The Gist

  • Payment solutions. Brands in the ecommerce space should consider integrating “buy now, pay later” technology as a payment option, especially for big-ticket items. Building a new payment system from scratch is unnecessary when there are already stable solutions available.
  • Empower employees. Companies should prioritize customer experience because it is a crucial factor that can make or break a business, no matter how good the technology or marketing is. Empowering frontline employees to do right by customers is important for success.
  • Bake in CX fixes. A pharmacy's refusal to provide a COVID vaccine to an elderly person who couldn't sign up online is an example of how companies should bake in customer scenarios to account for all situations, no matter how uncommon they may seem. It's a top-down issue that should be addressed at the highest levels of the organization.

In the competitive world of ecommerce, providing exceptional customer service has become paramount for brands to stand out and foster customer loyalty. One innovative way to achieve this is by integrating flexible payment options, such as the "buy now, pay later" model, which allows customers to make a purchase and pay for it in installments over time. This approach can make high-priced items more affordable and accessible to a wider range of customers, potentially boosting sales and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Our guest for this CMSWire Contributor Q&A is Brian Wallace, founder of NowSourcing, who recently wrote about the "buy now, pay later" trend in his column "How Are Brands Improving the Ecommerce Experience?" Wallace discusses how brands can leverage this trend to improve customer experience and gain a competitive edge.

In the discussion, he also touches on the significance of customer experience, highlighting Apple's successful retail stores as a prime example. When Apple ventured into the retail space, it sent its managers to the Ritz-Carlton hospitality training school to learn how to create a seamless, unparalleled customer experience. By prioritizing customer experience, Apple established a highly successful retail model that continues to impress and delight customers to this day.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Brian and explore the topic further in this our contributor Q&A.

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Dom Nicastro: Hey, everybody, Dom Nicastro, managing editor here at CMSWire here with our latest contributor interview, Brian Wallace. What's going on, Brian?

Brian Wallace: Hey, Dom, thanks for having me on. Appreciate the opportunity, longtime contributor, first time video.

Nicastro: I know. Yeah, it's great to see the face and hear the voices behind our growing and wonderful CMSWire contributor community. And for anyone tuning in for the first time, like, oh, what's a contributor? Well, the contributor is someone who is just so passionate about their work. They just, you know, write for us consistently. And they are part of our contributor community. They, these are the folks, I think that's what separates us, Brian, at CMSWire, you know, you have the contributors from the trenches, you know, you guys are the practitioners, you're talking to customers, you're doing the work of customer experience, marketing, employee experience, what have you. And it's just so good to have your voices on our on our pages. And now your faces as well.

Wallace: Yeah, I told you, you know, it's really interesting. I wasn't even kind of prepared to address that. But among my many hats, one of the things that I like to think I have some level of hat is journalism. 

I didn't go to journalism school, but I'm certainly capable of writing and editing. But I hear you on that what I think separates CMSWire from a lot of other places that I contribute to — a lot of other places that might be more like a journalist hat. 

But this is a from-the-trenches-thought-leadership thing, I think is honestly more refreshing. Because if you put yourself in the mind's eye of the reader — of the voice of the people who are actually reading it, they enjoy something like this because it doesn't have to be someone who's only a journalist. There's plenty of publications for that. 

And then there's other stuff where it's like, just all sorts of like sponsored salesy, like annoying message bait things that a lot of people have kind of had enough with that I just feel like, it's like a combination of that kind of voice, crossing together with the customer experience is why I personally enjoy contributing and have done so for the last few years. 

So I really, and it's so important these days, if you ask people, why do you read X? What's special about Y? If there isn't an answer, that publication might just go out of business, you have to have some kind of voice to stick to. And I just think that separates you guys from the pack. So kudos to you, man.

Nicastro: Yeah, you know, we're thrilled that you kind of captured it. Right. Like, it's amazing, Brian, you know, we hear from the vendors all the time, and they're a huge part of the, you know, software community digital marketing community. But you know, sometimes we'll, I'll give a pitch and I'll be like, yeah, that's awesome, I would love to talk to your customer, about their life and their role, not about your software, right. And to have that perspective, and you know, even the vendors, putting those people in front of us is great. To get people that are actually living and breathing, the work of marketing and customer experience. 

And, you know, some of our contributors are doing that. So it's huge. I'd love to know more about your role, your company because you kind of like you've been on our pages before a lot, but you’re kind of introducing yourself a little more here. So you're on go. 

From Tech to Storytelling: A Journey of Pivots and Specializations

Wallace: Okay, so, long story short, I've done a lot of different things in my career of 25 years sounding like an old guy not totally gray yet, so that's good. I live in Ohio, so people are like, you don't look like you're that old. It's like yeah, cuz I don't have to sit in traffic like the coast. 

Live wherever you want people, but the all that to say, I started my career in technology, and I found that I enjoyed communication, a lot more than when technology didn't work. And like a lot of tech is everything is your fault. And stuff doesn't work. The promise of tech is great. But like all the times it doesn't work so great. 

So after working in a variety of different environments, I worked for the government, I worked in small business, I worked in Fortune 500 land. I was in the dot-com revolution before that whole thing crashed and burned a lifetime ago. I worked my way all the way up to being a CTO and eventually I left tech, moved across the country and moved from tech more into marketing sort of at the dawn of social media. 

So I've had my business for the last 16 years. We have pivoted a couple times. First I thought about being like a tech kind of shop and websites and stuff. But everybody does that. So why, right? Yeah, we became very early on practitioners of social media when it was the Wild West. But it got so weird and like went in so many different directions that we had to pick a specialty.

So in 2008, all the way back then, I thought we were really good at storytelling. We're really good at visualizations and stuff, and we're really good at like going viral, whatever that even means. Don't even get me started. But I guess just knowing how to make things interesting and talking to people, whether that is editorial interest, social media interest, whatever, instead of like when a person is watching a rock concert and the hype man is like I have a lot of mixed noise. I think the opposite is true. In a world where everything is noise, you kind of have to make signal.

So I think we've learned through the years how to make signal. And we do that in a lot of different forms of content marketing. So we're kind of sitting at the confluence of being kind of like a research firm, a design agency, and then sort of like this weird mix between journalism, PR and SEO, which are all like, incredibly different things. So we're very well known for content marketing, infographics and also journalism. 

And then I also happen to be kind of a guy that does a lot of different events. I have popularized a lot of in-person LinkedIn events. And I sit on a couple of advisory boards for Google Small Business and South by Southwest, most notably.

Related Article: 5 Trends in Ecommerce That Will Impact CX in 2022 and Beyond

‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Phenomenon on the Rise

Nicastro: Sweet. Thanks for that. That's, it's a lot going on in the evolution of companies. That's good. You put that's why we're here to put it all out there. And, you know, the evolution your company is pretty interesting. In this piece, particularly today, Brian, that you penned for CMSWire talks about the “buy now, pay later” phenomenon that's kind of emerging. As a consumer, you know, and as a dog owner, it sounds you talk a lot about the pet care. You know, people aren't, you know, don't think they can afford pets, because of the massive veterinary bills. I have insurance, thankfully. But the, you know, the buy now, pay later phenomenon sounds pretty interesting.

Wallace: And it sure is, so I mean, listen, if you have money, you don't necessarily need all these, like different credit options and all of that. But the sad reality is, a lot of us don't want to necessarily admit when we have, like unexpected, unplanned expenses. And sometimes things get crazy. Life throws you a curveball, right? If it's going to happen, you think, Oh, that'll never happen. Well, guess what? Sometimes we have to save up for a rainy day, as I see it like thundering outside, ironically. But that's more physical than metaphorical. 

Nicastro: Yes, it's perfectly sunny over here at Manchester, New Hampshire, by the way. We’re good.

Wallace: Yep. Yeah, Cincinnati is kind of a weird place. We sometimes we have like just all four seasons in a day. Right now, as long as the internet like holds out, you know, fingers crossed. Everything should be good. But we seem to be stable. So let's keep on going. 

So yeah, we helped kind of put together like some research, study stuff and infographic related stuff, along with Openpay, which is a very large presence of buy now, pay later. And within the study, it was really interesting. It, we found that two and three, two out of three Americans were more interested in using this than they were prior to the pandemic. I feel like COVID, for all it's good, bad, indifferent, they kind of ushered in a lot of different trends. 

And a lot of them, we found into ecommerce and into buy now, pay later, just to make it like a more established kind of payment method. So I feel like before COVID, people weren't really thinking about it. But during that, because a lot, look, I mean, a lot of people lost their jobs overnight, entire industries were suffering. 

And then I think about just something like the pet industry, right. So you work in X, and then you have a pet. And people were — the pet craze during the pandemic was absurd. I remember reading the room, like pet shortages. Like you couldn't even like get a dog or something. And then I remember it might have been The Wall Street Journal or something. There was like all this, like pet separation anxiety when people were trying to go back to work and like all the dogs were like, freaking out like, Hey, where's my human that you leave it? 

Nicastro: Yeah, what are you leaving for. 

Wallace: So for a lot of people, whether you have kids or not, whatever your lifestyle, like, pet parenting is like a big deal. And you sure don't want Fido to just go up and die because you didn't plan for an emergency vet bill. So we found in this study in the survey, that was a huge sector where people were actually using that as a payment method.

Related Article: Improving Ecommerce Customer Experience at Checkout

Brands Urged to Integrate ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Option to Boost Sales and Customer Loyalty

Nicastro: Right? Yeah. And so so the brands, you know, I've seen it before, like, I mean, I think I had an unexpected flight to take once and like, oh, my goodness, this is up there. This is up there. And it gave me the option to do like some kind of $25 a month thing. I'm like, Alright, yeah, I'll do it. I'll do it. Is that Is that similar to that phenomenon? This buy now, pay later?

Wallace: So I mean, I can't comment as to like, what specific every industry in every vertical has, I mean, it's a mixed bag. But I'd say that's a similar concept. And I feel I'm with you like in the flight and travel and hotel industry. I feel like I'm seeing this more and more, right. They're not trying to get you or whatever, but they're making it more affordable. 

A lot of people, you can work X into your budget, but you can't work Y into your budget, even though it's like similar amount. Yeah, sure. There's going to be some interest or whatever. But it is the difference of being able to take that trip, get that emergency vet surgery or not. Right and that's what it comes down to. There's, you know, the net present value of money? 

Nicastro: Yeah.

Wallace: You can't necessarily wait for that paycheck. Wait for that raise. I don't know if the I know like COVID is receding and now monkey pox is … . Who knows? Right? We don't know, like, what the next day will bring. All signs are pointing to the probable recession, right? So even if you're fine. Yeah, it might not be. And I know, people try to be good and diligent about having a budget, but sometimes there are just things that come along that our budgets do not afford, and we're not prepared for these emergencies.

Nicastro: Yeah. So Brian, you know, what's the overall message to the brand? Because you know, we'd like to come at it from how brands are handling it. Consumer, it's great to have advice for consumers and stuff like that. That's part of it. But what is the message to like someone in ecommerce, someone who's managing those systems, you know about buy now, pay later? Is that something that brands need to be shifting towards or thinking about weaving this in?

Wallace: Yeah, I'd say weaving it in, I like where you're going with weaving it in. I think there's a lot of habit of people that just have to, like, be original, and do it all themselves. And that's like, kind of insane. There's way too much reinventing the wheel out there in the world. 

If you're running a successful ecommerce shop, why would you go and build your buy now, pay later solution, there are incredible places that already have really nice, stable, usable solutions that are sitting there to plug into your system. So I think I mean, my word to anybody who's listening on the brand side, on the ecommerce side, especially, be sure to try to integrate this kind of technology as a payment option. 

Especially if you have something that's a big ticket. It's not that people want to say no, they just might be in a position where they're interested in literally what buy now, pay later is right? Buy it now and continue paying on it. So yeah, you're going to have factors in your system and all that. But I think it's if it's a difference between not getting a sale, or not, like I think you'd be patently crazy not to pick up something like that. 

I mean, it takes credit cards, lots of places take Bitcoin and stuff. So like, why I'm almost shocked that a lot of the industry doesn't integrate more of these systems. I feel like I'm seeing, like we said before, I'm seeing a lot of hopeful signs of this, I'm seeing more and more of it. So it's not no one. And I feel like it's definitely a trend that's on the way up. But I'd say for everybody who is kind of on the fence. I mean, it's a tried and true proven mechanism.

Nicastro: Yeah. And I think probably taking the lead on this might be cell phones, industry, right? Because I think people you know, companies like Apple, Samsung came on said, All right, no one's gonna have no one's gonna afford the $1,900 that this phone actually costs. So we're gonna go through the cell phone provider, let them pay the taxes on it that day, walk out with the phone, pay it over the next 24 months. 

Wallace: A lot of cell providers have brilliantly integrated that into their marketing strategy. So I mean, where would Apple be without places like AT&T? Right? I mean, AT&T must make so much money for them. Yeah, I think it's I guess you could consider that a form of buy now, pay later. 

Nicastro: Yeah. And I always go in there, Brian with preparation question is, yeah, one of my taxes. What's the activation fee? Any other fee? Okay. Just want to make sure because you think you see that attractive zero to walk out of here with the phone?

Learning Opportunities

Wallace: I'm getting a free iPhone. Okay.

Nicastro: Yeah, right. I'll be like 90.

Wallace: My children do I need to sign over? Yeah, always read the fine print. I think transparency and lending is a serious concern. So obviously read all the fine print read any kind of exclusions or blackouts or whatever the particular terms are, obviously do your own due diligence. This is not financial advice, whatever the but yeah, I mean, that's kind of commonsense. Right. I would hope that people would read stuff before they just sign on the dotted line.

Related Article: 8 Ways to Improve Your Brand's Product Experience

Digital Marketing Trends and the Importance of Customer Experience

Nicastro: Yeah. Final question for you, Brian. You know, looking ahead, any particular trends you're watching in the space of customer experience, digital marketing, anything? Metaverse what's on your mind? What are we gonna see in Brian Wallace future columns?

Wallace: My mind is like tortured in so many different directions. I'm going to answer that more globally. Because I do follow up. I would definitely say I have like a lot of industry analyst experience in so many different directions. Whether it's like ecommerce or finance, or metaverse, or Web 3, any of these things. I think more globally, I feel like a lot of companies have kind of fallen asleep when it comes to customer experience. So I don't care how good your tech is, how slick your marketing is, and all your digital and this and that. If your customer experience is bad. What are you even doing? 

And I feel like so many industries have just absolutely laid this to the side. They don't have dedicated departments. They don't have enough training. It's kind of shameful. Something that I always think about when it comes to the customer experience that I, I talked about a lot when people were asking me about this. Do you remember when Apple got into the retail business? And they like rocked it? And it was a store like you've never seen before?

Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. Did you walk in like, hey, right? 

Wallace: No, no, hey, how are you cool store, line of sight people routing you to other people. It was like magic. 

Nicastro: Clockwork. They're still like that.

Wallace: It's still like that. Yeah, it's not as good as it once was. But the world has changed a little bit. But like, like clockwork, they would get it from the get you whatever part service, whatever you want. They'd walk over with a payment technology, you'd pay for it on the spot, and you'd be out the door smiling with thing in hand in your fancy bag. But the thing that nobody asks is why were they so good? Because they're Apple? That's not the answer. Do you know why?

Nicastro: I think I might know. And, you know, I was editing a story recently. I think someone mentioned this. These Apple executives, went out in the trenches and tested all of this before they rolled it out. Is that part of it?

Wallace: That's part of it. But the part that you will be delighted since we CMSWire talking about customer experience all day long. They all went to the Ritz-Carlton hospitality five diamond training school, from travel and hospitality how to run a retail shop because they never ran a retail shop. Yeah. Yeah. Why doesn't everybody think like that? Yes. They let customer experience go to the side thinking that they're overconfident brand will cure all ills. And guess what? You're only as good as your average or mediocre employee that's having a bad day. And a one star reviews and returns and people never coming back into your shop, ecommerce, or brick-and-mortar or whatever.

Empowering Frontline Employees for Better Customer Experience

Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, cuz you're right, because no one, you know, no one walks away, you know, showing up their friends, like, look at my phone, look at what it can do. It's got apps and I can make phone. No, they talk about when they call customer service, or when they needed to replace it how that experience was.

Wallace: The world runs on five star and one star reviews. You're either very annoyed and complaining, or just preaching from the hilltops about how great it was. Yeah, we're being honest, there's probably more one stars out there just, I don't know.

Nicastro: I talk more about my Keurig coffee machine than anything else, because their experience, it just randomly stopped working. And I call them and said, Hey, this isn't working. They said, Well, you pass the warranty, but we're gonna send you a new one anyway.

Wallace: And that’s how it's done. Like, you know, like that forever is L.L.Bean. Right? They have like an indestructible lifetime warranty. And they all do the unexpected, like, service to humanity, like this should be a foregone conclusion. But a lot of that's just throwing the baby out with the bathwater, not empowering, falling asleep on it.

Nicastro: Yeah, they're not empowering. The top level is not empowering the frontlines. And I have a great example of that. I mean, CVS Pharmacy, I wrote an article about it. There was an old gentleman, and who walked in and said, Can I have a COVID vaccine, please? And they said, no. I mean, this is the elderly asking for a COVID vaccine. They said, No. Why? Because he didn't sign up online. 

Wallace: And he didn't know how to sign up. 

Nicastro: What if people don't have a computer? He said, Because I'm sorry, sir. We you have to sign up online. And I don't blame the person that told them that that was their system, they have no process for this. They didn't bake it in at the top level to account for people who might actually walk in. It's amazing, right? They might have an old person who physically can't get around when they're doing errands. That's a big deal for them. So they want to get all the errands done for the week.

Wallace: Oh, man, I'm glad I didn't read that article before this interview.

Nicastro: I'm gonna send it to you. But it's — there was a happy ending though. Because, okay, because of yours truly. You know, I'm not going to spoil it.

Wallace: I really want to read it (all yours, Brian). Yeah. Like, you know, the sad thing, Dom, is like, there could have just been some person behind the counter. Like, you know what, let me just like get my phone out and I'll fill it in for you. This could be handled. Right. 

Nicastro: Even that, though, even that I still? Yes, yes. But that would have disrupted the other process. They probably they were very busy as usual. It should have been baked in from the start. You know, let's account for like people sitting around walking through a vaccine experience. 

Wallace: Right? 

Nicastro: Let's account for all customer scenarios. And a walk in from an elderly person is not uncommon. That should be accounted for. So That's kind of the theme of the article. And it's really a top down thing, you know, to bake in these experiences. Sounds pretty simple, but super smart.

Wallace: Those in boardrooms that are listening to this video, you might want to listen to this part again. It's kind of like, you're already spending money on everything. If you literally just empower your people to do right by your customers, you won't lose them to the other guy, because someone's gonna get it right. Every category has got a leader, and then everybody else follows it. So come on. Yeah. Appstore it's not even adapting like, what are we telling people? Like be good to people?Like, what are we asking for? We're not saying like, give out free Lambos here, right? Yeah. What's the problem?

Nicastro: Yeah. Just a smidge of understanding would go a long way.

Wallace: Seriously.

Nicastro: Well, it's it's been great catching up on CX, Brian. And hopefully people will love this article and the many more to come from you. We are so happy to have you in the CMSWire contributor family. Thanks so much.

Wallace: Appreciate it, man. Thanks again.

Nicastro: All right. We'll talk very soon. Have a good one.