Why Mattel's Customer Service Could Be Its Saving Grace

dir="ltr">The toy industry has hit a rough patch recently, marked by the closure of beloved toy retailer Toys R Us. For toy manufacturers like Mattel, the last year has been strenuous as well, but a turnaround might be coming, thanks to its commitment to customer service in this critical fourth quarter.

At the end of Q3, the company reported an operating income of $121.9 million, which equates to 41 percent growth from $86.2 million from the same time last year. It was the first time in eight quarters that the company posted year-over-year growth, Mattel Chairman and CEO Ynon Kreiz told CNBC.With the holiday rush in Q4, the company is hoping to keep the positive momentum going by doubling down on customer service.

The day after Christmas is 10 times busier for Mattel than any other day with customers calling to trouble-shoot problems with Christmas gifts—it’s an opportunity for the brand to secure brand loyalty and maintain trust, according to Gary Cocchiarella, head of customer service and support at Mattel.

To ensure the support team keeps up with demand on the busy day, the company more than doubles the size of its North American service department, hiring 75 seasonal employees to assist the 70 permanent workers. But they don’t just hire anyone, Cocchiarella said in an interview with Forbes:

“We look for a baseline of experience in customer service, and we look for people who have the necessary empathy and sensitivity needed to handle some of the more difficult consumer contacts.  The summary phrase we use is that we’re looking for an ‘altruistic service mentality.’ The people we’re striving to hire will have the goal, front and center, of making sure the consumer is happy after their interaction is over.” 

Employees that do make the cut are encouraged to draw from their own experiences as customers when they deliver service, keeping in mind that most callers are frustrated parents trying to make their kids happy at Christmastime, Cocchiarella told Forbes: 

“I remind my team that behind every phone call there’s a child in the picture, a child who loves what we make and wants it to work. In particular, when we receive a difficult phone call, this visualization–that there’s a little girl or boy behind the request–is a big help.” 

Though the next few weeks will be particularly important from a support standpoint, service will remain a priority for the company even after the holiday rush, Cocchiarella maintained. And his operation may soon get some support from artificial intelligence technology. The company plans to experiment with some AI tools in 2019, but not at the expense of human service providers. The technology will primarily be used to more effectively route calls, rather than replace service agents. “We feel strongly that our customers appreciate having a person answer and give real-time assistance,” he said.

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