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High ticket volumes
Supporting during COVID-19
Repurpose retail staff
Current deflection rate
Time saved per ticket with bots
No. of retail staff onboarded as agents
Started in 1997, Tree of Life was initially a retail bookstore and coffee shop. Over the years, the organization has evolved with the times to develop their core online business. Their aim is to transform the student experience in universities by simplifying the process of procuring course textbooks each semester. Tree of Life’s flagship ‘textbook butler’ model, an innovative auto-fulfill service, provides every student with all the course material they need before their first day of class. The convenience of using the service saves students the effort of searching for books from multiple online or physical stores.
We spoke to Nathan Mazellan, Director of Support at Tree of Life, to understand how their business has made use of technology like bots and automation to transition and evolve their processes through a crisis.
Tree of Life’s customer base mainly comprises the universities, schools, and colleges they partner with to provide their service, but Nathan understands that the students who attend these institutions are their primary consumers. As a result, the focus for Nathan’s customer support team is on providing students with the best possible service and to treat them as they would their own customers.
In pursuit of that goal, Tree of Life has continuously improved the support they provide students, and to help them maximize the value they get from the service.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world, several businesses faced the challenge of dealing with the increasing number of customer inquiries. During this time, Tree of Life observed a 45% jump in support volumes. Digging deeper into the numbers, chat conversations rose by 56%, compared to a only 5% increase in calls and emails showing that newer generations favoured messaging over traditional calls and emails.
Nathan and his team were well prepared for a situation like this. In 2019, they implemented Freshdesk’s answer bot that collected relevant customer information before introducing a live-agent to solve the problem. Today, their bot collects 100% of the preliminary information, and ensures that agents receive complete information saving 3-5 minutes per request.
“Bots helped us gather information about the student and direct them to the right answer of how to return their books or inform them if we didn't know how to do that and were waiting on the university for the next steps”
Director of Support
Tree of Life
Tree of Life expanded on this model during the pandemic by deploying Freshdesk’s AI chatbot Freddy for query deflection.
Initially, incoming inquiries from students were handled by the Freddy answer bot to help them get to the right solution. If the issue was complex and couldn’t be resolved by Freddy, the student could transfer to a live agent. The buffer between the bot response and the live handover afforded agents time to dig into the issue and arrive at a solution, helping reduce resolution and response times.
With Freddy, 8% of all "return book" queries were deflected, which saved agents 2.1 minutes per conversation.
In total, Tree of Life reduced the time spent on queries by 60 hours during the pandemic. More crucially, they could maintain their 12-hour SLA, despite the increase in ticket volumes. Using the AI-powered Freddy bot Nathan’s team, seamlessly adapted to the situation and continued providing a stellar customer experience to students.
Tree of Life has both on-campus stores and an online fulfillment model that universities can choose from for their students. Their workforce is split between the physical and digital stores, with on-campus centers managed by store managers.
Tree of life has a seasonal workload, with demand spiking during the start and end of each semester. As students have to swap out their textbooks, everyone from customer service to sourcing has to manage the surge in requests and keep service levels high. “It is important how we handle spikes because we get really busy when it's fulfillment season and again when it's rental return season” explained Nathan.
In 2020, universities remained closed even after spring break due to the pandemic, forcing Tree of Life to shutter their on-campus stores leaving store managers without much to do. Simultaneously, Tree of Life saw a higher than normal increase in the number of digital queries from students concerned about how they could complete book returns during this time.
To manage the sudden surge in digital demand, Nathan decided to onboard store managers as support agents. To ensure the managers weren’t overwhelmed by the inquiries, the team created training documentation on the most specific support topics with Freshdesk’s Knowledge Base. Training new agents on answering only certain types of questions ensured that they weren’t overwhelmed with work and could ease into the role.
Tree of Life managed to bring 40 managers onto Freshdesk within a week to manage digital inquiries. Collaboration features within Freshdesk, made context sharing easy, allowing managers to jump in anytime to help the support team with specific requests.
“Store managers were extra labor that we needed to utilize, so by adding them as agents on Freshchat, we diverted questions from certain schools to them”
Freshesk’s flexibility in adding agent licenses coupled with its intuitive UI allowed for the newly onboarded agents to pick up the product quickly and work for the customer. This temporary setup has shown the team a possible way forward for dealing with seasonal surges in customer issues in the future
For Nathan’s team, finding common patterns from customer inquiries was necessary to streamline support workflows. By analyzing query data within Freshdesk, they were able to identify the most frequently asked questions and categorize them into topics such as ‘Pricing & Billing’, ‘Digital Course Material’ etc. within their website chat widget. Now, students found it easier to navigate to the support topic their issue was related to, and agents required less time to find the right solution for a query.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, topic groups were even more crucial to staying organized. Specific tags helped differentiate COVID-19 related questions from other categories and made it easier to prioritize issues.
By creating automated ticket workflows, Nathan was able to redirect 20% of questions from students using their flagship online service to store managers, allowing the team to balance agent workload better. Store managers could log in anytime from any location to view the requests assigned to them on the Freshdesk dashboard.
Things will only get busier for the Tree of Life team with the upcoming fall semester because students are not returning to campus. Universities have asked students to stay at home from Thanksgiving until after Christmas, with classes resuming again only in January.
Through this time, Nathan’s team is planning to use Freshdesk’s capabilities to stay ahead of the workload, stay connected with students, and ensure business continuity by enabling employees to work remotely from any location during this high growth period.
“Freshdesk helped integrate our labor across the company and onboard employees from both physical and digital stores across universities to help answer customer questions. We’re buckled in to tackle the rest of the year”
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