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Brad Birnbaum is the CEO and co-founder of software company Kustomer. He has more than 20 years as a C-level executive and a serial entrepreneur building companies and solutions for customer service and support. 

Whether it’s out of fear of visiting stores or wanting to re-stock pantries without hassle, more and more consumers are going online to directly order their favorite foods and snacks during the pandemic. Will this shift in food buying patterns continue for the long haul? CPG titans like PepsiCo, Heinz, Nestlé and Kraft are betting that it will. 
Some of the biggest names in food manufacturing are pivoting quickly to incorporate Direct To Consumer (DTC) channels into their sales and marketing strategies. In just one month, we’ve seen PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay build a new end-to-end system, using an old Snacks.com domain, to connect consumers directly with all of their favorite products, including niche flavors and brands.

Permission granted by Brad Birnbaum
 
PepsiCo also quickly developed PantryShop.com to provide consumers the opportunity to order specialized bundles containing top-selling products from brands like Quaker and Gatorade, within categories such as ‘Snacking,’ and ‘Workout & Recovery.’ Heinz, too, entered the DTC space in the UK, bundling shelf-stable items like beans and spaghetti, for home deliveries. 

Why going DTC makes sense  
This acceleration into the DTC space makes a lot of sense, especially in this uncertain retail environment. DTC channels provide a strong opportunity for legacy food and beverage manufacturers to boost growth, especially given looming competition from digitally native vertical brands, like RxBar and Unreal.
DTC offers a myriad of other benefits as well — from collecting first-party data to personalizing the customer experience to having more ownership over the customer relationship. Selling direct also lets you personalize your product (e.g., via custom packaging, or mix and match custom assortments) and introduce premium products as well. For example, the wellness beverage brand Dirty Lemon sells its drinks for $10 per bottle.
By cementing this kind of customer-centric mindset, today’s food brands are much more likely to create enduring customer relationships and strengthen brand loyalty. At the same time, having the right customer service platform and level of support becomes even more essential. 
How to take customer service practices to the next level
With traditional retail paths blocked by the pandemic, and food and beverage brands clamoring for sales, exceptional customer service can mean the difference between a very happy customer and a very unhappy one. Today’s brands simply cannot risk doing anything that would jeopardize a relationship with a possible repeat customer. 
So how can CPG food brands elevate their customer service processes to deliver informed and personalized service? The right strategies and tools create a path to success.
Make sure remote customer service agents have the support they need to do their job. 
Customer service agents are increasingly working from home, leaving them to strike that delicate balance between their professional and home lives. According to a recent survey we conducted of customer service professionals, only half of customer service agents report having the resources they need to solve customer problems. Making it easier for customer service agents to deliver exceptional customer service by providing smart technology and tools reminds agents that they are a valued part of the brand. Additionally, the right technology platform can not only help agents respond quickly to customer queries, but enable consistent and high-value service. 
Provide tools that yield intuitive, personalized service. 
Today’s customers not only expect personalized service, they demand it. When brands are thinking about the kind of technology to implement into their customer service practices, it’s important to prioritize the tools that provide an easily accessible, centralized record of customer information that agents can integrate seamlessly into their interactions. By providing agents the details around purchases, order history, shipping and delivery status or other brand interactions, they will be much better-equipped to foster personalized connections.
Prioritize omnichannel support.
There’s no way to anticipate how customers will connect and communicate with brands. Some prefer phone and email, while others prefer chat or social media. That’s why customer service agents must be able to swiftly handle any and all queries on any and all channels. Furthermore, the best omnichannel brands give agents the tools to move seamlessly from one channel to the other, many of them using automation, machine learning and sentiment analysis to enhance the service they provide. 
Whether or not consumer food and snack purchasing habits will be forever altered remains to be seen, it’s all but certain that DTC channels will play a significant role in brands’ marketing playbooks. But to truly deliver the highest level possible of personalized customer service, the players in the food and beverage industry must prioritize the technology and tools that will enable their customer support teams to deliver on this promise.

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