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CCaaS the New Black? Fashion Retailer Reimagines Customer Engagement


Picture of Forever 21 store
Image: wolterke -
Contact centers around the world are upgrading from owned and managed platforms to contact center as a service, or CCaaS. Motivations vary, but the big drivers are rate of innovation, financial benefits, and rich integration capabilities. However, the shift also provides an opportunity to reimagine an organization’s approach to customer engagement.
That’s what caught my attention with the customer engagement upgrades at clothing retailer Forever 21. Established in 1984, Forever 21 is known for its accessories, beauty products, home goods, and clothing.
The pandemic hit the retailer soon after its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and change in ownership. The leadership team knew the company needed a rebirth, and every operating business assumption was up for grabs. It hired China Scroggins, previously associated with Nordstrom, as its director of customer experience to revitalize its approach to customer engagement.
Among other changes, Scroggins implemented a technology refresh, selecting the Huddle platform from CCaaS startup Edify. I spoke with Scroggins about her journey from Forever 21’s previous contact center infrastructure to Edify’s Huddle. The decision was less about the features and functionality of the contact center technology, and more about accessibility, I learned. “The problem wasn’t knowing what to do. The problem was knowing how to do it,” Scroggins told me.
“The solution could do anything, but it took experts, money, and time to make it happen. I needed a flexible and accessible solution,” Scroggins said. “What initially attracted me to Edify was its single screen. Having everything in one place instead of multiple, disparate applications made a huge difference in both productivity and morale.”
Edify’s single screen isn’t an island. It shows current information from several sources, but to the agent it is a portal to everything they need. Edify brings all the relevant data to one place so it eliminates or reduces the need to switch applications. That alone dramatically increases productivity. But the big game changer was Edify’s dynamic workflow functionality, Scroggins said.
The visual design tool doesn’t require developers — or a suitcase and hotel. Scroggins solicited feedback from the staff at Forever 21, then used what she learned during these sessions to create call flow scripting options. She calls the agents the “first customer” because they deliver the service that impacts the company’s retail customers. It seems obvious, but the path that agent feedback traverses toward implementation changes is often broken.
Agents can now choose the right path during an interaction using automated in-call modules. For example, a return or exchange requires completion of very defined steps, such as payments and shipping routines. The automation speeds the interaction, yet agents retain flexibility to accommodate exceptions or specific requests. The single pane-of-glass display streamlines this process.
Forever 21 agents have been working from home for the past year, but the retailer has always had a distributed contact center. Now, the retailer is evaluating a combined in-store role of agent and sales associate, supported by Edify’s Automatic Interaction Distribution (AID) functionality, which routes calls and digital channels.
Scroggins is evaluating routing incoming customer service calls directly to staff in stores. An employee with an iPad, for example, could receive the call, and then use the camera to show customers available, in-store options. It’s one of the advantages of Huddle CX, which includes UCaaS and CCaaS capabilities.
The results so far are impressive. At the corporate level, revenue soared to $3.1 billion last year, including significant expansion of the business into digital channels.
Inside the contact center, Forever 21 has reduced its call abandon rate from 11% to 2% without any additional staff. It also cut the average speed to answer by 50%, and now answers 90% of customer calls in less than a minute — usually in just seconds. Call handle time also dropped 20%, Scroggins said.
Forever 21 also saw a significant drop in its costs. The UcaaS-CcaaS Huddle CX service is $7 per agent per day, plus usage. The pandemic made Scroggins a fan of usage-based pricing. When stores closed and business dropped, Forever 21’s prior CCaaS cost remained high. Now, the cost is tied directly to usage.
Besides Huddle CX, Edify offers Huddle EX, for UCaaS. EX is also available by itself for $10 per user per month, plus usage.
Most contact center changes are about give and take. Decreasing one variable, such as hold times, can be accomplished by increasing another variable, such as payroll. That’s what makes this story stand out — Forever 21 generally improved all of its key metrics.
CCaaS, along with the pandemic, has created an opportunity to completely reevaluate the customer service experience. Realistically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to upgrade to the state of the art in order to process interactions the same way as before.
Forever 21 knew it needed to reinvent around customer engagement. It’s possible customer needs changed overnight. It’s more likely they weren’t being met for some time. The company changed providers to lower its costs and make the technology more accessible, but that only worked because it then turned to its agents to design a totally new approach.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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