When you sell a product that customers need, it’s imperative that your communications are ironclad. For LensDirect.com, serving customers who urgently need their contact lenses before a big event, a trip, or simply before their current supply of lenses expires is a time-sensitive matter that makes a huge difference in thousands of lives.
For the bride whose wedding is in two days and forgot to pick up her contacts, the mom whose son is on his last pair of lenses and just realized he lost his backup glasses, and the teacher who is taking his students on a class trip to Washington and doesn't have enough daily wear lenses to last the week, LensDirect.com doesn’t just sell contact lenses, they sell safety, comfort, and most importantly, sight.
Contact lenses delivered to your door.
You could say that for Ryan Alovis, LensDirect.com’s Chief Executive Officer, serving the optical needs of customers runs in the family. Beginning with his great grandfather, Barney Cohen, and The Manhattan Optical Co. Inc. on NYC's Lower East Side, the Alovis family has been in the business of vision for over four generations.
Barney Cohen, great grandfather of LensDirect.com CEO Ryan Alovis, standing in front of one of the family’s optical stores.
Since the business was founded in 1992, LensDirect.com has seen a lot of changes in how business is conducted, including the rise of the internet. But one thing has remained constant for more than 27 years: LensDirect.com’s steadfast commitment to customer service. The company was recently named “Best online retailer” in Newsweek’s special report, America’s Best Customer Service 2019, for the contact lens category.
To deliver their superior level of service, the company invests heavily in one-to-one communication. “Every single customer is assigned one dedicated account rep to build a relationship, to be there to answer questions,” Alovis explained. “We don't want you to feel like you’re buying contacts online from a nameless or faceless company. We want you to feel like you have a connection with us. We have a saying in this office: Any company can buy a customer, it takes a real company to keep a customer.”
Every LensDirect.com customer is assigned a dedicated Account Representative.
So, what’s the key to creating lasting customer connections? Communication.
“Without communication, we wouldn't have a business,” said Alovis.
From reminders to renew prescriptions to notifications that their supply is running low, to shipping updates and exclusive offers, LensDirect.com is in contact with their customers often. In fact, to service their 250,000+ customers, the company makes more than 5,000 voice calls and sends more than 4,000 text messages each month.
During the 1990s, the company connected with their customers mainly via phone calls and direct mail. These activities morphed into primarily email-based communication in the 2000s. By 2013, the company was using an outsourced legacy system to reach out to doctors to verify prescriptions.
Rob Reynolds, LensDirect.com’s VP of Technology, explained why that system was far from guaranteed: “We had no control. When the legacy system went down, we went down, whether it was a hurricane or bad weather or their dialer wouldn't work for whatever reason. Our customer service would be back on the phones trying to manually verify these prescriptions. Our orders cannot actually leave our warehouse, and our customers are getting delayed shipments. Obviously with delayed shipments you have unhappy customers.”
When customers rely on your product for something as critical as their sight, there's no room for delayed shipments.
The team knew there had to be a better way. That’s when they started researching communication options and came across Twilio. Using Twilio Programmable Voice, LensDirect.com’s tech team built an interactive voice response (IVR) system that connects with doctors programmatically, allowing the company to shift away from the legacy provider and bring operations in-house. That single move created significant savings for the company.
“Compared to our legacy vendor, when we developed our own prescription verification system using Twilio’s technology we saw a monthly savings of 1640%,” said Reynolds. “Once we were able to see the cost associated with the Twilio API versus what we were previously paying, it was literally a no-brainer for us to switch.”
Once LensDirect.com switched to Twilio Programmable Voice for prescription verifications, their previous difficulties with unreliable service “just disappeared,” according to Reynolds. As they continued to discover what they could build with Twilio, the team began to explore SMS. They were excited to learn about MMS rich media support, which would allow them to send and receive photos with their customers. They implemented the service for contact lens prescriptions.
Reynolds explained, “Sometimes people forget to send us their prescription [via fax or email], so now they can take a picture on their phone and send in their prescriptions via SMS. When we allowed our customers to do that, we saw a huge lift in SMS engagement. It made life so much easier for the customer.”
The company has also launched low-supply reminders via SMS, to the delight of their customers. Once a prescription is starting to run low, LensDirect.com alerts the customer by text, and the customer can place an order with a quick reply.
Twilio Programmable SMS made it easy for LensDirect.com customers to refill their prescription by text.
Following the launch of SMS low-supply reminders, the LensDirect.com team started seeing some exciting numbers. Compared to low-supply reminders sent via email, which had an average of a 0.53% conversion rate, the text messages yielded a 2.49% conversion rate—a 370% increase—which resulted in a 225% increase in orders.
When the company compared their conversion rates from email-only reminders sent in November 2017 to text-only reminders sent in November 2018, the numbers speak for themselves.
“We went from a conversion rate on email of 0.18%, which is not great, to a text messaging [conversion rate] of 2.12%. So, that difference is over a 1000% change. That percent change on that conversion rate led to an order percent change of 840%. If our average order is $110, you could do the math,” said Reynolds.
Alovis summed up their findings, “Twilio has allowed us to see that [our] communication is much more effective via text.”
Of course, to be able to text customers, LensDirect.com needs to know their mobile phone numbers. Using Lookup, Twilio’s phone validator API, the company checks the phone numbers they have on file to determine which are mobile phones.
Switching from email to SMS created a more convenient way for customers to get their contact lenses.
Building on the success of their low-supply reminders, LensDirect.com plans to roll out text alerts for expiring prescriptions as well as invalid prescriptions. They’re also looking to SMS reminders to help make it easier for customers who place an order online but don’t follow-up with a valid prescription, which happens fairly often.
“We're hoping that implementing SMS texts for people that didn't give a prescription will dramatically lower our lost orders,” said Reynolds. To keep the process easy for customers, they can simply respond to the reminder text with a photo of their prescription.
To implement these new SMS programs, as well as the low-supply reminders, the LensDirect.com team has been using Studio, Twilio’s drag and drop editor, where they can edit customer workflows visually. With Studio, Reynolds explained, the team experienced significant time savings. “From a development standpoint, implementation literally went from a few days to drag and drop.”
Reynolds expressed how Studio helps make Twilio even more accessible to companies, with or without development resources: “If you don't have programming experience, you have Twilio Studio that is super simple. If you do have programming experience and you have a team of developers, you can take an idea and just keep running with it and expanding.”
Rob Reynolds, LensDirect.com’s VP of Technology, builds with Twilio Studio.
The team continues to be excited about what they can build with Twilio and has no plans to slow down anytime soon. “Our goal is to be at the forefront of any type of communication that will impact our customer experience,” said Reynolds. Working with Twilio, they feel certain they’ll be able to meet that goal.
We joke in the office that we feel like Twilio was almost made for us. It's a perfect solution for a real problem, and it's paid dividends for us.
Every decision that Alovis and his team at LensDirect.com make always comes down to how well that decision will serve their customers. “Our core is customer service. We sell contact lenses, but that's really not who we are with our ethos. Customer care is our ethos. It’s everything we do,” Alovis said.
To measure how well they’re doing at delivering excellent customer service, the company conducted a recent internal customer survey. The results confirm they are on the right track:
- 96.7% are happy with LensDirect.com
- 61.3% have told their families/friends about LensDirect.com
- 23.3% plan on telling their families/friends about LensDirect.com
Alovis credits Twilio for helping them get to where they are today, and strongly recommends Twilio APIs to other companies: “It's a powerful tool that has the ability to change your business. It's flexible, it's welcoming, and it's cost effective. So, there's no reason not to participate and test.”
If engagement and communication are important to your business and you're not using Twilio, you're making a big mistake. If you're a tech company and you aren't leaning on Twilio's communication solutions, I don't think you are a technology company.