Prepared meal delivery service Freshly has a lot of moving parts and a product with a finite shelflife. From coordinating orders between carriers, truckers, delivery partners, and entire manufacturing plants, you might think the organization is fueled by the type of automation that keeps fast-paced operations like this running. The truth is more human than that; in fact, people-powered decision-making combined with technology-enabled proactive service is the secret to their success.
“Being customer-centric has always been at the forefront,” Annemarie Gaxiola, says Freshly’s Senior CX Order Fulfillment Manager. “We’ve scaled from 30 to over 300 CX employees within the last five years, and if in two years, three years we scale up even more, we want to make sure that we still keep them in the center, and revolve our world around them.”
As with most SMBs, Freshly’s internal processes are mostly manual, which can be both a pain point and an opportunity for smart leaders to deliver the most human-centric service. Freshly’s chosen to act on the promise of the latter, leaning on prescient humans to come together and ensure the best solutions and services for their customers.
Sure, becoming technology-enabled is within reach of every organization––SMBs included. And, in most cases, this is also a welcome improvement. But simply throwing technology at a problem is hardly a good idea. In the absolute best case, technology will ensure seamless coordination and information flow throughout the organization, but for an SMB, it is often expensive and difficult to get close to that best case.
To manage complexities, ensure visibility, and offer the highest level of assurance at the lowest possible cost, Freshly’s scrappy CX team proves that simple technology with smart human intervention can be a good thing. Even, the right thing.
Proactive, not reactive
Reactive customer service is rife with issues: it’s more one-way than two, it synonymizes communication from your brand with issues management, and it functions without a clear strategy or plan in place, which leads to inconsistent CX. Add to that being a resource-constrained SMB working with multiple upstream/downstream partners that only expensive, enterprise-grade technology could help to coordinate, and it becomes a necessity to rely on a network of humans to manage complexities and provide visibility. Especially when you want to offer timely assurances to customers.
Case in point, when Gaxiola and her team noticed a pattern of feedback around delivery issues, she simply flew out to their largest facility and observed their processes for two weeks. She was tired of waiting for problems to emerge only to run around putting Band-Aids on sprung leaks. She knew Freshly was oriented towards their customers and knew their internal systems and processes should reflect that priority in turn.
Gaxiola decided to mobilize humans, not technology, to find and fill gaps. “Rather than wait and lose time,” says Gaxiola, “if I have visibility into the entire operation, I would have the necessary information to take timely intervention steps as simple as alerting the customers when their shipment is delayed. But with third-party vendors and partners who run and operate off their own systems, it can be challenging to know what’s happening at any given moment.”
The information she gleaned from that trip resulted in the development of systems the teams still use to this day.
“I helped bridge the communication gap between the facilities, our logistics team, and our carriers to ensure that they are all letting us know of the issues,” she says. “Now we can intervene and proactively reach out to our customers.”
Proactive approach means using the information at hand to make decisions that directly address customer needs before they snowball. “We realized customers were calling in with issues that we had known about and that we could know about,” says Gaxiola. “And I realized that proactive outreach is one of the most amazing things that you could do for these customers.”
From this realization, two systems were born: the FYI Procedure and the Follow-Up Procedure. Once the internal chain of information was established, Gaxiola and her team could be alerted to challenges before a customer even experiences them, giving Freshly a chance to take accountability and build trust.
“The FYI is basically advising our customers that we know an issue might be happening with their delivery and that we’ll get back to them in the morning when we have more of an update,” says Gaxiola. “Then the Follow-Up Procedure happens the next day, letting customers know that because their order was delayed, here’s an accommodation.” These types of straightforward guidelines allow teams to respond quickly to issues in ways that make their customers feel confident and cared for.
While a company less focused on CX might have looked at delayed shipping and delivery merely as logistics issues, Gaxiola and her team took this up as a CX challenge and engaged all departments of the company to resolve problems. Something Gaxiola and Freshly know is that when you revolve your world around customers, every issue can be looked at through a CX lens.
Establishing these two protocols was a clear solution to the problem of reactive service. Since implementing FYI and Follow-Up, customer complaints have shrunk 52%. Sure, these systems are simple and straightforward but they are also extremely impactful. In fact, implementing these systems has not only solved a big problem also built a roadmap for all team members to follow to ensure consistent, forward-looking customer service that is focused on building relationships rather than just solving problems. It also directly demonstrated that sometimes the best thing you can do for your customer is take a manual approach—visit the site, listen to calls, sit down with partners. All these actions result in a deepened knowledge base that will help you do the best thing for your customers.
Coordination fuels big change
Alignment in service of the customer can only come from true coordination between functions. For Freshly, that means leaning on human prudence to acquire the information they need, rather than a passive reliance on technology. While they have some automated processes, like triggered marketing emails, much of what they do relies on human judgment and person-to-person knowledge sharing.
Of course, a more manual approach can be a heavy lift for someone in Gaxiola’s position.
“In order for us to be proactive, I need to get down to the more granular information,” she says. “In order to do that, I need to know everybody in each facility.”
That facility visit to assess the delivery process set off a chain of connections for Gaxiola. In order to know what she needs to know to keep the customer informed, she relies on plant managers, facility supervisors, the entire logistics team, and certain members of the engineering team. Each link in the chain provides authentic intel that can lead to good decision-making.
While the systems are all built in-house, technology plays a supporting role in Freshly’s day-to-day—second to their people-power. The tech generates the reports, but it’s the people who pull them, parse them, apply the relevant context, and share information with the right teams.
“It’s about 80% manual still,” says Gaxiola. “We just don’t have the bandwidth to automate so much, and that’s been a pain point.” Nevertheless, revolving around customers means putting resources where they need to be in order to show up for your customers.
“It’s the reason why I have a team of 10 people,” says Gaxiola. “Each person has their own thing that they’re working on in order to ensure that we’re getting information to the right people, and making sure that we don’t make mistakes.” To that end, each person on her team is responsible for overseeing a different segment, like shipping, delivery, and more. This frees up Annemarie to take the 1,000-foot view of the customer’s experience while also being able to get all the relevant intel she needs to fight on offense.
Diving deep to make an impact
Part of the manual approach that has made this SMB so successful is the CX team’s willingness to dive deeply into problems in order to find the right solutions. Gaxiola, for example, didn’t just listen to customer calls—she manually audited the operational codes, set up demo accounts to test customer journeys, and inspected reams of customer data to pinpoint moments of delight and deterrenaces in the delivery process. In the absence of data or a clear-cut path, this approach is often necessary.
In fact, working within the constraints of what you have forces you to think about creative ways of maximizing intel. Gaxiola, for example, knows where to share feedback in a way that will create the biggest impact––marketing, product, logistics, engineering––and that’s what differentiates Freshly’s approach.
“I can go to our brand team and our initiative teams and say, ‘these are what our potential customers are asking us. Maybe this is something that you can implement when you market.’” By upholding CX as an institutional value, Gaxiola has been able to impact the success of the customer service team, the marketing team, the logistics teams––the list goes on.
For a company that links departments together, almost hand in hand, it’s evident how many pieces need to come together to ensure the customer experience at every touchpoint is an outstanding one. “Without technology to bring it all together,” Gaxiola remarks, “people are our best bet at procuring visibility for ourselves and providing it to our customers.” Through deeply connected teams and passion for the customer, Gaxiola’s CX team and Freshly continue to keep customers at their center—just read their reviews.
In fact, Freshly’s is a great blueprint for other SMBs looking to organize around CX. The Freshly Model for CX demands that you, first, mobilize a team that’s willing to do the work to make customers happy. Next, if CX is your north star, make it clear. That way, if teams need to slow down and deep dive to find the right solution, departments across the organization will understand that it’s to serve a singular goal. And finally, double down on one or two big customer problems that deliver the most impact instead of going after a garden-variety of issues.