Clear communication and transparency with customers — at the start of COVID-19 retailers had to quickly update refund policies to reflect the changing state of retail, logistics, and deliveries. Clear, transparent communication not only kept anxious customers in the know, but built trust by showing that we were all in it together and navigating new circumstances.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pallavi Kuppa-Apte.
Pallavi is the Chief Operating Officer at Chargehound. She focuses on strategic and operational initiatives to expand Chargehound’s foothold as the only fully-automated chargeback solution on the market. After starting her career in management consulting, she moved to San Francisco where she thrives on the hustle of startup life. Pallavi is passionate about advocating for diversity in tech and outside of work you can find her training for, or running in, marathons.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before joining Chargehound, I had worked in management consulting and then in marketing and partnerships, but I wanted to help build something from the ground up. I’ve always been a generalist and a problem-solver, two things that generally lead someone in tech towards startups and operations. As we were getting Chargehound off the ground, we were a team of five and it was all hands on deck. I was involved in every aspect of the business, from our early sales process to managing our first customers, to being the “product expert” in meetings. As we grew, my hands-on experience with our product and customers in the early days made operations and growth a logical focus, and last year I became COO.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Working in startups, you have to be prepared for a certain amount of volatility — a lot of the big tech companies we are familiar with today started out as something else and pivoted into the product they now offer. Chargehound has our own version of this story — when I joined the team, we were working on an entirely different product. A few months after I joined, it became clear that in building our core product, we had also built something potentially more scalable and something that no one else had built: a fully automated chargeback handler. The founders made the decision to pivot towards this product, and that’s how Chargehound was born. In that first meeting, when they pulled me aside and explained the decision and new direction, my head spun — we were running full out and one thing and now we would stop and run full out towards a different thing. The whole team decided to stay through the pivot and see what we could build together, and now, a few years later, Chargehound is the industry leader in chargeback automation, powering millions in revenue recovery each year for merchants around the globe.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
Early on, we decided to attend our first trade show — it was the Merchant Risk Council annual conference in Vegas. We didn’t have an events or marketing person on the team at this point, so I was planning the event for us without any prior experience of what goes into it. Our CEO and I thought, “well, they’re giving us a table and two chairs, so all we need is probably a banner and some snacks.” Little did we know that some companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on this event — when I arrived in the conference hall, there were entire construction crews there assembling these beautiful booths. All we had was a poster and 24 hours before the exhibition hall opened. I needed to figure out what I could build on a startup budget with 1) no help and 2) only materials I could get within a few hours. I ended up building a huge balloon wall by hand to create a unique booth that would stand out from the competition. The conference ended up being a huge success for us — it was a great story to tell, and people were coming over to our booth because they had heard we’d made it ourselves. The conversation starter helped us meet several new customers.
The experience taught me a few things: 1) having a unique and authentic story draws people in more than any big events marketing budget and 2) blowing up 200 balloons without an air tank is hard.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Every day presents a new challenge and a new opportunity to problem solve. Right now, we’re focused on helping businesses recover the revenue they otherwise would have lost to friendly fraud. It helps businesses improve their bottom line and keeps fraudsters in check.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Retail-tech and fintech are two of the industries that have been accelerated by the pandemic, which can certainly give you that “go, go, go!” mentality. Over the last year, Chargehound has grown at an incredible rate, and our team has more than doubled, but we haven’t let this intensity get to us. We are very intentional about encouraging the team to take the time they need to rest and recharge, pursue hobbies and passions, be with family in tough times, engage in their local communities through volunteering, and gather together (in Covid-safe ways) to bond, connect, and get to know each other outside of the workplace. We strive to build a team where everyone feels they can be their authentic selves every day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Chargehound’s CEO and co-founder Adrian Sanders has been a tremendous mentor to me over the years, and I’m grateful for the investment he’s made in my career. He has consistently walked the line between providing guidance and giving me space to puzzle things out for myself, which has made me a better problem solver. In startups, there is constantly a lot of ambiguity and being able to take each problem one step at a time and figure it out in the context of larger business goals is a key skill that he’s helped me cultivate.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
2020 was a hard year for many individuals and communities. The very same pandemic that created immense hardships for people across the country and world also catalyzed an increase in business for Chargehound as digital transactions spiked, and chargebacks grew in tandem. Because this was a year of huge growth for Chargehound, we decided to donate more than a quarter of a million dollars to five local food banks in the communities where our team members live and work. It’s the most significant donation we’ve ever made, and I’m proud to be part of a company that is prioritizing making an impactful contribution to local communities, not financial gains. You can read more about this from our founder and CEO here: https://blog.chargehound.com/we-need-to-do-more-to-support-our-local-communities-82c09bb47a05
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Online spending is booming, and while the uptick in spending is good news for retailers, it also means they need to be extra vigilant about fraud and chargebacks — especially right now, in the post-holidays period. Chargebacks take about 3 months to go through the dispute resolution process and historically, Chargehound has seen a 30–40% increase in chargebacks during the first few months from the holiday shopping boom. This can be due to things like shipping issues or missing the return window.
Many savvy merchants have begun to offer even more flexible return and refund policies than in the past, in order to offer customers even more leniency when it comes to returns in order to avoid chargebacks. Retailers are also working hard to make sure policies are communicated clearly and frequently. Ensuring the customer care team is up to speed on messaging and policies around returns can make a big difference in whether support requests turn into chargebacks.
With more online shopping than ever before, retailers have worked hard to upgrade their shipping and logistics platforms to ensure orders arrive at the right destination on time. This gives customers less reason to dispute an order based on delivery issues. It can also help to warn customers of shipping delays ahead of time, reducing the chance they are surprised by a delay and submit a chargeback after the fact.
Chargebacks are often an overlooked element of a retailer’s fraud strategy because of the resources traditionally needed to manually compile and submit disputes. Smart retailers have adopted chargeback automation, which can recover millions of dollars in revenue, which otherwise would have been lost, with zero additional resources.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
While adoption of e-commerce has certainly accelerated and many people love the convenience factor, a lot of people still enjoy shopping in physical stores. For certain people and certain goods, there’s nothing like the experience of touching a product before buying it. I don’t think retail stores will cease to exist anytime soon, but I think people will be more interested in a mix of digital and physical shopping, and it’s more likely that the experience of physical shopping will adapt to new customer habits and expectations.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Fraud is one aspect of the business that many retailers don’t always think about until “the house is on fire.” Based on the nature of our business, the merchants we work with tend to take a proactive approach to preventing fraud and have a strategic plan in place for managing it when it does occur. As a result, we’ve helped retailers add hundreds of thousands of dollars back to their bottom lines that otherwise would have been lost to fraud.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
We work with some of the largest enterprise companies in the world, as well as some incredible start-ups experiencing hyper-growth, and the one thing that ties them together is their continued innovation and investment in technology that helps them create agile operations to respond almost instantly to changing consumer behavior. The e-commerce world is changing at a rapid pace, everything is going digital — if you don’t have the right technology in place to help you adapt and scale, it’s going to be very hard to compete.
Based on your experience and success, what are the four most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
We come from the point of view that strong back-office operations, while less visible to customer experience like great branding or retail experience might be, can really set up a retailer for success and allow them to delight customers every step of the way. Five ways retailers can do this are:
- Clear communication and transparency with customers — at the start of COVID-19 retailers had to quickly update refund policies to reflect the changing state of retail, logistics, and deliveries. Clear, transparent communication not only kept anxious customers in the know, but built trust by showing that we were all in it together and navigating new circumstances.
- Invest in amazing customer service — having a great customer service platform, quick response rates, and a highly trained experience/support team helps retailers stand out. When customers feel taken care of and support teams are able to quickly resolve issues, everyone wins.
- Collect data and learn from it– retailers are investing more and more in technology that creates efficiencies for day-to-day operations, but there is also value in analyzing the data that’s collected and using it to improve future operations.
- Adopt technology that frees up employees for meaningful tasks– employees’ time is valuable and should be spent focused on ways to tangibly impact the business. Finding new ways to implement technology that frees up employees to do more meaningful tasks that are not only more fulfilling but more impactful is a win-win.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is quite the question. In general, I think that direct action and aid is an important tool in the face of the gigantic problems we are facing as a society today. Something we saw in the past year was that the same global forces that brought huge growth to some companies (including Chargehound) also caused millions to lose homes, jobs, and healthcare. I think that companies, and the tech industry in particular, can and should do more to support our communities. Chargehound donated over 250,000 dollars at the end of 2020 to food banks in the five cities where our team is based because food insecurity has ballooned in the midst of the global pandemic. I would encourage more tech companies and leaders to find ways to directly support their communities, because much of our success is tied to the hardship of others.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Twitter: @Chargehound (https://twitter.com/chargehound)
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!