Hungry for Insights: Nutrisystem's Customer Service Team provides Key Observations

The weight-loss company's customer service department plays a major role in helping the brand stay in touch with customer needs.
Customer Engagement

It's not unusual for companies to invest in massive amounts of customer research while overlooking a vital resource: the customer service department. Nutrisystem is not one of those companies. The weight-loss company avoids this mistake by maintaining open communication channels between the customer service team and other parts of the organization.

In fact, earlier this year, Nutrisystem received a Stevie Award for Customer Service Department of the Year. 1to1 Media caught up with Bill MacBride, senior vice president of contact center operations at Nutrisystem, to discuss the company's strategy for leveraging insights to improve the customer experience.

1to1 Media: What are the typical questions that customers have for Nutrisystem's service reps and how does your department share insights from those interactions?

Bill MacBride: Our service team handles calls from customers regarding the delivery status of meals, requests to update menu items, and any other issues. What's unique about our interactions with customers is that it can impact the customer's ability to be successful on her weight loss journey. It's often an emotional journey for our customers so it's really important for our representatives to understand their situation, empathize with them and work towards resolving their reason for calling.

In terms of sharing insights, we have a variety of methods. Two in particular have been very effective for us: our open-house observation sessions as well as our customer insight roundtables. The open houses give all our employees the opportunity to spend time in our contact center and listen to a variety of call types, as well as have an open dialogue with our representatives to gain more information from them.

The second is our customer insight roundtables. These are a group of forums where a group of reps will participate in key meetings with our management team, including our CEO and CMO. And each of the sessions is geared towards a specific topic. Some have included product innovation, creative or offers, customer experience journey mapping, etc.

What is an example of an actionable insight that the customer service department shared with another part of the organization and how was the insight implemented?

One that stands out is the introduction of our frozen line into our a la carte menu. The contact service team was influential in bringing this option to life through feedback that was shared at one of the customer feedback roundtables that I mentioned. During the session, a rep shared a strong interest from our customers to purchase those additional frozen products. This was a huge opportunity for us to increase revenue as well as meet our customers' need to help them transition to and maintain healthy eating habits. Since that introduction, we've seen our a la carte sales increase significantly.

In the past we were only offering our staple products through the a la carte menu and as our product mix started to shift, it became increasingly clear that we had to match our customers' needs. Not having that option in our a la carte menu was a gap that we wanted to address and that feedback came from the reps speaking with customers.

How does Nutrisystem keep track of customers who contact the company through multiple channels?

We have a homegrown CRM system called the NutriNet solution where we store all our information regarding the interactions our representatives have with customers. Our reps are required to take notes on each interaction whether it's over the phone, email, chat, or even social media. We've also developed our own Nutri language with a variety of symbols and abbreviations to help the reps be more efficient. This way the next rep can have a clear view of the customer situation as well as allow them to communicate more effectively.

Are there parts of this communication strategy that you're improving?

One of the things we're looking at is creating more of a snapshot view of the most recent activities within a customer's history. For example, if it's a situation where a customer may be calling in repeatedly about the status of her delivery or their deliveries keep arriving late. We want to call the rep's attention to those hot button issues so he or she knows what transpired and what the customer's state of mind is when she contacts us.

How many in-house and outsourced agents do you typically employ?

Our operations are in-house and our headcount varies based on the seasonality of our business. We're currently just under a 300-person headcount. During our peak season, we'll get upwards of 400 to 500 individuals.

What is your most frequently used channel and do you see it changing in the near future?

Phone is still the primary channel but we've seen a good shift of volume to chat. That continues to expand as more customers become tech savvy combined with our efforts to make those interactions more readily available. And I'm referring to Web or mobile chat but not text messaging. That's one area we haven't expanded into yet.

What advice would you give to other businesses on how to align the customer service department with the rest of the organization to create a consistent customer experience?

It starts with a commitment to understanding the customer journey and making that journey a positive experience. Each department has an impact and influence over the customer experience, whether it's the creative messaging around our brand, interactions with the service team or the warehouse that prepares the shipments-everyone touches the customer indirectly or directly.

Building a consistent customer experience is an ongoing effort that needs to go beyond Net Promoter Score or focus groups. Both of these are important, but developing the forums to gain direct feedback from people who are interacting with your customers every day is equally if not more important. I would encourage companies to invest the time in encouraging open dialogues to gain insights and ask questions to improve the journey. Many companies talk about customer experience, but to be successful requires the whole team to work together and take action on what the data tells them.