Customer service

Turning “direct to consumer” into “direct with customer”—the importance of customer service in the DTC business model

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    Sam Richardson
  • Aug 18, 2020

How and why customer service makes all the difference for DTC brands. 

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Quick link: Get our latest ebook, the Roadmap to Building Consumer Trust, where we share key tenets on the future of customer engagement and how companies can leverage digital transformation to build strong customer relationships.

The direct to consumer (DTC) business model has seen explosive growth over the last 15 years, and it’s a boom that seems primed for continued growth, whether you’re in the wine, fashion, banking, or razor business. Digital natives especially expect the ease and self-service options that are the hallmark of DTC.

D2C has its limitations though; a recent study found DTC brands deliver less than half of the features customers have come to expect in today’s on-demand, personalized environment. In-store pick up and return, for example, have gone from being a practical solution to one that is now firmly expected as part of the customer experience, and have extended omni-channel service delivery.

From “direct to consumer” to “direct *with* customer”

While trust and safety are paramount in consumer minds at the moment, they also increasingly want a personal, intimate relationship with brands, and want to be part of a meaningful community surrounding it.

So strong is this need for relationship building, it’s probably time to move away from the term ‘consumer’ and focus more on a direct with customer approach. This is where D2C brands have a distinct advantage: customers already buy into their brand and they have the control of the data to know their customers intimately. But can this guarantee a strategy advantage?

The customer service difference

This is where delivering great customer service can play a stronger role than ever in developing that authentic, intimate, human connection—which is still very much in the human domain.

It’s one of the most important touchpoints in the customer relationship. The time has come to redefine customer service to be focused on a two-way relationship, and not just a transactional one. It’s about really knowing your customers and using the data well to create that much sought after personalized (but not too personal!) experience.

Providing high-quality customer service, though, is tough in an already tough climate. Big investments in fixed, out-of-the-box contact center solutions (that result in unsatisfactory CX outcomes) lead more traditional organizations to see customer service as a money drain, rather than the strategic asset it can be.

This perception and starting point often prevents customer service team members from doing their most important job (beyond resolving the issue at hand): act as an advocate, leave a lasting positive impression and create loyalty.

The challenge for DTC businesses

This can be a tricky area for DTC businesses to navigate, managing the full end to end journey where people are undertaking several different roles. Under invest and you don’t give your team (no matter how small) enough tools to do the job; over invest and it can become a heavy burden. It’s this cost imperative that still drives much outsourcing of one of the most important parts of the CX journey.

Recent events have accelerated the need for brands to add digital channels and finally start to meet customers on the channel where they are—and the benefits are potentially huge.

Read more about our recent survey and how leaders across all industries are fast-forwarding their digital roadmaps by six years.

Most customers prefer messaging and are comfortable with brands connecting with them over platforms they are already familiar with. Engaging with customers over video has grown rapidly as the both parties look for ways to bridge the human gap online. Whichever channel a customer picks, the experience needs to be consistent, easy, and frictionless.

Whether a D2C brand or not, now is the time for organizations to start taking a new approach to their customer service, giving staff the ability to do what is so uniquely human: a personal conversation that leads to connection and builds a two-way relationship.

The entry point for providing these services has never been more accessible or affordable. To create a consistent end to end experience for customers that delivers the benefits of having a D2C relationship (data, brand guardianship, control, value creation) is more achievable than ever.

Learn more in the Roadmap to Building Consumer Trust

Today’s consumers are overwhelmed with choice—exposed to 10,000+ brands every day. More than 75 percent of consumers have experimented with a different shopping behavior during the crisis, including trying new brands and places to shop, with availability, convenience and value as the main decision drivers.

The reality is that it is no longer enough to market product and price alone. The real differentiator between brands is the conversations they’re building with their customers: relevant interactions that create value for the customer. Research shows that consumers are willing to spend up to 16 percent more for a better experience. As uncertainties around the post-pandemic impact continue, personalized attention is now more important than ever for all industries, but especially those in the direct to consumer space.

In our latest ebook, the Roadmap to Building Consumer Trust, we detail the ways brands can develop stronger, more resilient relationships with their consumers. Click here to get your free copy.

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Sam Richardson

Sam is a senior visioneering consultant for Twilio Foundry and has spent more than 20 years working with the world's most recognizable brands to elevate their customer experience strategy. She is a lifelong advocate for customer-centric thinking, is a service and experience designer, and is passionate about putting human connection at the heart of all brand communication.