DIP 021: What I really, really want

PLUS: Yeti's $800 cooler, Fiskars makes clothing now, and Le Corbusier's paint colors

👋 Hi. I love weird history and this New York Magazine story on New York’s bagel union is no exception. There’s also a lesson in there about the edge that automation offers and the resultant tension between high-quality products with limited distribution and lesser products with wider distribution. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 📰

The Dip 📹

The news about formerly former Away CEO Steph Korey’s mistreatment of the brand’s customer service team and Everlane’s customer service team seeking to unionize had me thinking about how companies view and position their teams, the missed opportunities stemming from that limited view, and the digital consumer experience at large.

On the front lines

A customer service team will always be a company’s most valuable ear to the ground. It’s the first to know about faulty products, adverse reactions, and sizing issues. It’s a team that’s most commonly reactive, yet most effective when being proactive.

Brands win by facilitating personal interactions. It’s not just a matter of having real people answer questions, it’s about allowing that person to be candid and human and encouraging the interaction to become a conversation. Glossier’s gTeam has been lauded for going the extra mile by overnighting products to customers and following up to see how a product worked out. Everlane, despite recent criticism, once made its Modern Loafer in white after a customer tweeted that she wanted to wear it on her wedding day.

Being a direct-to-consumer brand isn’t just about selling a product online, it’s about reimagining the purchasing experience at every step along the way. Yet as new platforms have made it easier to launch a shop, progress in the realm of customer experience has largely stalled.

If direct-to-consumer brands are indeed seeking to disrupt traditional retail, they should present customers with a new experience: one that reacts to human desires and is tailored to the purpose a brand’s products serve.

Companies capture valuable data as people flow in and out of a website. By harnessing that data and applying it to digitally native channels, brands can create memorable experiences. The direct-to-consumer space is growing more crowded by the day, and paid media costs continue to climb. The best way for a brand to stand out lies in the experience it provides. If it’s unforgettable, people will come back.

All together now

I’ve returned to this essay by Micah Bowers, cross-published on Fast Company, at least a dozen times since first reading it last month. It underscores the importance of a full view of a brand experience and argues for the importance of customer experience (CX) design, not just user experience (UX) design.

Customer experience design takes a macro view and encompasses everything from marketing and customer service to UX and delivery. It’s driven by empathy and is about looking and listening for patterns and responding by designing around them.

It’s about tweaking product formulas based on customer feedback, showing models of varying size on product pages, deploying smart and personalized marketing campaigns, and maintaining consistency across all channels. It’s about recognizing that customers are humans with motivations, not simply users who arrive at a site to click and consume.

Read my mind

Individualized interactions run parallel to human interactions. Marketing strategies are an essential piece of the customer experience puzzle, yet too often a brand will deploy the same email to its entire audience, regardless of an individual’s purchasing history or use patterns.

Smarter, customer-friendly marketing means recognizing and responding to the frequency and seasonality with which consumers purchase. It means coding emails that say “Hey, you usually purchase this every three months. Isn’t it time for a new one?” and “We saw that you bought X last summer; Y and Z are new and similar.” It’s not just about promoting a product, but rather recognizing the consumer as human and anticipating their needs. Outdoor Voices has done this in the past, as does Trade.

There’s data- and customer-led product marketing, too. Away's soft-sided luggage was developed as a direct response to consumer preferences. Food52 and Floyd have developed items based on customer feedback and market those products accordingly. Listening to what customers want can yield intuitive designs and top-selling products.

The strongest brands are those whose journeys elicit an emotional response and make people feel seen, engaged, and recognized. With this, consumer experience, not product, is the moat direct-to-consumer brands need to fortify in order to succeed.

Still hungry?
  • Vogue Business dug into the tech powering today’s customer service teams.

  • Modern Retail’s anonymous interview with a customer service representative at a direct-to-consumer company highlights how nuanced the role is.

  • Eater recently published an article on how consumer expectations are changing restaurants.

  • My feelings about the untapped potential of direct-to-consumer experiences are similar to my feelings about digital media. I wrote this in 2016, and a lot of it still holds. In the same way that direct-to-consumer experiences can’t just be about shopping, digital storytelling can’t just be a newspaper translated to a screen.

Real Dip 📮

Pistachio-mint pesto.

If you’re feeling ambitious, start by toasting a large handful of pistachios.

Add them to a food processor with a three-finger pinch of salt, three cranks of black pepper, and a five-second pour of olive oil. Pulse until it starts to form a paste, add three large handfuls of mint, and blitz until everything starts to emulsify, adding more olive oil as needed.

Stir in a good amount of freshly grated parm, followed by the juice from half a lemon. Stir. Taste. You’ll probably need more salt and pepper.

Plays well with your favorite squash, chicories, and good sourdough bread.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 📺