These Are the Top 5 Takeaways from Our Direct-to-Consumer Summit

The Direct-to-Consumer approach has changed the way we discover, shop and buy. To take stock of this monumental shift, Kustomer hosted some of the most influential and innovative DTC brands to discuss their approach to loyalty, relationship-building, and experience.

A common thread is that this shift in the consumer ecosystem has put a greater emphasis on the relationship brands have with their customers. Every brand, not just DTC companies and startups, have to value customer experience, loyalty, and lifetime value above all in order to reach modern consumers.

1) Personalization with Purpose

Your customers expect more than a one-size-fits-all experience. They’re all different, and they know that their data should be put to use to make their experience better.

If there’s one brand that knows one size doesn’t fit all, it’s custom shirt manufacturer Proper Cloth. “We have smart sizes—we ask the customer ten questions around height, weight, fit, tuck-in preference, and from that we predict what set of custom size dimensions would be most optimal,” said Founder Seph Skerritt. “This was a big data problem, but as we grew we had a rich data set to build a bigger advantage upon. We used that to improve the customer experience and streamline the onboarding experience.”

Jewelry and watch marketplace TrueFacet makes sure that they’re using a granular segmentation process to send the right messages to the right customers, as CEO Tirath Kamdar describes: “Our customer segmentation is behavior-driven—and then we use demographic information on top of that. We’ve created curated programs to help with our customer segmentation. We target each of our consumers in different ways to build loyalty.”

Personalization isn’t limited to product features, it’s also valuable to personalize content, marketing messages, and other touchpoints. As Alison Lichtenstein, Director of Customer Experience Design at Dow Jones summarized: “Personalization is important—knowing the exact content each person is reading, focusing on serving up the next best article, section, newsletter—we want to anticipate what the customer needs and putting that in front of the person, to make sure they continue to be engaged.”

The push to personalize is even built into Dow Jones’ strategy at the highest level. “We’re evangelists of customer service, we’re constantly thinking about how we can resolve customer issues. But we also focus on the agent experience, helping them help the customers. It’s a huge piece in helping us differentiate. We want to be able to help personalize.”

2) Communication is Crucial

New DTC brands are doing more to connect with customers. Digital channels create more opportunities for conversations, as chat and social multiply the amount of places customers can ask questions and engage.

“When things go wrong, you need to be constantly talking to your customer service team to find patterns, identify the issue, and then make the fix.” Said Britta Fleck, President and Managing Director of Glossybox North America, “Constant communication with your customers provides a better end experience.”

For DTC sofa startup Burrow, they’ve also found that more communication is better. “In the past we’ve tried two approaches. The approach of constantly updating the customer and keeping them in the loop was more successful than giving them a code—communicating with your customers is very important.” Says Co-Founder Kabeer Chopra.

To keep the conversations going, loyalty programs are a natural fit. They ensure that customers stay engaged and reward them for their enthusiasm. Glossybox is pursuing this strategy in earnest, “We’re doing a lot around loyalty, we like to reward our customers. We’re looking into pausing subscriptions over vacations etc, but we don’t want to make it difficult for users to unsubscribe. Either.” More communication can lead to a better experience, but that experience still has to take precedence. “We can only personalize our offering to a certain extent, but what really increases lifetime value for us is listening. And it’s easier sometimes than answering.”

3) Brands, Not Channels

While communicating over every channel that your customers use is important, this communication has to be held together by a strong strategy for the brand. As Mike Vroom, Customer Service Manager at UNTUCKit put it: “Customers interact with brands, not channels.”

Glossier has a similar view, as their Director of CX Erin Miller described, treating every interaction with customers as it’s own channel—they’re not thinking about where they’re interacting with you, but about how they’re going to solve their issue or get the information they want.

This also means that your brand has to communicate with customers in a way that feels warm, natural, and human. Mark Chou, VP of Growth Marketing and E-Commerce at Away, is changing up the way his brand communicates by switching from a reactive to a proactive service model. “When you make mistakes, you don’t hide them from your friends. The same should true for your customers. You can turn a screw-up to a shining moment for your team—being proactive as a customer service team can turn a mistake into a moment for your company that you are proud of.

4) Create Connections with Culture

Above all else, your customer experience should strive to create stronger connections. Interacting with customers one-on-one is highly personal, and doing so in a genuine, meaningful way can have a lasting impact. To do this more effectively, you need to know what your company stands. Daryl Unger, VP of Customer Experience at meal delivery brand Plated, has a strong perspective on the importance of building relationships for his brand. “Food is extremely personal, we aren’t in the business of fixing issues and solving problems, we are in the business of building strong emotional relationships with our customers.” Building relationships based on emotion has some key benefits as a strategy as well. “We remember emotions much longer than transactions. We spend a lot of time studying customer behavior and patterns, which helps us learn when we should proactively reach out—which is very important in a subscription ecommerce business.”

Similarly, Rent the Runway has built their company culture into their customer experience, which helps them build strong relationships with millennial shoppers. “Culture is in the fabric of our brand,” said Tyler Nicoll, Product Manager at RTR, “We have to be woman-first, and we’re changing the landscape by doing something that’s not common in tech companies.” RTR has a full female finance team as well, and are an inclusive company that invests heavily in sustainability initiatives. “Millennials choose brands based on social consciousness,” concluded Nicoll, which is why creating a strong brand built on solid principles makes it easier to form relationships with them. To make it easier for their agents to connect with renters, Rent the Runway’s Integration with Kustomer allows them to automate certain workflows that used to be manual, so they can spend more time working with customers and less time inputting data.

BarkShop and BarkBox understand dogs and dog owners. By getting a rich picture of their customers and their pets by using data analysis—and by using their insight as pet owners themselves—they’re able to deliver exactly what their customers need. “We’re understanding what the needs of our customers are, and figuring out what they need to meet them.” Said Melissa Seligmann, BarkShop’s General Manager.

As the conversations at our event have shown, the Direct-to-Consumer revolution is shaking the foundation of how we do business. As digital advancements make it even easier to cut out middlemen and deliver totally new kinds of experiences, customers will come to demand the same kind of convenient experiences they get from DTC brands from traditional ones. Those that can innovate, adapt, and bring a higher caliber of experience and smarter ways to buy will be the ones that succeed.

For more insights on the DTC approach, download our whitepaper: 4 Secrets to the DTC Experience Every Brand Can Master.

Priority Bicycles on Making Customers the Priority

We spoke with Founder and CEO David Weiner to learn how his low maintenance, direct-to-consumer bicycle brand keeps their customers at the heart of the business.

If you’ve ever been to a bike shop, you know that a lightweight, stylish, low maintenance, and affordable bicycle is almost impossible to find. That is, until David Weiner hit “launch” on a Kickstarter campaign promising just that. That was in 2014, and now David runs Priority Bicycles, a direct-to-consumer bicycles and accessories brand that sells its low maintenance models to individuals, resorts, hotels, and anyone else who needs a good bike.

In a recent Forbes article, David gave Kustomer a shoutout for enabling better customer-centricity, so we sat down with him to follow up and talk about Priority’s approach to customer experience. Specifically, how does a challenger brand in a busy space make sure new customers have a good time buying their product? How do you ensure they’ll come back ride after ride? David gave us his insight:

Kustomer: What’s your approach to CX, and how is it influenced by your past experience?

David: As an online company, I knew that customer service was paramount. My background is in software, and I learned long ago that providing old-fashioned service in a modern business is a rarity. There are so many tools available for customers to receive service, however we need to be cautious to remember to keep it personal. I always want to make sure our customers feel like they are working with a small local company despite the large reach that being online provides. We always want our customers to know that we care.

Customer service, above and beyond your products, is a differentiator. A customer won’t use your products, and certainly won’t advocate for them, if they aren’t properly cared for during their research, purchase experience, and beyond. Any organization I’m involved in has to have exceptional customer experience; it’s really important to me as an entrepreneur. So many consumer brands, particularly startups, can be so focused on product that they forget the customer interaction. In fact, good customer experiences are so rare that, outside of work when we’re chatting with friends, we often share them— since a good experience seems so outside of the norm.

Kustomer: How are you applying this strategy at Priority?

David: If you’re a new company, and the only place to buy the product is through you, you have to earn trust, and fast. One of the best ways to do that is to respond very quickly, with a knowledgeable and personal response.

Speed is crucial. If someone is interested in buying a bike, we want to get back to them instantly; we don’t want them to wait for 12 hours when their mind has drifted off, we want them to keep thinking about buying a bike in that moment.

Similarly, if someone has a problem with something we shipped to them, we want to get back to them very quickly before that problem festers.

We also feel that, since we started with Kickstarter, our customers made us who we are. 100% customer satisfaction is part of our ethos. Our customers gave us life, so we have to be there for them! While that’s true for any company, we really feel it every day as a socially funded company.

Kustomer: How are you able to stay true to that ethos as you scale?

David: It’s about 7-day a week, 365 days a year service. As we grow, we continue to get more and more knowledgeable about our customers. That’s something that Kustomer helps us do — consolidate growing amounts of data about our customers so that we can come back to them more quickly and with more knowledge about them.

Kustomer: How do you use Kustomer?

David: Kustomer is a very fast way for us to look at an aggregate view of a customer. What I like is the consolidation of information. In a single timeline view we can see Shopify data, emails, Chat, SMS, Facebook Messenger, and phone calls. The minute someone calls, we can see if they’ve emailed before, called before, bought or not bought. The second you pick up the phone, you know if they’re a customer already, or if they’re calling to ask questions before they buy. Having that all in one place helps us understand how to treat that person.

Kustomer: In which situations do you find Kustomer the most useful for you?

David: On the sales side, for example, when an email comes in, we can see that they have asked about four different models over the last six months, and spoken with three different people, but haven’t made a purchase yet. That’s super useful because, it’s important to have that context of what’s been discussed in the past to give the best recommendation.

On the support side, we may have people who are having trouble setting up their bike. Many of our customers aren’t used to assembling or working on bicycles, so we want to make sure they feel comfortable. Let’s say they call in and are having trouble installing their front wheel. There’s no way they’re going to be able to describe the problem over the phone. In that case, a picture really is worth a thousand words. So they can take a video on their smartphone and text it to the same number. Now we can text them back with the knowledge base video they need on how to help. With the complete thread running through the experience, it makes it easy to deliver personalized and hands-on technical support for a mechanical issue — or any request!

Kustomer: What are the benefits of being able to offer this kind of experience?

David: People ask questions about our bikes every day. If we’re not able to answer those quickly and competently, we won’t sell product. Our bikes are incredibly durable, but if our customers have a product or delivery issue, they often end up being customers for life. We respond really quickly, let them know we’re here for them, and then take care of everything. Customers are blown away that you care, and that’s when they chat with friends about the innovative new bike they bought, they talk about their customer experience, not just the product! We not only aim to keep a customer, but we’re aiming to gain a reference and lifelong loyalty.

In business, you don’t have the right to grow your business if you’re not taking care of your customers. And if you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.

Want to learn more about Kustomer? Check out how we can help you deliver great customer experiences here.


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