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lo-res_mhhe009426-sFor the fashion rental retailer Rent the Runway, getting a customer’s order right is critical on multiple levels. Most customers place their order less than a week before the event for which they need the rental fashions. And those events tend to be fancy, high profile events, such that the customers want to look their very best in a luxury, designer gown. Faced with these high service demands, Rent the Runway is turning to social media to find new ways to connect with customers before they place their orders, thus increasing the chances that the dress will fit on the day of the big event.

Rent the Runway promises designer gear for women who want to look great at a party or event to which they have been invited, but who don’t have the time, money, or desire to pay for an expensive ball gown or cocktail dress that they might never wear again. Because of the unique demands and needs of these shoppers, Rent the Runway already allows customers to order the next size of the same outfit, to make sure that one of them will fit. They also can request two different dresses in the same order, for a flat handling fee.

But such efforts were not quite enough. Panicked customers who realized only too late that the bodice of a dress was too tight or that the hem trailed on a particular skirt were unhappy, even though the company already offered extensive customer service assistance by phone. Noting that customers were contacting the company not just through e-mail and phone calls but also through Snapchat, to share pictures and videos, Rent the Runway decided to try something totally different. It now encourages customers to upload pictures or videos of themselves, how they move, and what kinds of clothing they like to the corporate site.

In the meantime, Rent the Runway has recruited a pool of models from among its own employees. Approximately 250 workers from the customer service department at its corporate headquarters have agree to help and offer themselves as sort of living mannequins, with varied body types that generally offer matches with customers’ bodies. Thus, when the customer uploads a video, provides her body type information, and explains what she’s looking for, the company solicits the assistance of a model with a similar body type. This model then tries on the chosen outfit and offers a review of minor details that might make a difference, such as how easy it is to sit in a skirt or how low the neckline falls.

The customer and customer service representative then engage in a conversation, covering the customer’s detailed questions and concerns. The plan is for service representatives to spend about 10 minutes with each customer, ensuring that the product ordered is the best option for this shopper.

With its broad sample of employees, Rent the Runway has thus far been able to match every customer to a model who can wear the dress and post the resulting information to the customer’s Snapchat account. If it can keep up the conversation, it seems poised to achieve even higher levels of satisfied—and well-dressed—customers.

Discussion Question: 

  1. What is Rent the Runway doing to improve the customer experience?
  2. Evaluate its new program.

 Source: Hilary Milnes, Glossy, August 15, 2016