Digital transforms customer conversations

More from 2017

View coverage of, held in L.A. Sept. 25-27, 2017, on the event recap page.

Thrive Market is a very different business than CVS Health.

They both play in the health and wellness arena, but Thrive is an American ecommerce membership-based retailer offering natural and organic food products at reduced costs, while CVS is a Fortune 500 company, operating nearly 10,000 stores and posting $5.3 billion in 2016 revenue.

Yet size aside, the two businesses share a commitment to developing enduring customer relationships that leverage digital. In a session presented by Fast Company Tuesday morning at NRF's conference in Los Angeles, Thrive co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Gunner Lovelace and CVS Caremark Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Brian Tilzer shared their strategies.

For Lovelace, whose business is entirely digital, creating a meaningful digital experience began on day one. The company, founded in 2014, relied heavily on bloggers to support early growth, raising $10 million in capital from 150 influencers. (Today, 500 of the company’s influencers are stakeholders.)

“We were initially rejected by all the VCs,” said Lovelace, who quickly learned the power of digital influencers. “People don’t trust traditional sources of information — that opens the door for a brand like ours to build trusted relationships. Working with influencers has taught us that content equals marketing and marketing equals content.”

“Working with influencers has taught us that content equals marketing and marketing equals content.”

Gunner Lovelace
Thrive Market

Lovelace said the company uses content and educational expertise to cut through the noise of manifold products and connect with customers, offering a carefully selected selection of products. “We don’t sell 20 brands of laundry detergent — we sell two. Our customers have come to trust that the decisions we make about product are informed by data.”

He insisted that if Thrive Market can continue to deliver a great experience for its members who look to it for organic groceries at the same price as conventional equivalents, it will allow the company to compete at scale with institutional players.

For Tilzer, creating meaningful digital experiences at CVS revolves around solving customer problems. “We’ve achieved the most success with digital when we thought about the role of the smartphone and how it could help consumers have a better healthcare experience,” he said. He noted several programs CVS has rolled out, including the ability to scan to refill a prescription, the option to refill prescriptions with a simple click and the capacity to take a photo of a new insurance card and rely on CVS to do the heavy lifting to process any updates.

“We focus on the pain points, no pun intended, and work to make the experience better,” Tilzer said. “There’s nothing worse than showing up to pick up a prescription and finding out it’s not ready. Using our digital program, we can ask the customer to share their cell phone number when they present the prescription, and we alert them as soon as it’s ready.”

He noted that CVS has thousands of pharmacy customers who need to fill upwards of six to 10 prescriptions a month. CVS uses data to construct a better experience for its customers — one that allows them to pick up everything they need once a month or once every 90 days. “We’re making decisions based what’s best for the customer,” Tilzer said.

Lovelace, a self-described student of social enterprise, drove home the importance of authenticity. “Consumers are very smart today and they are in control. They’re voting with their dollars and driving massive change. We’re saving them time and money, and together we’re doing good for the world. Those are the tools that drive our member and influencer relationships.”

Tilzer considers digital to be table-stakes in the quest to engage today’s always-on consumer and he noted the importance of having conversations with the customer however they choose to converse. “We have a responsibility to scale these digital projects quickly, and in doing so we’re changing healthcare.”