Embracing the Digital Shift: How Top Brands Are Prioritizing Customer Channels

On March 14, 2024, at Execs In the Know’s Customer Response Summit in Tucson, Gladly CMO Jason Finkelstein led a panel called “Mastering the Lifelong Customer Conversation Across Channels in 2024 and Beyond” along with other CX leaders — Roy Dunn, General Manager of Member Service Centers at Costco; Garrett Graham, Head of Client Journey at Truist; John McCahan, VP of Customer Care at FTD Flowers; and Kate Showalter, VP of CX Services at Crate & Barrel.

The panel fell on Pi Day. Finkelstein initiated the discussion with an anecdote about his daughter’s participation in a pi-digit memorization competition. While traveling to the event, their communication traversed multiple channels: an email regarding Pi Day, a voice call about her competition, and a text message revealing the results. This narrative emphasized the evolving landscape of communication expectations, where seamless interactions across channels, without repetition, are now commonplace. Customers anticipate this level of continuity in their interactions with brands, reflecting a shift towards channel-agnostic, lifelong conversations.

Read on as these CX experts (who, combined, share nearly a century’s worth of experience) provide insights on how brands can balance operational efficiency and customer-centricity in the digital age, how to offer a seamless channel experience in the quest for customer delight and loyalty, and how to navigate the era of CX AI and automation.

How Brands Are Prioritizing Channels

Balancing customer preferences with operational constraints is an ongoing challenge in customer experience. Establishing a strategy for prioritizing communication channels like voice, chat, email, and SMS is critical. The panelists discuss what crucial indicators informed their channel decisions and the strategies and insights involved in navigating this pivotal aspect of customer engagement.

Costco takes a deliberate approach to channel offerings. Roy Dunn, General Manager of Member Service Centers at Costco, understands customers’ high expectations, particularly given their membership fees. His team strategically selects communication channels to meet these expectations, adhering to lean operational principles. Recognizing the effectiveness of voice and chat, they decided to eliminate emails.

Recommended reading: How Digital Service Channels Benefit the Modern Customer — While many shoppers still rely on traditional customer service channels like voice, others — like millennials and Gen Z, who use SMS, chat, and social media regularly in their day-to-day — prefer digital channels. See how brands like Chegg, Deckers, and Zenni use contact center digital channels to improve customer experience.

Truist relies on behavioral cues. Garrett Graham, Head of Client Journey at Truist, and his team go beyond merely listening to customer conversations — they try to discern behavioral cues, such as channel preferences, for subtle indicators of customer stress or satisfaction. “You can listen to conversations, but you can also tell by a customer’s behavior,” says Graham.

“Know what their channel of preference is, and if there’s even a slight deviation in how they reach out to you, that may signal that the customer is stressed.”

Recommended viewing: Unlocking Customer Behavior — The Power of Contacts Per Order — Explore the significance of tracking Contacts per Order (CPO) as a pivotal metric for deciphering customer behavior and enhancing the overall customer experience.

Crate & Barrel stays agile and adaptable. Kate Showalter, VP of CBH Services at Crate & Barrel, and her team believe in driving loyalty through personalized experiences across all touchpoints, underscored by proactive engagement strategies — no matter the channel.
No matter what’s happening, her team remains adaptable and responsive. For example, during the pandemic, they swiftly adopted text-based communication, experiencing remarkable growth and realizing newfound capabilities they hadn’t anticipated through this channel.

Pro tip: During these discussions, questions arose, such as whether specific service experiences work better in some channels than others. For example, does driving revenue require a different experience than driving loyalty via service recovery? Showalter offers her perspective, suggesting that while specific channels may excel in revenue generation or loyalty-building, a passion for both is essential.

Recommended listening: Crate & Barrel on Driving Revenue Through the Contact Center — In this Gladly podcast episode, Kate Showalter shares how the pandemic accelerated their digital transformation and provides insights into turning a contact center into a revenue center.

FTD Flowers relies on customer sentiment for decision-making. John McCahan, VP of Customer Care at FTD Flowers, champions the voice channel as the most effective means of communication, highlighting its unique ability to convey sentiment. At FTD, the customer journey is guided by a profound understanding of each individual’s history and motivations. John emphasizes the importance of tailoring experiences to align with the diverse reasons behind customers’ flower purchases, ensuring that the “why” remains central throughout the customer journey.

Above are some relevant stats about the channel mixes of their respective businesses and some fun facts.

Above are some relevant stats about the channel mixes of their respective businesses and some fun facts.

Preserving the Invaluable Human Touch in Interactions

Businesses are increasingly focusing on customizing customer experiences across various channels, with a notable trend towards integrating AI and automation.

These brands share two primary goals:

  1. Integrating AI alongside human interactions to humanize customer experiences
  2. Exploring methods to foster genuine human interactions without increasing costs

Showalter is firm on her stance on using AI: “I want efficiency in my tools — I want humanity from my people,” she says.

While cost-savings are top-of-mind, Graham advocates for experimentation with tools and strategies, scaling successful approaches discovered during testing, and discarding ineffective ones.

Recommended reading: AI vs. Customer Service Agents — When Human Touch Is a Must-Have — While AI is a valuable tool, it won’t fully replace agents. Discover the best use cases here.

If you’re interested in delving into related topics, AI-powered customer experiences, and more, visit the Gladly blog.