Be where customers are: Chances are the shoppers walking into your store are carrying mobile phones. Help them take you with them when they leave the store by giving them the reason to add you to their contact list. Some of tyntec’s customers promote their WhatsApp channel with a QR code so that shoppers can scan the QR code and add the brand right into their WhatsApp contact list. With that, the shopper can start a conversation with the brand whenever they want, providing ample opportunities for the brand to bring them back to the store.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jean Shin who is tyntec’s Director of Strategy and Content. As a seasoned tech marketing strategist and editor, Jean excels in connecting key business insights with tech innovations to create greater value for all stakeholders. Originally from New York, Jean now lives in Munich. Building on her 10 years of experience with Samsung’s DigitAll publication, she continues to cover the mobile industry. Jean is a supporter and board member of The Denan Project.
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?
I took a two-year sabbatical. Balancing volunteering and professional gigs, I crisscrossed four continents, learning from people in Ethiopia, Peru, Germany, and South Korea. When I returned to New York, I had this desire to be thrown into a new environment to start growing again — professionally and otherwise. So, I accepted an invitation to visit a Munich-based tech firm and saw an opportunity to learn directly from the engineers (something I missed from my grad school days) and approach mobile technologies from a completely different perspective than what I was doing for Samsung. So, I ended up joining the firm tyntec and permanently moved to Germany about five years ago.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I recently had an excellent opportunity to combine my volunteer work with my professional career. Seeing how my team was helping many businesses create digital experiences for their customers without having to run a massive IT project, I gained the confidence to apply the same technology to solve some of the problems I was facing at The Denan Project, a nonprofit organization I was a board member of. As an all-volunteer organization, we couldn’t rely on having an IT team to deploy new technologies even though it was clear to all of us that the old-school communication methods we were using (physical events, letters, emails, etc.) significantly limited our ability to recruit new donors and volunteers. It was pretty cool to see how we could design an AI chatbot and integrate it with an agent dashboard (connected to the WhatsApp Business API) so that the conversation can be handed over to a human volunteer when needed. Being able to add modern, digital experiences to energize younger volunteers was a great experience, too. I am passionate about combining modern and old-school technologies to up the game.
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?
I’m not sure how funny this would sound to others, but it chuckles me — every time. Back then, I worked at an Omnicom agency on Madison Avenue, supervising a large computer account based in Houston. To get to a client meeting, I was sitting in the New York airport and started reading a book (I think it was Star Trek Federation Travel Guide) while waiting to board a flight to Houston. And the next thing I remember is looking around and seeing very few people around me. Right, I missed the flight while sitting right at the gate! I called my client in Houston and said, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ I didn’t hear him laugh. Yes, of course, the meeting did happen — a day later. After that incident, I try to remind myself that not everyone will appreciate my use of humor to lighten the tension. Although I still adore humor in all human interactions, I pay more attention to the moments when it’s appropriate and not.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Yes! My team at tyntec believes every customer journey starts with a conversation. So, to help businesses create secure, conversational interactions with consumers no matter where they are, we’ve been connecting all major one-to-one conversational channels to our communications platform. Think of a sales associate working for a global fashion brand chatting directly with her client, who cannot come to the store, over whichever channel the client uses daily (say, WhatsApp, iMessage, WeChat, RCS, etc.).
Better yet, the associate can help her client with all necessary details (product arrival date, color options, past purchase history, contact preference, etc.) as the application that she’s using to communicate with her client is integrated with the company’s customer knowledge base (CRM) and other backend systems.
All this is possible because, in part, communications are getting more and more programmable. As communications become more programmable, it’s easier to trigger conversational moments whenever needs/opportunities arise. And by leveraging machine learning/AI, we’re also helping businesses get better at predicting those needs/opportunities faster and better. Think of a retail telecom company being able to detect a customer who’s about to switch to another provider and engaging the customer with an appropriate, timely conversation before it’s too late.
It’s an exciting space to be in. And this pandemic we’re still living through has significantly accelerated the adoption across industries, with the retail sector being a prime example.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t ignore your inner signals. Your way of detecting and dealing with signals might be different from mine. Interestingly enough, as professionals, many of us seem to be more tuned to seeing others’ signals rather than our own. I have a few colleagues and friends who thanked me for signing off my emails/messages with ‘Breathe’ when they really needed to be reminded of that. I have to thank my horseback riding coach for that. She was the one to point out I was holding my breath when I was riding, and I was not aware of it. She told me that when I hold my breath, the horse feels it and gets scared. So I had to get over that bad habit by whispering to myself while riding, which made me breathe in and out unconsciously.
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?
If I have to pick just one person, it would have to be my sixth-grade teacher back in S. Korea. It was her first year as a teacher when I met her. Somehow, despite the teacher-student relationship and age difference, she treated me more like a friend. In between discussing Herman Hesse’s Demian and other topics, she made me see my inner extrovert. I remember her asking my mom’s permission before nominating me as the Captain for Girl Scouts. As an idealistic teacher just out of college, she planted a deep seed in me not to shy away, especially when my first instinct tells me to do exactly that. Still, to this day, whenever I feel like retreating, I look at the old picture of me in the Girl Scout uniform with a megaphone in my hand — and think of her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Still working on it. What drives me is the possibility to change the odds for people who need it the most. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to see those possibilities right in front of me. I have a great opportunity to combine my professional work with the volunteer work I’ve been doing as a board member of The Denan Project. It’s all about learning how digital-savvy companies utilize AI and direct messaging channels, and applying this knowledge to nonprofit use cases to take full advantage of the same tools. I think the digital divide we often hear about is not just for economic or geographical differences. Sometimes, it’s about the knowledge gap. I’m a big fan of sharing knowledge and creativity. When I work with the medical teams in Ethiopia, Peru, and Mongolia for the grassroots organization, learning and sharing knowledge with them is a big part of my focus. And the same principles apply to why I’m taking the time to host the industry podcast Mobile Interactions Now.
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?
Oh yes, more people are shopping online — some grudgingly, some happily. The varying degrees of digital sophistication that surfaced during this pandemic are a culmination of many different aspects of how businesses, including retail outlets, run these days. Despite the circumstances, we’ve seen some progress on a few fronts that would help retail companies better address the new consumer expectations/habits shaped by the pandemic, including:
Virtual Contact Center: What made the pandemic more stressful for many businesses was the fact that changes were happening not only on the customers’ end but also within their workforce. Employees who used to be in one physical place to handle customer calls and make sales calls are home using different devices, many of them on their personal devices. With easy access to cloud solutions with embedded communication channels, the contact center operations are going remote in rapid deployment.
Conversational Clienteling: Shopping is different from consuming. Shopping requires decision making. And that’s where Guided Selling comes in — helping shoppers make decisions. Although neither the shoppers nor the sales associates could come to the stores, companies can facilitate the one-to-one interaction between them over messaging channels. So, no matter where your customers and employees are, they can continue the interaction and get the answers they need.
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?
Online shopping is not new. Some have been loving it, and others not so much. Neither is express delivery. I think of these options as just another feature, better suited for some, but not for everyone. For example, some consumers dislike how delivery options are tied to premium membership, and so on.
Once we start approaching shopping from a perspective of building features for specific user segments, new possibilities open up. Before the hard lockdown here in Germany, I had to find some Christmas presents for some sophisticated teenagers. So, one afternoon, I swung by a store known for such style, only to see a long line in front of the store as only four people are allowed to be in the store at the same time. Guess what? I waited — along with their young clientele under social distancing. For me, this was a unique experience I cannot get online. The store knew which segment it was engaging with and added a whole layer of features (design, social awareness, humor, etc.) that made it a go-to shop.
Furthermore, with the increasing affordability of cloud services and tech tools, we’ll be seeing broader adoption of online commerce tools among retail stores, especially for connecting their in-store experience with the rest of the customer journey to drive more revenue. We’ve seen luxury retail brands providing conversational tools to store associates to continue to help the buyers and play a more significant role throughout the customer journey.
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?
Successful retailers tend to have customers who are clear about why they are coming to that particular store. Shaping and profiting from the why will take some old-school basics and a few pages from online commerce platforms’ playbooks.
Have a clear why. I work at a company that believes every customer journey starts with a conversation. And that’s why we keep working on adding more conversational channels to our communications platform and making it easy to integrate with any applications and touchpoints, and trigger conversational interactions at any moment in the customer journey. I see the same clarity in many successful brands we work with within retail.
Understand Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). What makes online commerce platforms sticky is by design. The platforms are built to form a habit over the long run and maximize CLV. Retailers who rely on random foot traffic coming into the store without understanding who they are and what will make them come back won’t win the CLV battle. Connecting the store visits to the next stage of the customer journey and bringing them back to the store requires looking at the customer journey in its entirety. With modern, affordable tools to build a customer knowledge base and converse directly with each buyer, even when they’re not in the store, retailers can boost repeat purchases over more extended timeframes.
Remove friction from the buying experience. Commerce platforms have raised the bar on efficiency. One of the best ways to meet today’s shoppers’ growing expectations is to start with the customer journey and map the internal processes and systems accordingly. Say a brand is seeking to recreate a buying experience from the late 19th century (think Martin Scorsese’s movie The Age of Innocence): a man walks into a flower shop; the shop keeper recognizes and greets him; the man tells the shop keeper he would like to send a bouquet to a lady and leaves the card with the lady’s address. He leaves. The flower bouquet is delivered. He gets the bill. No drama. Thanks to new technologies, we can now create the same level of intimacy and personalization that scale to business requirements. Conversational Clienteling is one such tool.
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?
In 2018, as part of my volunteer work, I traveled to Mongolia and met with the head doctor of one of the hospitals my organization was supporting. As we were going through a list of medical equipment for budgeting purposes, we needed to get a surgical gurney price. That’s when the head doctor pulled out his phone and looked up the price on Alibaba. Although we used that price from Alibaba for budgeting purposes, the hospital staff bought it from a local supplier at a higher price. Why? They trusted the quality of the product and the support they’ll be getting. Interestingly, the staff had never worked with the local supplier before, the trust was built through communications during the buyer’s journey.
It’s such a classic problem to solve. Marketplaces like Alibaba would approach the problem differently (verifying suppliers, etc.) than a retailer might. I believe there are more creative ways for retailers to win consumers’ trust through conversations. At tyntec, I’m often thrilled by our customers’ successes earned by engaging with their buyers on one-to-one, two-way communication channels such as WhatsApp. There’s a certain level of trust that WhatsApp users have when WhatsApp-verified brands answer their questions directly on WhatsApp.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five 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.
1. No store is an island: The reason consumers walk into a store may vary, depending on where they are on their customer journey. Some might want to get what they want as quickly as possible and get out. Some are still unsure what to get. Some are there strictly to kick the tires and try it out. Some may drop in with customer care issues, and so on. I remember working on a Samsung brand shop project where they built the entire concept to showcase the latest products. It didn’t take too long for us to learn that we can’t just isolate that particular stage in the customer journey without having a clear path to help the visitors, no matter at which stage they’re currently at. You don’t have to handle all steps at the store directly, but you need to anticipate different intents and connect your workflow to provide a seamless experience.
2. Be where customers are: Chances are the shoppers walking into your store are carrying mobile phones. Help them take you with them when they leave the store by giving them the reason to add you to their contact list. Some of tyntec’s customers promote their WhatsApp channel with a QR code so that shoppers can scan the QR code and add the brand right into their WhatsApp contact list. With that, the shopper can start a conversation with the brand whenever they want, providing ample opportunities for the brand to bring them back to the store.
3. Safeguard customer data: We’re learning that consumers do want a seamless, digital experience. But they also expect brands to protect their private data. Failing to do so will be costly in many ways. Simple, tried-and-true authentication methods such as two-factor authentication with SMS and voice will go a long way to verify new users, reduce fake accounts and build user trust. If you had to go through a verification process with Amazon recently, you would’ve noticed stricter reinforcement. Expect to see similar authentication processes going mainstream across all sectors.
4. Humanization is key: One of our retail customers in the Middle East uses the WhatsApp Business API to tackle an interesting problem. Many of its customers call to order fresh food items on Cash on Delivery (COD). When the delivery took longer than they hoped, some of the customers simply refused to accept the delivery — hence no payment. The success came after the retailer used WhatsApp to notify the delivery status with an option for the customer to chat directly with the delivery personnel on the way. It turned out that, even though there’s a delay, once the customer received the real-time update, the payment was made almost all the time. It’s all about human interaction. We now have tools to trigger these interactions in the way consumers want.
5. Build a habit: When I looked at my shoe closet, I noticed most of them are from the same department store I used to pass by on my way to work. Before I knew it, it just became a habit of mine to pop in there when I needed a new pair. Interestingly enough, that’s how many online platforms make themselves sticky: being part of customers’ routines for the “why” the brand strives to be. We now have modern tools to gain customer insights to understand their patterns, give them the right reasons to engage with the brand, and keep the communications open and personal to help them continue to come back to the brand on their terms. Some of the biggest customer success stories came from the brands that integrated our conversations API with their backend systems like CRM and BI. By integrating them, brands can not only trigger personalize, timely actions via the right communication channels; they can also automatically update their systems to inform their decision-making. For example, tyntec’s connectors for Microsoft Dynamics 365 can automatically update the CRM with the messages received from customers. These days, brands can automate these integrations without heavy IT investments.
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. 🙂
I still remember the calm enthusiasm I saw in the face of the head doctor at the hospital in Mongolia during the meeting where we, the volunteers, were going over rims of medical test results from the mobile diagnostic tool our grassroots organization provided. Before they started using the mobile device to equip the medical staff to visit remote villages and perform health checkups, the hospital couldn’t offer preventive care to the herders. The doctors lacked data, and by the time the herders came to the hospital, their conditions were already severe. My experiences like this shaped my belief that often it’s just a matter of providing the right tool to the right people. I’ve already joined a movement — together with my fellow volunteers at The Denan Project, we’re working to bring people and tools to remote communities of the world so that they can access healthcare (which I believe is a human right) and sustain the community they built. My recent interactions with some of these communities have taught me that mobile tools often make the most significant difference in delivering essential services to them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!