Skin care consumers are impatient. They want a product that feels good on their skin right away. But according to Y’Our Skin founder Hanh Nguyen, this is causing them to choose products that are not only bad for their skin, but can actually worsen their skin’s condition.
That’s why she created the beauty eCommerce direct-to-consumer brand in 2018.
“Active ingredients like Vitamin C or Vitamin A—they don’t feel nice when you first put them on, but they’re actually better for the skin in the long run,” she says. This is compared to fillers or mineral oils, which make skin feel soft but have negative long-term effects.
Not only that, but when consumers combine products from various brands, active ingredients can counteract each other, making them ineffective or causing irritation.
Y’Our Skin’s product—a four-part personalized skincare regimen—is perfect for the growing number of savvy online shoppers who do their own product research and want to buy from brands they trust. The online cosmetics market is projected to reach $675 billion by 2020, growing at an annual rate of 6.4 percent. On top of that, Y’Our Skin is capitalizing on two big trends in beauty (and all of eCommerce): personalization and subscription.
But for an eCommerce business, with growth comes new challenges. For Y’Our Skin, the customer service requests increased alongside sales. And circling back to the impatience tied in with skin care, a brand that takes a little longer to help the skin leads to a lot of antsy customers.
In order to continue to scale, Y’Our Skin needed to develop a new customer service process that would help it maintain and capitalize on its growth.
In the last two years, more than 100 new beauty brands have debuted in department and specialty stores. Amazon leads online market share among retailers, but is growing at a slower pace than retailers that span online and offline such as Ulta and Macy’s. Likely because of this, Amazon recently launched its own private label skincare brand.
The skincare eCommerce space is growing but crowded—especially for new brands looking to build an audience from scratch. A compelling differentiator is needed to grab ahold of consumers’ attention. What makes Y’Our Skin different is that the active ingredients in the regimen are personalized to each customer’s needs.
“Skincare is not one size fits all. Different skin needs different ingredients,” Nguyen says. “In the market right now, they have acne systems or dry skin systems, but what if you have acne and you have dry skin? There’s no solution for that.”
Every new Y’Our Skin customer starts the buying process by taking a skin quiz. This helps the brand create a skin product that will work for them—because, as Nguyen found, when people were left to their own devices, “Customers are terribly bad at picking the right products. Literally, whatever that they need, they would go for the opposite.”
The quiz is used to personalize what active ingredients go into each customer’s regimen, which can be bought either one time as a set or on a subscription.
The survey every Y’Our Skin customer takes gives the company a treasure trove of insight into skin issues. One key finding: How common adult acne is. Of the people who took Y’Our Skin’s quiz, more than a third are over 30.
“One of the gaps that we fill is, when you look at acne-prone skin, most of the acne solutions on the market are for teenagers,” Nguyen says. “In real life, you see older people have acne, people who have dry skin have acne, people with combination skin have acne.”
Y’Our skin promoted its product through influencers, who are gifted the product by the company in exchange for an honest review, rather than paid, along with paid acquisition, using Facebook, Instagram, Google, Reddit, Pinterest, Quora, and Outbrain ad products.
This message—being able to address multiple, personalized skin concerns at once, especially treating acne in parallel to other issues—resonated with consumers.
With the increase in sales came more customer service requests. As the brand started to take off, Nguyen was spending long days replying personally to every customer inquiry. There were a lot of repeat questions, and generally, people only took the time to write in when they were dissatisfied. As a company founder with a wide range of responsibilities, it was frustrating to spend so much time and energy on negative feedback. To continue to grow, her team needed to scale this process.
When a customer was unhappy, their customer service requests would come in mere days after they’d received the products.
As the product grew and more questions started flowing in, Nguyen started noticing some patterns.
“The reason they’re not happy is because we haven’t set the right expectation for them,” Nguyen says. The response to these complaints would include an explanation of how skin works. She’d write something like, “Hey, your skin cells regenerate every 30 days. So whatever that you feel in the first couple days is only the product texture, and the active ingredient really hasn’t taken effect yet. For you to see the long-term effect, you have to wait for 30 days.”
One frequent question was from customers who were shocked and concerned to see flakes coming off their skin. What was really happening, though, was the product was cleaning clogged pores and impurities off their skin and the flakes were the result.
In a particularly difficult case, a customer wrote in to customer service saying the products had given her a rash. Nguyen’s team reviewed the ingredient list repeatedly, seeing nothing that was known to cause allergies or irritations. So, they worked with the customer to troubleshoot, asking her about her routine, including what steps were involved, and things like whether she had touched spicy food.
Finally, the customer mentioned she was concerned about bacteria on her hands getting onto her face, and she applied the product with gloves. Latex gloves. Turns out, she was allergic to latex!
Identifying and addressing the most common questions
Nguyen organizes customer service requests into two types: the questions that are asked zillions of times, and the ones that require specialized knowledge. And she figured out that she could, and should, hire someone to respond to the recurring questions by using a knowledge base—and only do customer service herself when questions needed to be escalated.
“I have a couple of people that answer the most basic questions like, ‘Oh, what are the ingredients in this product?’ Or, ‘When am I going to receive my next shipment?’” Nguyen says, “And then, we have an escalation when it’s a case like, ‘Hey, I had this reaction. What is the problem?’ Then it will require a more intensive analysis, then they would escalate it to me.”
The first step in building out this type of customer service system is creating an internal knowledge base. The company lists Frequently Asked Questions on its website, but an internal knowledge base goes more in-depth into what response is appropriate for specific concerns.
Nguyen also realized that some recurring questions elicited so many customer questions that they needed to be addressed in an even more prominent way.
For example, after seeing the common question around flaking skin, Nguyen added an email that mentioned flaking as a potential side effect in her post-purchase welcome email series.
Another frequent customer support request was due to customers using too much or too little of the products. To address this, Y’Our Skin added comprehensive directions on using the product set to the order confirmation email, which already has a high open rate, to be sure customers saw it. The instructions specify when and how much of each product to use.
Y’Our Skin isn’t the only brand that does this. For example, the hair care brand Monat sends new customers detailed instructions so customers are aware they may notice some negative changes early on in use, to prevent them from giving up on the product before the long-term effects are noticeable.
Finding the right customer service solutions
Y’Our Skin uses Zendesk to handle support requests, which they recently switched to after using Mixmax once the volume went up. While Zendesk and Mixmax both offer customer support and sales tools, Zendesk built its reputation as an industry-leading customer support tool and offers a number of enterprise features, while still offering pricing plans for small businesses.
The next step is to hire the right outsourced company, employee, or contractor. While Y’Our Skin didn’t need a skincare expert, it was helpful to have someone with an interest in the space who could learn and level up. Some contractors will be structured and only answer questions clearly listed in the knowledge base, while others will feel confident improvising, Nguyen says.
To train customer service representatives, Nguyen first introduces them to the internal FAQ library. From there, they start fielding support requests. If they come across one and don’t know how to handle it, they escalate it to a more senior customer service representative, who will show them how to answer it.
Now that Nguyen has a well-trained staff handling the bulk of customer service questions, she can focus her time on marketing channels and supply chain, only getting involved in the support trenches on rare occasions.
Learning and growing
The most important step of scaling customer service is taking learnings back to the buying process. Addressing issues before they become customer service requests will ultimately be your best bet at scaling.
If enough questions came in about timing of shipments, Y’Our Skin might decide to add pre-shipment email notifications, warning customers of a shipment that would be coming in a few weeks.
Can a customer receive too many shipping notifications? People love shipping notifications! Sephora, for example, sends a standard notification when an item ships, and a second notification when the package is expected within a few days.
Lastly, the knowledge base is constantly expanded and refined based on the questions coming in. For example, now the question “Do you wear latex gloves” is standard follow-up if a customer mentions a rash or irritation.
Thanks to their evolving post-purchase email series, on-site FAQ, and internal knowledge base, Y’Our Skin now sees fewer new questions and a more streamlined support process. Instead of coming up with new responses, or essentially reinventing the wheel for every support ticket, the customer service representatives are able to apply responses from the knowledge base or past customer experiences to most requests, only surfacing the especially complex issues to Nguyen.
Every eCommerce store will need to work through this phase of using real customer input in order to build and scale the customer service process. Beauty and skincare brands especially will find themselves addressing concerns related directly to their product as well as concerns that wind up not being caused by the product itself, but related, as with the latex gloves.
But it’s an indispensable part of business growth, especially with a product that’s purchased at regular intervals and can be paid via a subscription; good customer service is extremely powerful in converting first-time customers into reliable subscribers that produce recurring revenue.
Building trust with customer reviews is one of the most crucial components for an online beauty brand. Fashionista reports that 93 percent of consumers read reviews before making a purchase. Both happy customers and positive reviews are driven by great customer service. Plus, Harvard Business Review found subscription customers who had top experiences had a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year
Trust and authentic relationships with customers is important to Y’Our Skin—from how they design their influencer program to the importance of good customer service. When these things work in tandem, the result is growth on top of growth.