In Italy, QVC Italia is part of everyday life. Viewers throughout Italy can find continuous programming showcasing beauty, fashion, home and kitchen products, jewelry, electronics, and more. If something piques their interest, they can call and buy in minutes. With so much commerce coming over their inbound channels, QVC Italy had built a strong customer support team over the years.
Then, in early 2020, the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic plunged all of Italy quickly into uncharted territory. As the country hurtled toward eventual complete lockdown, the QVC Italy team rushed into action.
The challenge? Transition more than 100 agents to a remote contact center without workstations, all while managing skyrocketing traffic.
As more regions in Italy entered lockdown, the QVC Italy team realized they may soon need to shut down their headquarters for employee safety. That meant finding new ways to carry out major operations—including filming and broadcasting shows, and answering phones when viewers called in with questions or orders.
The challenges abounded, including fewer available agents and much higher traffic due to shipment disruptions and other fallout from COVID-19.
Claudio Rivabene, IT Business Relationship Manager for the Italian Market, along with a number of other teams, began working through ideas to work around not being able to access specialized contact center equipment.
With everything closing down, they couldn’t procure enough laptops on such short notice—but through a stroke of luck, there were almost exactly the right number of laptops sitting in a QVC returned-merchandise warehouse. Several QVC technicians worked around the clock for days to prepare the laptops for the 100+ agents making the work-from-home (WFH) transition.
Why work so hard to continue operations? For the customer, Rivabene says.
“On TV, on every single channel, they’re talking about coronavirus,” he says. “And our customers are used to getting entertainment from us, in normal life, and we didn’t want to remove that from their life. We all wanted to help others feel better while stuck at home.”
Rivabene and QVC Italy started working with Twilio Programmable Voice in 2013, building an interactive voice response (IVR) system to handle the company’s automated order entry and customer service traffic, so they were familiar with Twilio as a customer engagement platform. The team realized if they could bypass a phone system by letting agents answer calls directly on Twilio’s platform, agents could work safely from home without specialized equipment.
With Twilio Flex and building in drag-and-drop workflow editor Twilio Studio, Rivabene’s team set up a complete virtual contact center operation in about five days. That timeline included setting up IVR flows, modified from their existing contact center to take advantage of Twilio capabilities; and several customizations in Flex, including customized hold music to provide a consistent customer experience, and some optimizations to reduce their average handle time.
“It was so simple to turn on,” Rivabene says. “We decided to go the extra mile and added the ability for our customers to interact with us through WhatsApp as well.”
Adding WhatsApp, an extremely popular messaging platform in Europe and globally, helped the team create an option to “skip the queue” in the customer service IVR. It also introduced even more efficiency because agents could now manage more than one conversation on multiple channels. With the Twilio Flex configuration and multiple channels, agents could easily handle up to five conversations at once.
Adding WhatsApp was “really something that changed the game, to have a way for our customers to contact us in a way they were already familiar with,” says Rivabene. “We could answer faster than an email, but it’s more relaxed than a phone call.”
[Twilio Flex] was so simple to turn on. We decided to go the extra mile and added the ability for our customers to interact with us through WhatsApp as well.
Additionally, Twilio Flex’s ease of use and programmable user experience meant Rivabene’s team didn’t have to translate anything inside their Flex instance. For all other tools, the team needed to translate to Italian.
Rivabene and his team also appreciated the ease of Twilio Studio. “Studio was great, honestly,” he says. “My coworkers who used similar tools were amazed that they didn’t have to program by writing flows line by line. They told me, ‘I’ve seen other IVRs or contact center platforms, but I’ve never seen anything so easy.’ ”
In addition to the more than 1.1M minutes coming monthly through their Twilio Programmable Voice platform, the QVC Italy team can now handle more support queries on more channels with Twilio Flex. By April 2020, the team was seeing more than 7k SMS messages and 42k WhatsApp messages monthly.
With the mad dash of the early days behind them and the remote contact center in full operation, Rivabene is most proud of the team’s adaptability and perseverance in the face of an incredibly difficult personal and professional situation. Rivabene himself is one of many at QVC Italy who took on a challenge outside his normal job in order to shepherd the transition to the new WFH contact center.
The best advice he can offer to others who find themselves looking at similarly daunting challenges in the new world after coronavirus:
“Be brave. Don’t be afraid to try things you’re not used to. And do not give up,” he adds. There were multiple moments, he says, where he can’t believe they all continued on. He attributes it to a strong sense of purpose to give others something to focus on other than the pandemic during lockdown.
“A lot of us truly believed we have our own role to play in the situation. At a much smaller scale than people working in the healthcare sector, of course, but we could keep people entertained. It was not really about sales,” says Rivabene. “We really wanted to make sure we kept operating to provide people something else to think about, to feel better while stuck at home.”
With a little luck, a lot of hard work and perseverance, and the programmable and scalable contact center technology of Twilio Flex and Twilio Studio, QVC Italy has been able to still be there for their customers during the pandemic, as reliable as turning on the TV.
On TV, on every single channel, they’re talking about coronavirus. And our customers are used to getting entertainment from us, in normal life, and we didn’t want to remove that from their life. We all wanted to help others feel better while stuck at home.