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Season 3 Episode 2
November 17, 2020

[Step by Step] How to Go from a Contact Center to a Revenue Center?

"Selling is Good Service" says Kate Showalter. She should know - Kate is the Senior Director for Customer Service at Crate and Barrel, overseeing global CX for the storied retailer. Since COVID under Kate's direction, Crate and Barrel has nimbly transitioned their once store-bound frontline sales operation to a fully-digital-capable organization. In this episode we'll learn how she did it, and how you can too, Step by Step.

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this episode sponsored by

Kate Showalter is the Senior Director, Customer Service and PMO at Crate & Barrel and is no stranger to change management. But when COVID hit, managing the change was more like holding on for dear life. After COVID, everything else is a piece of cake. Talking to Kate you get the feeling that there's an urgency to keep upping the ante, like launching a new payment feature to the live chat agent support desk in less than 4 weeks.

Selling as a Service

When you really sell well, you really are providing a service to the customer. - Kate Showalter, Crate & Barrel

Today we're talking about selling as service. Customer Support teams face the challenge of meeting OKRs on a daily basis, but many of those are reactive to a situation that has already gone awry. Customer Experience teams anticipate this and engage in proactive conversations. The determining factor in customer happiness at the end of the day is whether or not the product they purchased was right for them, and if it isn't, how you can make it right. This takes incredible skill. Selling is good service.

Key Takeaways

  • There is a tendency for CS teams to be seen as risk-averse group and a cost center, not a revenue center. That needs to change.
  • When you break the biggest rule of all - closing stores - everything else is trivial. From there rule breaking becomes the norm and adaptation comes second nature.
  • Today, Customer Support is at the forefront of the Crate and Barrel org
  • The digital acceleration post-COVID will mean that all businesses will become experiences businesses
  • In-home consultation team was switched to virtual (Facetime) and increased 800%

Questions answered in Episode 2

  • Is there a particular category that customers tend to need real ‘hand-holding’? Larger purchases like furniture seem like they’re more considered, but what spurs CX interaction?
  • What are some challenges of the shift to digital-first that Crate & Barrel has overcome?
  • Which of those challenges might be easy to overlook when thinking about the CX digital shift?

There's always just that inherent kind of risk involved with change management. And when you go through something like COVID and it's really the realization of every worst risk you could have ever imagined, you know, closing your stores, shifting everybody to work at home, figuring out how you have to work in truly a completely new way. After you go through that, everything else, all the other risks get really small, right? - Kate Showalter, Crate & Barrel

Thanks for listening to Episode 2 of our Season 3 of Step by Step! Drop us a line at or Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify so you don't miss the next episode!

Phillip: [00:00:51] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast by Future Commerce presented by Gladly, this is Season 3 of Step by Step, and you are listening to episode two of five. So if you are just jumping into this series midway through, might I suggest that you go back and listen from the very beginning? This season of Step by Step is all about CX. Yes, customer experience. And we are going to follow the journey of four amazing brand operators who are expanding and evolving their organizations from customer support to customer experience. So if you are in leadership at a high growth brand and you find yourself dealing more with OKRs than OMGs, this series is for you. This is a five part miniseries and we're going to be talking to people just like you who are operators in brands that you know and love who are solving these problems every day. It's going to be an amazing learning journey for all of us. And I'm so glad that you decided to join us. Joining us today on the show is Kate Showalter. Kate is the Senior Director for Customer Service and PMO at Crate & Barrel, and she has guided her company through the most amazing digital transformation in the past two years. In the story, you're going to hear a lot about how Coronavirus had the unbelievable opportunity to completely eviscerate their business model, but instead they took it to the next level by making early preparations, by enabling their customer support teams, by focusing on the experience of the customer and the voice of the customer, and by having a radically personal conversation with the customer and realizing that sometimes selling is good service. It's a fascinating listen. I cannot wait for you to hear it. So let's join Kate as she teaches us how to evolve from customer support to customer experience Step by Step.

Phillip: [00:02:53] We are just thrilled to have with us today someone who really impressed us in the pre show, I know she's going to impress you as well. Joining us today is the Senior Director of Customer Service and PMO at Crate & Barrel, Kate Showalter. Welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:03:07] Welcome, Kate.

Kate: [00:03:08] Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here. Very excited.

Phillip: [00:03:11] Crate & Barrel is the iconic house furnishings and home wares brand that has a few different logos under it that people might be familiar with it, but without taking anything for granted for our listening audience, could you tell us a little bit about the brand and you and your role there at Crate & Barrel?

Kate: [00:03:30] Absolutely. So Crate & Barrel, the parent company Crate & Barrel actually has two brands that work in partnership with its CB2, which is a more modern design esthetic, and Hudson Grace, which is a great little home retailer out of San Francisco. But Crate & Barrel, we've been around since the early 60s. I love that we're iconic. I'm very proud of our white and black box. I think it's really hopefully still exciting that people get a gift in that great box. But everything for your home, home accessories and furniture. So all home furnishings and designs. So again, founded in 1962. But we are an eCommerce and retail brand across the US and Canada with franchises globally as well.

Phillip: [00:04:18] And you oversee customer service there?

Kate: [00:04:20] I do. So I am the head of customer service and the strategic PMO. So two kind of different hats, I've been the head of customer service for several years now. I love it. I love the connection to the customer and the brand in that voice of the customer and the feedback and how it drives us. And then on the flip side, I run the strategic PMO, which is overseeing and providing governance and oversight for all strategic projects that flow through our organization.

Phillip: [00:04:47] And today we'll be covering some of those. What is customer service or customer experience like in 2020 in a post COVID world? We'll touch on some of that today. But you've been around Crate & Barrel for not a short amount of time.

Kate: [00:05:02] No, it has not been short. So I've been with Crate over twenty five years.

Brian: [00:05:07] Wow.

Kate: [00:05:07] But I've been really fortunate to have had several careers really with Crate within that time frame. So I started in stores, which I would say is probably really where my heart is, is with that customer and shopkeeping. I just I love a store. I love to shop. I love the interaction and relationships that you can build there. And really, frankly, the relationships people then build with our product in their homes around their Thanksgiving table or sitting on their sofa watching TV. That's near and dear to my heart because the sofa and the cabinet it's sitting on really represent you and your family. So I love to be a part of that. I also then transitioned to international operations, launched a great franchise business for Crate globally, and then started our PMO, our Project Management Office. And then about two years ago, I was asked to come back and oversee customer service, which was so exciting for me because it brings me back to really where my passion is and really in close conjunction with the customer and the people.

Brian: [00:06:17] And I bet you have quite a number of different ways that customers do engage with Crate & Barrel. Talk to us a little bit about customer experience, touch points that you have, the channels that they naturally gravitate towards, and kind of what that journey looks like.

Kate: [00:06:32] Absolutely. So I would say we're truly an omnichannel brand in the least stereotypical way. I guess everyone uses that phrase now, but that really our customer engages... Our product to something you think about for a little while. Right? Like you don't just commit necessarily to a sofa. You want to stop and think about how it fits. You might shop in the stores, shop online. You can reach out to customer service in several channels. We use chats. We use email, phones, text as a fairly new channel for us. And of course, social media is huge and growing. So there's lots of ways you can get feedback and chat with us. But there's also you can go see us in person at the stores. You can chat with a designer online. You can chat with a customer service associate. Our engagement does vary. Customer preference does vary a little bit brand to brand. So Crate tends to lean a little bit more into phone and email where CB2 tends to be a little more digital and lean into chat a little bit more deeply just from a kind of brand aesthetic. It tends to line up channel wise, interestingly enough, to different brands. We're about 50 percent for Crate, about 50 percent eCommerce prior to the COVID marketplace changes, and we've obviously increased since then from there. So are kind of 50/50 eCommerce to bricks and mortar makes us a pretty agile brand in the marketplace, means our customers can get us in a lot of ways, which is nice.

Brian: [00:08:10] That is high even pre COVID. 50/50.

Kate: [00:08:13] Yeah.

Brian: [00:08:13] That's very, very impressive. And actually that probably means you were fairly set up for success going into COVID. Talk to us about how COVID did affect you. I'm really curious.

Kate: [00:08:28] I'm certainly grateful for the omnichannel mix we had going in there. We were definitely set up for success in the home furnishings industry as a whole in COVID because people are in their home so much. Thankfully, it's a very busy retail scenario. But Crate & Barrel in particular, because we were set up and then omnichannel way we've we've grown eCommerce, the ratio of eCommerce at some points to 70 percent of our business. And that changes how customer service kind of sits within the organization and how we manage it because we're handling a much larger percentage of that engagement with the customer. So one of the most noticeable changes due to COVID was really how the customer interacts with customer service. So if you think of us before COVID, it was very post transaction. How can we help facilitate you receiving your purchase? How can we help you with your delivery? How can we answer questions about care post purchase? Now we move forward in the customer journey a little bit and we do even some reflection on what selection they're making or helping the customer make the choices or shopping online more. They want to ask someone questions and they want to talk to a designer about things. So they're calling us earlier to help them choose which wine glasses or choose which sofa. Our handle times have reflected that to a degree. They want to spend some time with an associate, talk a little bit more, ask a few more questions and really engage differently. It also shows in our design services. So we have always offered expert design advice for those customers who might want a different viewpoint or an expert perspective on room layout or furniture selection, combinations, things like that. So our online consultations for design services has gone up about 800 percent through COVID. While you're sitting at home and you really think about how could I make this family room better, more comfortable or work better for us? Or feel better to sit in it? They're reaching out and just huge numbers to connect.

Brian: [00:10:42] Wow.

Phillip: [00:10:42] There's this interesting thing that has happened in what you just said, which is maybe part of the customer journey at one point in time was the in-person shopping experience. And so I would have assumed that the in-store experience, your in-store experience ends with a purchase. And so a lot of that consideration in store and all of the support that you get from a sales associate in-store, typically in my experience, would be the pre purchase consultative discussion, and that it seems like it takes one style of training to field those kinds of requests and those kinds of interactions with the customer. And my assumption would have been that any other support channels would have been a post purchase support mechanism. It sounds like, I would have assumed and maybe it's not the case because of your omnichannel mix being so strong pre COVID, but I would have assumed that the digital channel would have been, or the other support channels would have been ill equipped for the pre purchase consideration. Have you seen any shift in the nature of questions or anything of that outside of just the one on one design interactions or those consultative interactions? Or am I off base?

Kate: [00:12:05] No, you're right on base. And for sure there is a shift and the it's actually when you're used to being the post service provider it's actually a really kind of fun and welcome shift because helping the customer select the product or shopping with them, it can often be kind of considered the fun part. Right? You're looking at things and you're seeing things and helping them out. My favorite story is several months after COVID happened. So probably around April or May, we shifted our whole work force home. So CS is now one hundred percent work at home, which took us about 48 whole hours to do.

Phillip: [00:12:42] Wow.

Kate: [00:12:42] It a lightning round. But we all shifted home, and I got a chat from one of our chatters, actually, that made me giggle because she said this customer chatted me and she really she wanted to talk about which wine glasses to pick. So she called her up and they sat for twenty five minutes to look at wine glasses and then she wanted to talk about her dinnerware, then want to talk... And the associate had to take a minute and be like, can I talk to this woman about wine glasses at our dinnerware? You know the customer was sitting at home on their sofa with a glass of wine and she just wanted someone to talk it through with. And of course, the associate could do that. That's exactly what we're here for. So it did take her a little off guard, right? Like it's that first few times we're doing it, we're realizing they need us. They need us to tell them about the product and tell them what we love about it, where our passions are, and we're happy to do it. It does extend your handle times a little bit, so if you're a CS center that's looking at your KPIs, which we did not. I don't ever measure handle time. We use handle time as a metric really to gauge our budget and our opportunities and to think about how we could manage channels differently. Like we look at it a little strategically and opportunistically, but not necessarily as an associate measure. You do have to shift gears a little bit. Our handle times have stayed consistently. Our average has stayed up throughout COVID because I think people just want to talk more and they want to take a little bit more time around the product. We also have to make sure our associates feel confident and comfortable in doing that. So we've heightened all of our product training, all of our interactive product training, which is, again, we used to keep in center a whole room where you could go sit on the sofas or touch the glassware, but we're not able to do that. So we're doing scavenger hunt online and have people show up at our website and tell us about it and see how they feel about it and what products they're finding. We also are doing a great initiative over a peak where if you get a great quality score in your calls, then you get a gift card to the store, to Crate & Barrel or CB2, and you can actually purchase the product with the condition that then you have to do a review to share with the whole team to tell us all about which product you chose and why you chose that and why you love it.

Phillip: [00:15:08] Oh wow.

Brian: [00:15:08] That's incredible.

Kate: [00:15:08] So we do have to do a lot more product engagement, a lot more brand engagement, because we want to make sure our associates are connected to the brand so they can connect our customers to the brand.

Phillip: [00:15:18] Does that lend itself then to being more metriced around a sales number? Or was that something that is a KPI that was important for you prior?

Kate: [00:15:32] Right. So we set out actually as a goal before we knew what our goals would be for 2020, our initial strategic goal for 2020 was to not necessarily be fully profitable in CS, but be at least cost neutral, start to generate revenue and really push us as a sales center within the organization. So we had fortunately poised ourselves to do some of that prior. We weren't necessarily incentivizing and we still don't incentivize on sales. We have started talking about it a lot more. So we let people know what they sold, who had good sales numbers. But we didn't start by incentivizing and I don't necessarily believe that would be the right way for at least our team. We wanted to make it be part of the culture. So [00:16:22] when you really sell well, you really are providing a service to the customer. So what we try to do is talk about sales as an extension of the service methodology that they were already doing. It was thinking about what the customer was asking you for. It's thinking about what the customer needs. It's anticipating the needs before you are asked. It's thinking about what else they might need.  [00:16:44]If they ask you about a candleholder, you make sure you see if they have the candles. If you sell a rug, you make sure you think about that rug pad. And so even add on sales can be seen as a service because you don't want to open the candle holders and think, oh, darn it, why didn't I just order the candles? Right?

Brian: [00:17:04] Yeah.

Kate: [00:17:04] So if you think of it as that extension of service, if you think of it as really fulfilling the needs of the customer or the direction or the wants of the customer, then sales suddenly feels pretty natural for a service organization. So that's where we started. We talked about products. We're training products a lot more heavily. We're training brand and trend a lot more heavily, marketplace a lot more heavily. And then the sales techniques that support how they feel like they can be there for the customer, which is really slightly different, kind of in the mindset of a service associate versus a sales associate. So it didn't feel so much like selling to them, it just felt like helping. And that's what we've always been here for. So that helps a lot. We have, like I said, also increased the dialog around sales numbers. So now we post sales numbers daily. We let people in center know how our contact center contributed to the total sales of the organization and what the sales of the organization were and what the sales of stores were. And so we talk about it a lot more. So it's much more top of mind and then we'll look to incentivize it likely next year into the future.

Brian: [00:18:22] Oh my gosh, this is so crazy. In so many ways, the role of your business unit has fully changed within Crate & Barrel.

Kate: [00:18:30] Fully changed.

Brian: [00:18:31] Fully changed. Like you said, pre COVID, it was pretty much mostly post sale. Now it's pretty much you're the front line. You are changing the game. And it's funny, as you were talking, I was thinking about how eCommerce has just evolved over the years. And when we first got into eCommerce, it was like, oh, cool, we can do transactions online, let's put our whole catalog up. And then it was like, oh, we should probably design that catalog. And then we got past, like, sort of, oh, well, let's just design. We need to make sure that it's optimized so that people can browse it efficiently. And we got into user experience. And so we've built out these incredible eCommerce sites that are optimized for user experience. But we've actually entered a new frontier where actually customer experience holds the glass of eCommerce. That's what you're telling us.

Kate: [00:19:25] Yes, for sure. And it's so interesting because if you walk into a Crate & Barrel, and for those that live local to a Crate & Barrel or are fans of the brand, when you walk in... We work very hard on our inspirational presentation. Like we really try to surround you with beautiful things in the store and beautiful ways to look at them. And now our eCommerce brand, which always has done an excellent job of this, is even stepping that up as well. Like, how can we bring that inspiration not only to the site, but really to the engagement with the service associates that surround it. So I totally agree with you. It's just evolving and in a super exciting way.

Brian: [00:20:03] It was so seamless for you to that. That's the part that just blows my mind, that the fact that the customer service reps were...

Phillip: [00:20:12] Empowered. Yeah.

Brian: [00:20:14] They were empowered. They already were doing all the things that they needed to do to become sellers. They just weren't in the funnel of selling. And now they are because that's how people... People are ready for that. Consumers and customers are ready for that. Tell us a little bit more about some of the things that have helped sort of improve that process.

Kate: [00:20:37] Yeah, again, I'm super fortunate, and it's likely why I have stayed so long, that Crate has always put the customer at the center of everything we do. So customer service hasn't really been at the forefront of the organization all along. But like you're saying with the switch, it's not only super front and center, but it's also a tremendous source of feedback in how we can drive that differently. And we're constantly looking at ways that we can do that better. So I appreciate that it feels so seamless. And we were thankfully set up for success. That said, it's a little bit like the duck on the water where we look super smooth, but underneath we're just paddling like crazy to keep up. Volumes are high and the contact centers are feeling that all over the nation. So we need some tools, right? We need something that'll help us kind of keep that illusion of gliding smoothly across the water while our little feet are going crazy underneath. And we've looked at new tools like new customer service platforms. We just engaged with Gladly. We added new chat features, some great self-service chat features through there that can kind of take some of that off, but at the same time improve the customer experience because they don't have to call and they don't have to ask. We can take payments right through chat. We're really looking at opportunities there where we can make the experience not only more efficient, but better for the customer overall.

Phillip: [00:23:22] Somebody out there has folded their arms and they blocked up their ears and they said, oh, great, just what we need is more up selling. And you had said something early on about, at least in the pre show about, the notion of good service. And I thought maybe you could touch on some of that. Like what do you consider to be good service delivered at Crate? And how do you quantify that from your customers point of view?

Kate: [00:23:56] Yeah, [00:23:57] we try not to quantify it for our customers. We try to listen to our customers. So we do a ton of feedback gathering, lots of surveying. [00:24:07] Please always click the little feedback icon when you're on our website. We do after contact surveys when you do engage with customer service. So we ask a ton of questions. So first and foremost, listening is key and really thinking about how our customer wants us to be and where they want us to go. So then we can use that information to channel ourselves in the ways that they'd like to interact with us or the kinds of services that they need. Virtual consultations for design services is a fairly new concept that we grew really quickly because there is a need. So you can take a picture with your iPhone of your room and send it to us and we will design it for you for free with our products. And you can make those choices and see what of that selection you want to commit to. Or you can push it back and say, could we try another sofa? So it really is a full engagement where we can, on the one hand, engage and when you need us to taking that extra time, when you need us to. On the other hand, a huge part of good service is effortlessness. So doing our best to make sure that the customer effort is reduced, making sure that you can go ahead and book your delivery online when your sofa is ready. When you've waited a few weeks for your very special custom sofa that you're super excited to get, you can just go in there and choose your date and click it. So it's a really fine balance between those high touch services where we take our time and we really listen and engage with you and then providing you effortlessness when you want to be efficient and you want to be quick and you just want that that quick answer or that quick help. How can we do that as well?

Brian: [00:26:06] Wow.

Phillip: [00:26:08] And that's I think that you're interestingly enough, you're in a role that I think might be enviable to others who might be listening, who are like, how can I enact this kind of change? It sounds like you have the corporate buy in, you have the you yourself seem like very capable of implementing these types of changes within the organization. Was it always like this? When you stepped into this CX role, was it all roses and kittens? Was everything set up and ready?

Kate: [00:26:45] Oh absolutely. Isn't everything lately... Yes, absolutely.

Phillip: [00:26:48] This is what they call a leading question, Kate.

Kate: [00:26:53] {laughter} So it's with my background in PMO and with the project management methodology in the organization, certainly I am lucky enough to have a skill set where we can make some changes and we can drive pretty quickly. That said, when you talk about the changes that COVID brought to us, like the fact of the matter is when you map out risks, and what keeps you from really investing in change is the risks. You don't want to break something that is working just to see if you can make something else work. Like [00:27:32] there's always just that inherent kind of risk involved with change management. And when you go through something like COVID and it's really the realization of every worst risk you could have ever imagined, you know, closing your stores, shifting everybody to work at home, figuring out how you have to work in truly a completely new way. After you go through that, everything else, all the other risks get really small, right? So now all of a sudden, you're breaking business rules that you'd said you'd never break because truly the biggest rule got broken. Right? So once you get in that ability to overcome risk in that mindset where you can drive change, again, I think it comes back to listening. [00:28:21] And when I started in CS, there was the very first thing we did was an engagement survey with associates. And we asked all kinds of questions about what's working, what's not working for them, what do they feel is working for the customer? What's not working for the customer? Do they like their jobs? What do they like about it? What do they hate about it? What bugs them? And we took all of that feedback and we said, what can we do differently? And we really looked at the associate experience really hard because ultimately, if it's easy for them, they'll be better at making it easier for the customer. Right? If we take away their hurdles, if we take away their roadblocks, then they can take away the roadblocks for that customer. And that's what we're here to do. So that survey helped a ton. It drove us to really look at a lot of our systems. We've changed, in two years we've changed almost every system we work on for the better, I hope. We'll iterate a little. We're good at iterating. I'm a huge believer just fail fast, so that you can recover.  [00:29:30]You're not going to make every decision well or right the first time, but fail fast, learn from it and iterate. Try again and see what you would do differently. [00:29:41] So as long as you're confident failing fast and I'm again grateful to have a great organization that provides me the safety in which to do that. And you can recover and you can get really good buy in and let your entire team know that you're doing it to try to help, so they're confident even when they see some of those failures. We can move on together quickly. So maybe not kittens and roses, like you said, but there was some opportunity for sure, but change is good.

Phillip: [00:30:19] {laughter} Kate's the fixer. That's what I'm hearing.

Kate: [00:30:23] I prefer builder, but yes.

Brian: [00:30:28] I heard you say something in there that just perked my ears right up, which was that with COVID, you kind of you broke the biggest rules, right? Like the biggest challenge you could ever think you'd have to overcome kind of hit. So what does that mean for your org? Like, it means that nothing's off the table. It changes your whole mindset.

Kate: [00:30:54] Nothing's off the table.

Brian: [00:30:54] Yes.

Kate: [00:30:55] Yes, my team has started a list. We can't do a whiteboard anymore because none of us can see it because we're all at home. But there's a virtual white board with a list of all the things that I said we'd never do that we've now done.

Brian: [00:31:09] Wow.

Kate: [00:31:10] Every rule I thought we had, which proves there's no such thing as a rule, there's only guidelines, there are guardrails. But everything we thought we would never do. Even work at home was hard for me because I so believe in the culture of engagement. I so believe in the brand, and I so believe in the people. And I love to see the people every day and I love to talk to them. And I live for a good whiteboarding session and a good strategy conversation. And I just I was going to miss it. And now there's no looking back. Like we could be one hundred percent work from home this January and stay that way and work really cool and get to know our new tools and get to know how else we could get that engagement. We can rock a great Zoom happy hour. We are really good at it. So how we figure that out suddenly not only do am I pro complete work at home, I'm also looking for associates all over the country, whereas before I was like no, no, no, we got to be near home, we've got to be here at home. And now I'm like, hey, if you're in your store and you know the brand you could work for us. We're going to figure it out. So we are looking at things really, really differently for sure.

Brian: [00:32:30] There's so many things that I want to say about this. First I'll say it's amazing that the year that we've experienced the most constraints of our lifetime is the year that we're sort of like giving ourselves the most freedom to do new things.

Kate: [00:32:46] Right. Yeah.

Brian: [00:32:46] That's such a such a weird moment. And it's amazing.

Kate: [00:32:51] Who knew it would be so empowering?

Brian: [00:32:52] Yeah it's really weird.

Kate: [00:32:55] It's super weird.

Brian: [00:32:57] Such a mixed feeling. The second thing is, I love that you're now hiring all over the US. And I'm wondering are the markers that you look for someone who's hiring sort of changing because the base of people you can hire from I would imagine you can find some real, true home enthusiasts that are really passionate about the Crate & Barrel brands now, that maybe sort of fell into like community, the community of Crate & Barrel before, but are now having an opportunity to come and actually apply all that knowledge that they have about your brand as a part of your brand. Like, have you seen this kind of a trend?

Kate: [00:33:44] Yes, for sure. And again, we're super fortunate. We have a great loyalest community to the brand, both kind of from within our own associates and just people who acknowledge and have loved our brand for a long time. So we're super fortunate we get a ton of referrals like, oh, I have a friend who loves the store. She shops here all the time. She's great at decorating. You should talk to her. So that's who our team looks for first. Right. Like the people that really want to work with us and want to work with our team and recognize our brand and think it's going to be a lot of fun to talk to customers about which wine wineglasses they like, or which sofa fabric is better for four kids and a dog.

Brian: [00:34:29] Yes.

Kate: [00:34:31] You need a little passion around that to start with. So basically what it's done is just opened the pool. So I don't just have to look here outside Chicago. I can go outside any of our stores and our stores are great referrals as well. So we have a partner in North Carolina who helps us with many of our sofas called Design Foundry, who manufactures many of our sofas. And they're a great referral. They lend us office space. We work in really great partnership with them to find amazing people. The manager of the Las Vegas store helps us manage a hub of folks out that way. So it's really about using our resources and using the people who know us and love us and are part of us already, for sure.

Phillip: [00:35:22] For all of the trumpeting about the community aspect of direct to consumer, or at least in the Twitter sphere around direct to consumer, the last few years in particular, it's amazing to hear that community can exist outside of just the hey, we have a Slack group. Community and like supporting each other in even at the scale of Crate & Barrel, is reaching out to partners and finding new ways to partner up to all survive and thrive together. I think that that's really, really important.

Kate: [00:35:56] Yeah. And super rewarding. And we're doing it in a whole new way. So it's part of what's been most exciting over the last six months for me, for sure.

Phillip: [00:36:06] We could probably talk forever. I loved hearing your story. I love hearing the opportunity. It seems like you accepted challenges as opportunity. And I think that it takes those kind of people to actually pilot through challenging times. What are some of the challenges of the continued digital shift that Crate & Barrel is going to have to overcome and maybe like what are some customer expectations that you're going to have to rise to meet in the next few years that you're looking to solve either with people or with tech or both? Or I'll leave it to you to interpret that question.

Kate: [00:36:49] Yeah. And it's an interesting mix of both people and tech, because I believe a lot of what we've learned this year is not going anywhere in customer expectations. I don't know that we are going to ship ourselves less or shop less online even when the stores reopen or if we'll use the stores to get inspired and we'll still ship it right to our house. Curbside pickup, contactless pick up, how we manage that, how we look at buy online and pick up and store, how we balance the two and work more closely with our store teams and our online teams to make sure we have super interesting conversation around our dimensions online and making sure if we can go sit in the sofa that you really know how deep it is to that back cushion or what the measurement is on that specialty chaise lounge. Or we have great customer questions around how tall your stemware is. Will it fit my stem rack or will my coffee mug fit on my mug rack? Because I'm not in the store and I can't see it. I can't visualize it. So that might be learning from this year, but I don't think any of that's going away. So how we engage online differently, how we promote online content differently and grow that, how our stores continue to inspire and make amazing high touch experiences, and then how we in service can really be there and make it not only effortless but high touch. And that's the conundrum that's hard. So I need amazing technology to make it effortless. And I need to balance that with amazing associates that can make it an engaging, outstanding experience, so that when you do need to reach out, you have that person you can have that great brand product design conversation with. But when you want to be quick, you have those tools. So we are continuing to look at AI and how we can utilize that going forward to anticipate questions and answer questions faster. Remember that with the volumes up, we have to make sure that this is possible because we're making people wait too long and we have to get in there a little bit faster. So how we make that more effortless, how we do more self-service, how you can change your delivery date or add on to your order without having to call back in, or anything, anything stream lined and easy.

Phillip: [00:39:14] Wow.

Kate: [00:39:14] So we're looking at technology to support all of that. We can now take chat payments online. Is that something we ultimately want for text? How do we put more information at the store associates hands maybe on an iPad? Like how can we be more digital and how can we thrive digitally? But all in the mindset to set us up to engage humanly. Right? So [00:39:40] the digital acceleration, which is key to our strategy, has to really then enable that engagement, that customer engagement, which is what we love so much. [00:39:52]

Brian: [00:39:52] Phillip, does it get any more Future Commerce than that?

Phillip: [00:39:56] No. The future of commerce is human. And that's I think what I keep hearing here is just like people at the center. Gladly would really love us to say radically personal. So I guess we'll throw that in there for them. It really is true.

Kate: [00:40:12] I actually love that phrase. It's one hundred percent true for sure. And they are a great partner for that because they enable me to see every exchange. And we can we can watch that whole customer flow and we can pay through chat online and we can add self-service. And I can plug into a feedback tool super easily. So I need really great tools that provide a really strong user experience. The tool can't be great just technically, it has to have a great UI and a great associate experience and usability as well.

Phillip: [00:40:48] That's a great way to end it. And I'm sure Joseph will appreciate it that we ended it there. {laughter} Thank you so much, Kate, for coming on the show. Thank you so much for being so transparent and honest. And I wish you the best of luck. I hope things continue to trend up and to the right for you and your team on a human level, as well as meeting all your metrics and goals. And I hope you have a great 2020.

Kate: [00:41:12] Thanks so much. And I wish that for everybody listening as well. I appreciate it.

Phillip: [00:41:16] Thank you for listening. Thank you so much, Kate, for joining us on the show. I hope you got something out of it. I want to hear what you are doing in your business to deliver great support and to deliver great sales and product recommendations and how you're taking the reins off of your customer support teams to allow them to deliver an experience that your customers deserve. Drop us a line at with that story. And if you're looking to take customer experience to the next level and get radically personal with your customer service, look no further than Gladly. It's the only people-centered customer service platform with integrations built into every channel that your customer wants to contact you in. Gladly puts people at the center of a lifelong conversation. You can take it all to the next level, increase revenue and decrease your costs. Right now, go get a demo today. Go to and tell them that Phillip sent you. Find out why brands like Crate & Barrel Trust Gladly by going to and get a demo right now. I hope that you join us for tomorrow's episode. We're going to sit down with Melanie Travis, the founder and CEO of Andie Swim, and we're going to ask the question, how does focusing on experience drive lifetime value? I'm sure you're wondering the answer to that question. Melanie has all of the answers. Join us for the next episode of Step by Step.

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