• May 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Pinterest Sees a Direct Lift with Directly

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Less than two years after its 2010 launch, Web and mobile photo sharing site Pinterest built up its user base to 11.7 million unique U.S. visitors, the quickest to break the 10 million unique visitor mark. The site crossed the 100 million active user milestone in September 2015. Some 31 percent of all online adults now use the site regularly.

A site this big is bound to get user questions, and many of those questions—nearly a third—don’t need to be answered by Pinterest employees. The most common questions are related to account access and learning to use the site.

Through the use of Directly, a San Francisco–based provider of on-demand customer service apps, many user questions are now handled by a small cadre of experts within Pinterest’s online community.

Pinterest’s online Help Center receives about 25,000 tickets per month, and of those, about 13,000 are forwarded to experts through the Directly platform. “The experts solve about 85 percent of the tickets we send to them,” says Maggie Armato, reactive support lead at Pinterest. “They escalate about 15 percent of them back to us.”

And the answers they provide are so good that Pinterest frequently has to clarify that the experts are not company employees.

Directly maintains the pool of experts for Pinterest; roughly half of the 20 to 25 experts are active contributors to the site. One expert alone handles about 800 tickets a week.

Pinterest, by its nature, is social, “so it’s easy to get people to help one another,” Armato says.

But still, not everyone who contributes to the site qualifies as an expert. For starters, candidates are screened by both Pinterest and Directly. They have to have been active users for at least six months and need to pass a test. They then are trained on the Directly system and how to handle requests. Directly monitors the quality of their responses; higher-performing experts receive more of the tickets. Pinterest pays a fee to Directly, and Directly pays the experts based on the number of tickets they answer.

Monetary compensation is a great reason to participate, but it goes beyond that. “There is a relationship that we develop with our experts,” Armato says. “We keep out experts very well informed about our company and what is going on. Information is a form of currency for them, so we want them to be among the first to know anything.”

Information flows back to Pinterest as well. “It’s a two-way contact with our experts. We tell them when there are bugs and they let us know what issues they’re seeing. That’s a huge benefit for us,” Armato says.

Pinterest has been working with Directly since November 2014. Before the site installed Directly, nearly half of all tickets submitted to the Help Center received automated responses. “We were drowning in tickets, and we were desperate,” Armato recalls.

“Directly was super-easy to set up, and within about a week we were up and running with it,” she adds. “It has performed so well that we’ve stuck with it.”

In fact, the Directly platform has far exceeded Pinterest’s expectations. When the site first launched Directly, it was expecting experts to respond to ticket requests within about eight hours. The average response time is seven minutes.

That has led customer satisfaction ratings for the support pages to triple. The auto-responder wasn’t very accurate or helpful, and so customer satisfaction was less than 30 percent. Today, it’s between 85 percent and 90 percent.

Good as those percentages are, it still leaves room for improvement, and Pinterest is already looking into a number of additional changes. Among them is the possibility of building an international and bilingual expert roster to handle more requests from overseas site users. International users have doubled in the past year and now make up about 45 percent of the total number of active Pinterest users, but all the current experts are based in the United States.

Pinterest is also looking to expand the types of tickets experts can handle by about 20 percent.

“Directly has completely shifted our strategy,” Armato says. “Without it, we would have had to increase our head count.”

The Payoff

Since handing off many of its customer support tickets to Directly, Pinterest has seen the following results:

  • customer satisfaction with its support portal jumped from less than 30 percent to almost 90 percent;
  • the number of support tickets handled by staff has been cut in half; and
  • the average response time has been cut to around seven minutes.

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