Gary Ambrosino, the president and chief operating officer of TimeTrade, thinks the key to great customer experience comes down to how and when a company engages with potential clients. Better engagement equals more customer loyalty, in theory.
Industry Trends Uncovered
Better software to manage the customer engagement process — whether it's by phone, mobile device or website — is the key to better customer success. TimeTrade’s Responsive Customer Engagement helps companies manage the process of customer engagement as well as track and analyze it. The Mass.-based company counts BestBuy, Prudential, Quest Diagnostics, Sprint and Harvard University among its clients.
Ambrosino has worked with some of the largest retail customer experience experts in the world, so he's a good person to go to for advice on trends in the industry. I recently caught up with him and asked him what his clients are finding are the biggest opportunities and challenges.
CMSWire.com: What are you hearing from your customers these days. What are the big issues?
Ambrosino: They are trying to differentiate. This year, I think online consumer purchases are 12 percent to 14 percent of all consumer spending. It's still relatively low, but you have a big pricing impact. So what you are left with is brand differentiation. Our customers spend a lot of time thinking about how their brand is different. They are focused on productivity, floor-space inventory. It used to be about price and selection, which is off the table now.
CMSWire.com: You mean pricing is too even now?
Ambrosino: Yes. It's too easy to keep track of competitive pricing, and most people are price matching, so there is price leveling effect. Everybody moves the pricing instantaneously. So it's more about the softer issues such as the relationship with the customer and customer experience.
CMSWire.com: What are the biggest factors in these soft issues?
Ambrosino: I focus a lot on the discussion between the customer and the brand. How do you make this better? The online interaction experience is live a lot of the time. They can measure swings of spending or share of wallet by the quality of that experience.
If somebody has a great experience when they walk into a store, they would spend much more than they would if they were just buying that online. The customer feels better about what they are spending money on.
CMSWire.com: So you are trying to replicate that online?
Ambrosino: Yes. There is a lot of growth in video-based sales, and it has to do with the level of connection they make with the customer. We measure that live interaction process and analyze it. A sales associate will be much better prepared if they can schedule that ahead of time. Live conversation data is a bit of a missing element in big data. If you start to fill that in you get leverage that data.
CMSWire.com: Tell us how you do that.
Ambosino: We call it responsive customer engagement, it's a SaaS (Software as a Service) product. Step one, the customer makes an appointment. Let's say it's a Best Buy store. The customer schedules an appointment. What our product does, because we keep all of the availability of all the associates in the cloud, is figure out who is available and, because we keep a customer database, we can get the right person.
The two big things are the customer comes in, and the sales associate the time has been scheduled. They have won't be distracted, they'll be focused. Second, the skill matching -- especially in higher-end clothes shopping or electronics, the person needs knowledge of what you are looking for and your history to give you the right experience.
We have a mobile app that allows sales associates peruse the data, and we integrate with the point o sale system so we know how much the customer has spent, how long they have been.
CMSWire.com: Who are the leaders in this area?
Ambrosino: Amazon is starting to do this, they bring up a live dialogue. They have a leading edge. TimeTrade is a leader, there is a lot we haven't announced. There is generally interest in live interaction.
CMSWire.com: I'm hearing that WebRTC, the open browser communication standard, is supposed to help this process. Is that true?
Ambrosino: WebRTC is very interesting, but it has the limitation of not being supported by all the browsers. Let's say it changes in the next year that there's a viable support of WebRTC in all the browser, you'll see this area grow. Assistant shopping can grow very fast, because it will be either free or very cheap.
CMSWire.com: Any other big trends we should know about?
Ambrosino: One trend I've seen from our customers is that their online catalog is turning into the website. A lot of people are perusing the online catalog and then they are still walking into the (physical) shop to buy. One of the things I think they are discovering, it's more of a showcasing place than a Website.
Last year TimeTrade did $45 million in customer walk-in (business with clients). It is a very big part of spending. The interesting angle is the catalog. I think you are going to see a lot more catalog. It will be called a catalog instead of a website.
We're also seeing the trend in big data, the thirst for filling the data gap. If you have a catalog you can see what they are doing specifically with the product. The big data trend is to try to become predictive enough that you can please the customer every single time. The real battle is filling in the data gaps. Any retailer that we work with, we can see the difference.