It’s dawning on some fashion retailers that trusting their employees up and down the ranks can be good for business.
Traditionally, most brands keep a tight grip on how they project themselves to the world, with only certain team members, rigorously vetted by PR training, eligible to represent the brand. Social media posts are usually groomed and approved by several people before being fired off. As a result, on the individual store level, managers don’t feel connected to the headquarters of the companies they work for.
But companies are beginning to recognize the potential that comes with putting more power into the hands of lower-level employees in direct contact with customers.
“It gives a brand a real sense of personality,” said Malinda Sanna, founder and CEO of creative agency Spark. “It’s good to see them loosening the grip — that’s usually going to come with better results for the consumer.”
For Lane Bryant, a recent shift in its social media strategy led to the brand not requiring approval for each and every tweet it sends out from its account. Its two-person team is encouraged to interact with customers on Twitter in response to positive and negative tweets as the plus-size retailer leans into an evolving conversation around body positivity.
“Social media is about knowing what’s worth talking about as a brand,” said CMO Brian Beitler. “We’re not a tiny brand, but we need to be transparent. We do that by hiring women who really love the brand themselves.”
By hiring the right people for customer-facing positions, Beitler said Lane Bryant can put trust into employees’ hands to handle customer inquiries on Twitter and in Instagram and Facebook comments. Beitler also said that improving how consumers are engaged on social media via brand interaction has helped the bottom line.
“If you put something out their worth sharing while improving product, you’ll see those results,” he said. Lane Bryant’s most recent earnings period, ending April 23, saw a decline in comparable sales of 1 percent, however, something that Beitler blamed on the “ups and downs of retail” and spring weather.
“Twitter, as a customer service platform, allows employees to engage one to one,” said Lauren Kaufman Witten, L2’s vp of luxury and retail. “Being able to respond quickly is best practice, and that requires companies to let their social media teams be.”
Lane Bryant’s team responds to customer inquiries, as well as reacts to customer’s posts, within the same day on its Twitter.
— Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) July 14, 2016
Lilly Pulitzer’s entire social media team consists of two people running the show and interacting with consumers. Eleni McCready, the brand’s director of brand marketing and media, said her job would be impossible without trust from her employer. But she said the biggest shift in that trust is seen in Lilly’s 36 retail stores, where managers are being encouraged to consider themselves “shopkeepers” who can build relationships with customers and identify user-generated content from those customers that can be repurposed for the Lilly brand social media accounts.
“We hire people who know and love the brand so they can engage with consumers,” said McCready. “Store managers perpetuate a message into their communities, and it’s been an educational process, because not everyone understands how to approach social from a brand level, but we’re working on that. It’s about knowing your audience.”
Upstart brand BaubleBar has taken advantage of its close-knit team in order to improve online customer service. While BaubleBar, when sold through wholesale partners Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, benefits from in-store associates, online, the team had to get creative to push purchases. The team hired seven social media employees who run their own BaubleBar-branded Instagram accounts as part of a “SWAT Style” team. The goal is to demonstrate what the jewelry looks like on real people, not models, and provide a chance for one on one interactions with customers.
A photo posted by Kirby C., SWAT Stylist (@kirbyc_bbswat) on
“The SWAT team takes friction out of the online purchase process and builds relationships like a brick-and-mortar using technology,” said Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar’s vp of customer experience. “It’s the people behind the technology that really make a difference in generating revenue.” During a test period, 19 out of 20 people who interacted with the team on Instagram made a later purchase.
While brands are looking to employees on the front lines to help boost customer service, most are still keeping a stronghold on two platforms: Instagram and Facebook.
“We’re not going to see bigger brands relinquishing control to lower-level employees there,” said Kaufman Witten. “Instagram still has to have a curated view, while on Facebook, it’s a pay to play platform. There’s money on the line.”