Since they launched the brand in 2018, Inkey List founders Colette Laxton and Mark Curry have never done anything by the book. They brought the brand to market just 18 months after dreaming up the idea, which is relatively unheard of. They named their products after the raw ingredients in them rather than cutesy pop-culture references or fancy proprietary complexes shrouded in mystery and pending patents, which is unusual. They managed to keep their prices reasonable, with no product over £20, which is unexpected yet very much appreciated. Now, 18 months later, they're continuing to find ways to disrupt the skincare industry — this time with #askInkey, a 24/7, 365-days-a-year customer service program that offers free (yes, free), personalised skincare advice and knowledge to anyone who needs it. Oh, and they got a fancy new interactive website, too.
"This is a moment in time where people have more access to information than ever, but no one really helping and guiding them through that information."
From the beginning, Inkey List set out to demystify skincare for people, hence the simple names and the clearly labelled packaging that not only tells you how to pronounce the ingredient, but also what it's going to do for you and when in your routine to apply it. "We started this brand with the view that better information drives better decisions," Laxton told POPSUGAR back in February. "This is a moment in time where people have more access to information than ever, but no one really helping and guiding them through that information. So we set out with the premise of how do we be the knowledge providers in the skincare industry? And how can we help people to empower themselves to make better decisions? That's why we started the brand."
It would seem that #askInkey is simply the natural progression of that mission. And while it certainly lines up with the brand's raison d'être, the idea also kind of came about by accident. "As the brand progressed, we found people coming to us [on social media] with a lot of questions," said Laxton. "Over the last 18 months, we've answered 40,000 direct messages, with people sending us photos of their skin every day, asking us to help them figure out their skin issues and what products to use." Until July 2019, it was just Laxton, Curry, and the other eight company employees answering these questions, developing a rapport with customers who kept coming back to update the Inkey team on the progress of their skin. "Along the way, we realised there was a real need here," Laxton explained.
After a whirlwind 18 months full of waitlists, new launches, and large orders from Sephora, Laxton and Curry also wanted to take a step back. "We almost grew too quickly, suddenly realising that, you know what? We need to just stop for a minute and tell the world who we are, because we're not just a cheap ingredient brand," said Laxton. And with that, they decided to double down on the inadvertent customer service they were already offering — giving it a name, investing lots of money and resources, and hiring six customer service reps across the UK, New York, Australia, and Canada. "This isn't a social media team," Laxton added. "This is proper customer service with people who have skincare knowledge and know how to deal with consumers."
So how does #askInkey work? Well, you basically choose how you want to contact them — Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, email, live chat on their website, or even over the phone — and ask them your skincare question. "Literally, you can talk to us live one-on-one anytime, over any medium you prefer," explained Curry. If you contact them via live chat on the website, you can also utilise the new Inkey Recipe Builder. Answer a series of questions about your skincare goals, and a personalised "recipe" of products will be saved and emailed to you immediately. The free service has been so popular since it launched on 14 April, that the brand said it's currently creating one recipe every minute.
As a beauty editor who has spent many years talking to dermatologists and cosmetic chemists, my biggest concern when Laxton and Curry told me about #askInkey was that, if these customer service reps aren't doctors, how are they being trained? And how are they making sure no one ends up with a chemical burn or contact dermatitis? "What we're not doing is saying that we're doctors, but everyone we hire has skincare experience," explained Curry. "We train them extensively on our point of view and on the facts and figures that we can substantiate and support, and if a question comes in that they don't know how to answer, first it will get bubbled up to me, and if I don't know how to answer it, then we'll suggest the customer speak to a doctor — which we have done before." The point is, they want you to be rest assured that the advice you're getting is from a true skincare expert, and that they're not too proud to admit when they don't know something, or when an issue is beyond their expertise.
When Laxton and Curry came up with the #askInkey concept, no one had heard of the novel coronavirus. We were months away from lockdown and social-distancing measures. The farthest thing from their minds was how, at some point, a service like this could be extremely useful when all salons, spas, and dermatology offices are closed. But here we are, and you can #askInkey any skincare questions that crosses your mind, which is great since so many of us are grappling with dryness, dehydration, and more spots than usual while stuck indoors. And when this crisis has calmed and we return to our friends, families, and fretting about more frivolous things, #askInkey will still be there, ready to answer all your burning skincare questions at any hour of the day.