How a Hot Ecommerce Startup Scaled Customer Service on Their Way to 1 Million Products Sold

Danny Schreiber
Danny Schreiber / Published November 26, 2013

A little more than a year ago, Gaston Frydlewski and Mariquel Waingarten captured the hearts of thousands on Kickstarter with their pitch for Hickies, an elastic lacing system that turns sneakers into slip-ons.

"We got married last year and we want to be together all the time,” Mariquel said in their Kickstarter video. “That is why we both quit our jobs and flew from Argentina to New York to start our adventure and make our dream come true.”

Thanks to over 3,300 backers on Kickstarter contributing more than $150,000 (six times their goal), the couple’s dream came true: last summer they shipped their first customers a new kind of shoelace. Now, more than a year later, with an office in New York City and a team of six employees, Hickies is on pace to ship over one million packs by the end of 2013.

Scaling an ecommerce business that fast doesn’t come without challenges. For Hickies, one obstacle has been creating efficient processes around the thousands of new customers coming the door.

Customer Service Priority Number One

Hickies subscribes to a principle held by many of today’s successful ecommerce giants: customer service is priority number one.

“When you call somebody on customer service or you just send them an email, a prompt response from someone that’s knowledgeable—that knows what you bought, that knows what you need—goes a long way in having a customer trust your company,” said Carla Martinez, whose Hickies' only full-time support person in her role as user experience manager.

Hickes example

To achieve that level of customer service, an ecommerce company needs tools that allow their team to track and interact with customers. At Hickies, the team relies on Shopify to run their online store and Desk.com to manage their customer service. For each new customer that comes in through Shopify, the company creates a new customer profile in Desk.com, logging such characteristics as order quantity and color.

At the speed Hickies’ sales come in, however, repeatedly executing this process manually, which involves exporting Excel spreadsheets from Shopify and uploading to Desk.com, is too time intensive. So earlier this year, Carla went on a mission to speed up the process. Her idea: build a new app that took the best of Shopify and Desk.com. She went to her company’s tech team with the idea. But she didn’t get the answer she had hoped to hear.

“Our developers were telling us to build an app it’s 100 hours, it was very complicated to do,” Carla said.

Apps, Not Shoelaces, to Tie Together

With team members out of the picture and sticking to a shoestring budget, Carla began googling a solution—"connect Shopify and Desk.com". It’s there that she came across Zapier, a service to automate your work. In her case, manually moving customer data between two apps.

“I found Zapier and Zapier had the integration,” Carla said. “Since then, we’ve saved ourselves a lot of time and a lot of money using Zapier.”

On top of automating the new customer process, Carla went one step further to uphold her company’s commitment to customer satisfaction, and found a way to make immediate use of the email address a new customer gives the company. Instead of waiting for a customer to contact Hickies, she uses Zapier to connect Shopify with MailChimp and automate a one-month follow up email.

The email asks the customer how the product is working or if they have questions or comments. “That way, at least for us, we’ve built this system of continuous feedback from our customers,” Carla said.

It’s part of a process she calls the “Hickies experience,” giving customers a feeling that they are part of a community.

Happier Customers and Brighter Colors

Customers Brighter

“Hickies is very customer service oriented, and Zapier helps us in that way, by getting to know our customers,” Carla said.

When a support ticket comes in today, it’s guaranteed the one full-time support representative Hickies has on staff will have the customer information she needs.

“We know exactly what they bought, we know exactly what they need,” Carla said. “And if they come back six months later, it’s not like a cold phone call, we have all their information.”

Since implementing the automation, Hickies has seen a 24% increase in returning customers and a 46% increase in customer engagement, Carla said.

“One of the cool things is that we receive a lot of customers that use the Hickies and create new lacing techniques or new looks, and they share it with us,” she said. “A lot of that comes organically from them but a large portion of it also comes from these feedback emails that we send out monthly.”

It’s because of customer feedback, Carla said, that the company’s second generation of Hickies featured brighter colors and more elasticity.

Bright Colors

How to Increase Customer Engagement

"One of our mottos is there’s always a better way of doing something, and that’s what Hickies are. Instead of having to tie your shoelaces, there’s a better way of doing it,” Carla said. “Zapier was our better way of automating everything and running our business.”

To scale customer service the Hickies way, follow these five steps:

1. Collect customer information at point of purchase

This step is an obvious one, but it’s important to make sure you’re collecting customer information at the point of purchase that could help you service them better in the future. For Hickies, it’s the customer's name, email and order details, which includes date of first purchase and color choice.

Step 1

2. Integrate your ecommerce and customer support apps

Now that you know what data you want to integrate, it’s time to put Zapier to work to take care of, well, your work for you. If Shopify or Desk.com aren't your services of choice, Zapier also integrates with other ecommerce platforms, such as Magento, Bigcommerce and Woo Commerce and other customer support services, such as ZenDesk, UserVoice and Sirportly.

3. Automate a follow-up email to your new customers

Immediately after a customer processes an order, add them to a subscriber list in your email marketing software. For Hickies, it’s MailChimp, but Zapier features a bevy of other services, including
AWeber, Campaign Monitor or Campyn.

4. Use the information to better serve your customers

When a customer asks Hickies for a replacement pair, the customer service representative doesn’t need to look up anything in Shopify, all the information needed is right in Desk.com. Each order contains what color the customer ordered, removing an extra step from a support reply.

The Next Step

Hickies customers are now worldwide, and thanks to the attention they drove because of their Kickstarter campaign, the product is sold by Brookstone and other retailers.

Though Carla's mind on what systems and tools will come next—Asana for project management is on deck—she said one tool is here to stay: Zapier.

“It’s just great because as we grow out of the processes we have now and we grow into new ones, Zapier is able to stay with us each step of the way," Carla said, "helping us automate and make things easier and faster.”

Credits: Photos from Hickies on Facebook

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