In this piece, Brad Birnbaum (pictured below), CEO of omnichannel customer service platform Kustomer, talks about what traditional retailers can learn from the new crop of direct-to-consumer brands when it comes to customer service and creating loyal and passionate consumers.
Can you explain how Kustomer works?
Kustomer is a customer service CRM platform that uses intelligence to automate repetitive, manual tasks and provide service agents unprecedented insight into a customer’s history. By unifying customer purchase and activity history from all of a company’s systems on the Kustomer timeline, agents have data-driven, actionable conversations without changing screens. As a true omnichannel platform, customers and agents can switch between different channels as needed during a conversation, while maintaining the context to progress conversations forward without customers repeating information. Kustomer supports seamless communication through email, chat, SMS, voice, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
Where are DTC brands gaining a competitive edge over traditional brands, when it comes to customer service?
DTC brands are winning by putting the customer at the centre of the service experience and surrounding them with the right culture, technology, and people.
They follow the mantra of “Do anything and everything for the customer.” They recognise that in an on-demand world, the customer experience doesn’t end when the product is delivered. Many DTC brands, without any brick-and-mortar stores, realise that customer service is the key to building loyalty, ensuring whether there will be another purchase, and prioritising that service is one of the few potential human interactions customers have with their brand.
DTC brands take the cost savings from not having physical stores and over-optimise on high quality service through hiring and training agents and investing in digital technology to support their agents and the experience. This means ensuring they communicate through all digital channels that their customers expect. It means personalising the experience from the moment of first contact to the final resolution using all of the rich customer data they have gathered to make it effortless and efficient. It means customers won’t have to repeat themselves when a new agent may need to pick up the conversation later because the agent always has the full context and history of the conversation.
Are there particular DTC brands that you think are leading the way with regards to customer service?
I have to say that we have been fortunate to work with some of the leading DTC brands when it comes to customer service. Companies such as Rent the Runway, ThirdLove, Glossier, Away, BoxyCharm, and up-and-comers like Bulletproof360 and The Farmer’s Dog. These companies are laser-focused on ensuring their customers have great post-sale experiences and their success speaks for themselves.
What can traditional retailers learn from the customer service offered by DTC brands, and how can they improve their offerings here?
Traditional retailers need to weave customer service into the fabric of the company and culture. DTC brands have figured out how to make customer service a central part of their ethos, going so far as to build their brands around it.
What’s more, with more customer data than ever before, traditional retailers can give their customer service teams a holistic view of the customer journey including order histories and other past interactions. With this information, agents have more context about what customers need and how they can help them have more informed, personalised and streamlined conversations.
These traditional retailers also need to always personalise their customer service efforts. As customers, we are more demanding than ever as the power dynamic has shifted in our favour. We want our favourite brands to engage with us as people and even anticipate our needs. Providing a highly personalised experience that puts the customer relationship first is key to modernising the customer experience.
Lastly, traditional retailers need to view customer service not as a cost centre, but as a profit centre. Thinking about customer service as an avenue for sales growth rather than a business cost is a way for them to change their perspective on ROI and align it more closely with DTCs.
What are the upcoming innovations in customer service that brands should begin to look at?
AI, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Predictive Analytics, and Robotic Process Automation are not new, but they continue to improve and their impact on customer service will only grow. We’ll soon have automation everywhere throughout the experience. And it will not be about replacing human agents with chatbots, which is more of a customer service as a cost-centre mentality. Instead the innovation will be about taking these technologies and adapting them for great customer and agent experiences.
There are really two sides to making the experience better. The first is about making both experiences more efficient. Not as a way to cut costs, although that is a benefit, but rather to increase overall satisfaction by valuing customers’ and agents’ time. For instance, if the customer is messaging customer service with an issue that is addressed in the knowledge base, a bot can quickly recognise this and provide the article. Even something like an exchange could be handled by the customer through the system. Promoting customer self-service empowers the customer, speeds resolution and improves the experience. For the agents, they are freed to focus on more complex high value conversations and gain efficiencies in their day-to-day work with use cases like automated form fills based on customer responses.
When those high value, complex conversations do occur, AI will help the agents deliver a better customer experience by automatically providing them with answers questions or suggested actions. The process won’t be slowed with agents looking for information or providing bad information. In either case it’s about managing knowledge in a new and improved way through better use of all the data that companies have access to now.
Next up, will be the continued innovation and expansion around the Internet of Things (IoT). This expansion will exponentially grow the quantity of customer data available to customer service teams and increase their understanding of customer product usage. By applying predictive analytics to this data customer service teams are presented with unique opportunities for personalised proactive outreach that improves the customer experience.