supervisor wants to, they can access the recordings. Actually, that was one of the drivers for VistaPrint to migrate away from their prior system – Harraghy said it was frequently failing to the point where they couldn’t guarantee that the recordings were available when they were needed.
Through Amazon Connect’s Contact Lens, voice conversation transcripts are created after the interaction concludes (Salesforce generates the chat transcripts). Both voice and chat transcripts are then stored in their Snowflake database after customers’ personal identifiable information (PII) are redacted. VistaPrint is also using an open-source generative AI model to create summaries of those transcripts. The model is applied after the PII is redacted.
The transcripts and summaries are used in multiple ways. “Recently, we've moved to a process where the interaction will be automatically categorized based on the transcript and the summary,” Harraghy said. “That's become helpful for the agents because they don't have to spend the time performing that activity. It’s given them some time back and improved overall accuracy.”
VistaPrint is also working on optimizing how quickly that summary is delivered. “How real time it is depends on what else you're going to utilize that for: If you're going to use it for a potential follow up interaction that may happen very quickly, well, then you want to get very fast. But if it's to be used for business insights, it may not really matter if arrives in two hours,” Harraghy said.
He also noted some considerations to making the transcripts available outside of the contact center. “You wouldn't necessarily make them widely available across the organization because although PII is redacted, there might be other privacy considerations on both the customer side and agent side,” Harraghy said. For example, the customer may have ordered items that, while not strictly private, they might not want them disclosed. And a transcript of what the agent says (or types), or perhaps who they are, might be better kept within the contact center under the direct purview of their supervisors.
Thanks to its generative AI implementation, VistaPrint does make easily digestible summaries of the conversations, and types of conversations they’re having with customers, available across the organization. “When customers go to ‘check out’ and if they have problems, we can see that based on the conversations we’re having, obviously, but we can now cluster those interactions based on keywords,” Harraghy said. “Or if we changed something in the service and we see customers experiencing new pain points, we can easily mine the interactions to understand what’s happening.”
To that point, he said that VistaPrint’s internal analytics teams have built their own components that can access VistaPrint’s customer interaction history, including the transcripts and summaries. “We still do customer surveys and compare those against what we're seeing internally. As we send out traditional surveys and get particular feedback, we can also then correlate that to what’s actually happening in the contact center. And then we can find other customers who have had similar interactions and where their pain points are. That’s an opportunity to fix the product,” Harraghy said. “Maybe there are issues where our spell checking isn't up to speed or where we can see there's an issue with color bleed on some of our products. We can quickly feed that back to our manufacturing teams or product teams and address the issue.”
Harraghy compared that to their prior call recording system where they had to listen to the calls in real time to find out what was happening. It also wasn’t possible to search them. “It’s really helped to get more data in a quicker timeframe. Traditionally, you would still be able to get that information, but it would take a lot of manual mining for it – assuming you could access it. But this approach allows us very quickly to provide insights out of the contact center to VistaPrint’s various teams.”