Hairdresser trims costs with hosted apps

A US hair salon group has improved its customer service with the aid of new telecommunications and CRM technology. Ann Bednarz reports

Hair salon chain Ulta has given its customer-service operations a makeover and managed to slash support costs by a third in the process. Key to its new operations are hosted call routing and a new CRM system.

Gone are the days of having a company operator perform switchboard operations and track helpdesk requests with a spreadsheet, says Ron Brown, director of service and communications at Ulta, which has 160 salons in 21 US states.

In the past, “phone routing was literally managed by a receptionist at our corporate office. Every guest call that came in went through her”, Brown says. Meanwhile, a third-party provider handled customer queries that came in via the website and Ulta had little to do with those contacts. “We really weren’t able to manage those contacts with the intimacy that we would have liked,” Brown says.

Brown set out to unify Ulta’s CRM efforts and to find a way to handle the company’s phone inquiries more efficiently. He settled on hosted call-routing technology from Echopass and a hosted CRM application from RightNow, both of which Ulta implemented a year ago.

The Echopass platform handles computer telephony and automatic call distribution for traditional landline and VoIP calls.

RightNow’s software provides the interface for Ulta’s helpdesk agents who field calls routed by the Echopass platform and web-based inquiries. The RightNow software also serves as a repository for customer-service resources that website visitors can access on their own. A portion of the FAQs, available only to Ulta employees, address topics that store managers face, such as IT, human resources issues and loss prevention.

For management, the RightNow software lets Brown record and track the incidents and inquiries that come into Ulta’s support centre.

“Previously, we were just recording everything in an Excel spreadsheet, which is a pretty laborious, pretty archaic way to do it,” he says. Reporting features built into the Echopass platform track call volumes and help Ulta coordinate staffing requirements.

With nearly one year of data accumulated, Brown says he will have a better handle on seasonal demands. “I can get a very accurate sense of what to expect for the next holiday season, for example, so that we are staffed appropriately,” he says.

Ulta has been able to reduce its staffing and outsourcing costs because of the new systems. It no longer uses a third-party firm for handling web responses, for example, which dropped its labour expenses by a third.

At the same time, customer service has improved, Brown says. Call-wait queues have dropped from 3.5 minutes on average to 45 seconds. The number of customers who hang up before being served has dropped from 25% to 7%.

The self-service features from RightNow have helped deflect a significant number of inquiries to online channels. As a result, Ulta can offer longer callcentre hours despite having fewer staff members, Brown says. Ulta’s in-house support agents are spending less time on routine queries and more time on higher-level requests, he says.

Looking ahead, Brown wants to use more of Echopass’ features. For example, the Echopass platform can do skills-based routing, but Ulta, so far, hasn’t trained its support agents to specialise in particular areas. Likewise, all of Ulta’s agents today work from a single location, but it might like to use distributed agents to take calls in the future.

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