It’s undeniable — the retail landscape has changed for good. While the past year forced consumers to shop in a whole new way, it also drastically accelerated digital transformation in a matter of months. Brands and consumers alike, who may have been hesitant to buy and sell online, are now embracing digital customer experiences like never before.
But one thing hasn’t changed: consumers still want consultative, personalized experiences throughout the buyer journey. So how do you deliver in this new digital world?
On June 24th, the best and brightest gathered [virtually] to explore what the future of CX looks like for e-commerce, what consumers expect from a modern customer experience, and how to transform service organizations into a full blown revenue driver through consultative, full-funnel support. Here are our key takeaways.
Stand Out Experiences = Standing Out From the Competition
Delivering stand out experiences — personalized and human experiences that can surprise and delight a customer — is the most successful way to stand out from the competition. Many smaller brands may not be able to compete with the Amazons and Walmarts of the world, but by building personalized relationships, direct-to-consumer brands can win.
“Everyone knows that we can’t beat Amazon on price or convenience. So as long as these two metrics continue to be the primary selling point for customers, we’ll always be playing catch up and that’s a pretty rough place to be,” said Kristen LaFrance, Host of Resilient Retail and Senior Content Marketer at Shopify. “That personal, human experience that differentiate smaller brands from the existing industry giants, now that’s the key to building an engaged community that chooses you and your brand every single time. So what does it take to build a fanatical fan base in 2021? Well, it’s all about changing the stakes of the game.”
LaFrance goes on to explain that you can’t fake community. Mega corporations simply can’t provide genuine relationships with consumers, and brands should only optimize and digitize so long as they can continue to personalize the experience for the customer, for the person who wants to invest in the brand story.
Chance Riley, Director of Growth at Cuts Clothing, explained how they are able to deliver unexpected moments via text. “SMS was a great way for us to just get those urgent new product launch announcements out, or maybe a sale announcement… and we still do that of course, when those moments arise. But we’ve been able to get more personalized and deepen those customer relationships. Sometimes even despite our best efforts, customers might receive a product launch document or a sale announcement through SMS, something that we’re really excited to share with our customers and [a customer] will respond to the text saying something like, you know, that’s great and all, but my last order hasn’t been shipped yet. So what’s up with that? And as a customer we all know there’s nothing worse than the feeling of just being ignored. And before we implemented the Kustomer integration, that’s really in a way what was happening — if you replied to a message with that, “hey, what’s up with that” response, you’d received just an automated response. And now instead of being totally blown off, with the Kustomer integration we’re able to really engage with those customers in a more human way.”
Brooklinen likes to deliver surprise and delight moments with customers to build lasting relationships. Caroline Nolan, Customer Experience Manager at Brooklinen, explains with this example: “We’re trying to bring ourselves into the world of sort of the unexpected, that sort of surprise and delight for customers. Maybe someone reached out to us over Twitter to say, you know, I love your sheets. I wish you still had this specific color. It was my favorite and my cat scratched it. We might know that in the back of the warehouse there’s actually a brand new set of that color. We can send it to customers and just sort of make their day… I think that is what everyone’s looking for, that personalized experience. Someone mentioned that they’re moving into their new apartment and that’s why they’re looking at our sheets. Maybe we have a way of giving them a little something special.”
Happy Agents Mean Happy Customers
Building trust with your consumers can be difficult — especially after something has already gone wrong. But by empowering agents to address problems with empathy and humanity, and training them to truly listen and act on customer concerns, brands are able to communicate how much a customer truly means to them. Happy agents often do directly translate to happy customers. And it’s important to ensure that agents have all of the technology and strategy at their fingertips to ensure their jobs are as easy as they can possibly be.
Says LaFrance, “We need to ask ourselves what does trust actually mean? And how do we build it in a way that’s healthy and ethical for both our brands and our customers? I always try to think of relationships between brands and customers in a similar way to relationships between two average people. And that means that those connections develop gradually. So clicking on a Facebook ad for a water bottle is a lot like swiping right on bumble. It’s not a commitment but it’s an invitation to a broader conversation… Trust grows from meaningful, open dialogue. It’s really hard to trust somebody if you don’t feel like they’re listening to you. It’s hard to trust someone that says they value your input but never act on it. It’s hard to trust somebody that treats you as a data point.”
Riley agrees that the best way to build brand loyalty is through trust. “It only takes one bad experience to completely destroy [trust]. So to us, we try to remember that and put our best foot forward. Every product we put out, every marketing message, every customer service interaction. And we’re always trying to keep that in the back of our mind because if we can consistently do that, then brand loyalty follows.”
Lauren Panken, Senior Systems Manager, UNTUCKit, also understands that building trust starts with the agent, and she tries to do all she can to ensure they feel empowered. “I think that’s the biggest part of any customer service manager’s job is keeping the agents happy, because those emotions and those attitudes directly relate to how I think the customer experience will go,” says Panken. “Let’s say you start your day off super happy and excited. And then you get thrown off because you have a bad customer experience… we’ll take care of you if that ever happens and we’ll give you the tools to kind of resolve that within yourself so that you have those tools that you can take from your toolbox to know how to manage an interaction like that. I want to make sure that all of the agents are an extension of our team… and I want them to recognize that they’re not secondary.”
Laura Gramlich, Customer Experience Manager at SKIMS, thoroughly understands the importance of keeping agents happy while also ensuring they grow within their roles. “The last thing I would want to do is lower morale with my team. I think keeping up that morale and kind of having us be a front as a group, instead of individuals, is really important in terms of just working together,” says Gramlich. “If I see anyone slipping or having obviously a lower score than normal, I’ll kind of identify that together. But I never give the numbers out as a large group like: this person got this. I think just making sure everyone feels like they’re a part of that team … is really important.”
Nolan of Brooklinen thinks that CX technology tools have a huge part in making agents’ lives easier. “The ability that Kustomer has to have everything in one timeline, [the integration with] Convey updates regularly to say: here’s the tracking information… Maybe a shipment has been paused or there might be a weather delay. We can see that on the Kustomer Timeline. So our agents don’t have to be moving around from tab to tab and trying to grab the correct tracking information… I think having everything in one place especially during our busiest time is super important.”
Customer Service Channels Are Changing
According to recent Kustomer research, preferred communication channels are changing. While older generations still prefer more traditional channels like phone and email, younger generations lean more heavily on digital-first channels like chat and SMS. Direct-to-consumer brands are seeing this as well, and reflecting it in their strategies.
Dan Brady, Customer Success Manager at Pura Vida Bracelets gleaned insights on channels through networking with other DTC leaders. “I’ve actually found that the more people I talked to, it seems like a lot of direct-to-consumer brands are kind of moving away from phones and focusing on some of these other channels that are offered in this day and age… I think anyone who’s a customer service manager realizes that phones tend to be the most expensive platform to be staffed on. They also have the longest average handle time. I know … some companies will have agents doing as many as three, four or five live chats at a time. That’s not feasible when it comes to phones. So we definitely made some adjustments but we definitely still wanted to allow customers the ability to leave a voicemail and know that they were quite literally heard and replied to in a timely manner. So true omnichannel, right?”
Gramlich at SKIMS also doesn’t utilize phones. “When we launched, it was like… what will we be doing in order to really be able to understand our customer? We didn’t really know who that customer was going to be. We had an idea but you’re never going to know until it happens, right? But we didn’t have phones. We only had email and of course, social media correspondence. We noticed that, because we are a high profile company, we knew we were going to have a large social presence. We’ve continued to have that. So DMs, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera, that’s been since the beginning. But during the pandemic we’ve launched SMS messaging, which has really been that sweet spot between phones and also live chat because a customer can still pick up their phone and message us at any time.”
Cuts Clothing thinks that usage of more digital channels will continue to grow. “SMS…. when we first started using it was fairly rare,” says Riley. “I wanna say there weren’t a whole lot of brands utilizing it. But now, of course, that’s changed significantly and I’d expect that to continue to be the case especially as customers become more used to being able to interact with brands through text. It’s kind of like the more brands that utilize the channel the more customers are comfortable interacting with brands in that way. So sort of like a flywheel effect wouldn’t be a surprise.”
But the true key to success is ensuring that the entire customer journey, across all channels, is consistent and exceptional. “Remember, your customers probably haven’t heard the term omnichannel and even if they have, it’s not something that they’re thinking about when they’re shopping at your store,” says LaFrance. “Instead of trying to set up sales pitches at every single touchpoint, our focus needs to be on creating a unified funnel where the point of conversion is flexible to the customer’s needs, regardless of how they got there. Basically true omnichannel is about a unified customer experience above everything else.”
Did you miss Kustomer’s Happy Shopping Conference? Don’t fret. You can watch the whole thing on demand right here.