Communication history with your brand. Whether a customer reaches out to you over email, phone or chat, each communication is part of a relationship they have with your brand. Too often these communications are siloed by channel so a service advisor might not know that a customer emailed about an issue yesterday and is still awaiting a response when they call you today. Or they might not know that a customer had a negative experience with your brand in the recent past so this conversation is an opportunity to go above and beyond to restore trust with your brand. When you have this content you can treat every interaction as part of an ongoing conversation and make customers feel truly known and valued.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Ansanelli, CEO and co-founder of Gladly, a technology company transforming customer service for the modern world. He is also a partner at Greylock Partners, and serves on the Board of Directors of Sumo Logic, Grand Rounds, and Trifacta. Joseph has spent the majority of his career as an entrepreneur and has extensive experience in customer service. Joseph was CEO and co-founder of Connectify which was later acquired by Kana, one of the first digital customer service platforms that he helped take public in 1999. He was also CEO and co-founder of Vontu, which was acquired by Symantec in 2007 for $350 million.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What do you think makes Gladly stand out?
Gladly operates in a crowded space — customer service software — but there is one thing that sets us apart from every competitor. We built our platform around people, not tickets, so that companies can make the customer experience feel magical.
We start by understanding the most important details of a customer, and match them to the answer they need or the advisor best equipped to help. Every communications is part of a single, lifelong conversation that spans all channels including voice, messaging, and self-service, so every customer experience picks up where the last left off. Gladly turns agents into heroes who can anticipate customer needs and make every customer feel known and valued.
We call this Radically Personal Service.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that has made a significant impact on you? Can you explain why it resonated with you so much?
Reid Hoffman’s podcast Masters of Scale is one I keep coming back to. It’s for entrepreneurs, by an entrepreneur, and features founders and leaders of some of the most successful startups telling their stories — how and why they started their company, the obstacles they had to overcome, and their vision for the future. As an entrepreneur I always learn something from these stories and they make me feel connected to the broader community. I’ve enjoyed it so much that it inspired me to start my own podcast, Radically Personal, where I interview customer service leaders at retail and direct-to-consumer businesses about the role of service in building their business.
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 retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Price isn’t the driving factor behind purchase for many consumers, and it’s certainly not the driving factor behind loyalty. Industry data shows that loyalty is driven by two factors — quality of product and quality of service. It’s been proven that customers will pay more for a better experience. Retailers who are able to personalize every interaction, make their customers feel known and valued, and make the customer experience feel magical will thrive in the era of Amazon. For example, Andie Swim, a US-based direct to consumer company, has built a very successful business out of taking the stress out of buying women’s swimwear. Their team of product experts work with each customer to understand her specific concerns, what’s worked and not worked for her in the past, and recommend suits that are the best fit. They even check in with those customers after delivery to see how the purchase worked out. Andie is building relationships with their customers in every conversation and those relationships not only keep customers coming back, they inspire word-of-mouth referrals that have fueled the company’s growth.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
When you start a company there’s a lot of pressure to grow. Founders spend a lot of time thinking about which markets to serve, the best distribution channels to reach customers, and how to build brand awareness. All of those things are important but acquiring customers is just the beginning. If you’re not thinking about how to engage customers post-sale to keep them coming back you’ll quickly finding yourself fighting a war of attrition. Retail founders should be thinking about the entire customer journey, how they can differentiate at each stage in the journey, and what investments they need to make to make customers feel personally connected to the brand.
Can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
In the age of Amazon, customer experience is the best opportunity retail brands have to differentiate. And innovative brands have thought about every aspect of a customer’s interaction with their brand to craft an experience that keeps them coming back. For example, Allbirds thought about how customers interact with their shoes in-store and this has informed not only the way they arrange shoe displays to make it easy for customers to find the right shoes in the right size, but also how they create comfortable spaces for customers to try shoes on. Instead of a single, dedicated try-on area, their stores are dotted with nooks where customers will find custom seats Allbirds has designed to make it easy for customers to give their shoes a spin wherever they are in-store. As Covid has driven more of their business online, they’ve invested in recreating that experience by equipping product advisors to understand each customer, their history and familiarity with the brand, and advise each customer on the products that best meet their needs.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I’ve personally spoken to hundreds of consumer companies since founding Gladly and I can tell you that every single one of them cares deeply about delivering great customer experience. The disconnect has nothing to do with people and everything to do with the systems they rely on to deliver customer service. Most customer service platforms were built to manage tickets, not people, and I believe this is the root cause of poor customer experience.
Rather than managing each service interaction as part of an ongoing relationship with full context of who a customer is and their history with your brand, these systems silo each interaction and route it as a ticket to be resolved. Agents can’t see that a customer emailed yesterday and is still awaiting a response when they call you today. They can’t see that this customer has an open order that’s been delayed in shipping. They might not even know that this is a longstanding, loyal brand advocate.
This leads to the poor experiences we’re all too familiar with — having to start at the beginning each time you’re routed to a different agent, being placed on a long hold while an agent hunts through multiple systems to find the information they need to resolve an issue, or receiving different answers to inquiries you’ve made about the same issue on different channels.
Can you share a brief case study/customer example about a retail customer who was “wowed” by the experience the Gladly customer provided using Gladly?
Rothy’s is a direct-to-consumer brand focused on building lasting relationships with customers that keep them coming back and inspire them to refer friends and family to the brand. Before Gladly, they had separate systems for voice, email and chat which made it difficult to see if a customer that had emailed or chatted in had previously reached out to them over the phone, or vice versa, and what they’d said. This meant that agents would have to rely on the customer to recap their history and fill in the gaps. This wasn’t the experience they wanted to deliver.
With Gladly, every interaction, regardless of channel, is part of a single, lifelong conversation. Everything an agent needs is right in front of them — customer lifetime value, complete purchase history via Shopify integration, personal preferences. When an agent engages with a customer they can simply pick up where the conversation left off without having to hunt for information or ask a customer for more detail. They quickly understand the issue and how to resolve it. Not only has this lead to CSAT improvements, it’s also made their agents happier and more efficient. If there’s an escalation they no longer have to hunt through multiple tickets to understand what happened — it’s right there in front of them. They report that usability is 100% better with Gladly.
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 an example for each.)
- Who they are. This is table stakes but it’s not easy to get full context of who a customer is when customer data is siloed by channel. It starts with recognizing who they are regardless of which channel they use to reach you, greeting them by name, and understanding their full context so you can engage with them in relevant ways without making them repeat themselves or spend time fleshing out their story for you. Really knowing a customer, their lifetime value and customer tier, their preferences, even personal details like their birthday, all equip service teams to personalize the customer experience and make it feel like a relationship, rather than a transaction.
- Communication history with your brand. Whether a customer reaches out to you over email, phone or chat, each communication is part of a relationship they have with your brand. Too often these communications are siloed by channel so a service advisor might not know that a customer emailed about an issue yesterday and is still awaiting a response when they call you today. Or they might not know that a customer had a negative experience with your brand in the recent past so this conversation is an opportunity to go above and beyond to restore trust with your brand. When you have this content you can treat every interaction as part of an ongoing conversation and make customers feel truly known and valued.
- Purchase history with your brand. Understanding what a customer has purchased from you in the past unlocks many opportunities to make the customer experience feel magical. First, you can route customer inquiries based on purchase history. If you know that a customer has just purchased a mountain bike from you, you can route their call to a specialist who’s a mountain biker herself and can provide recommendations for the best shoes and helmets based on her own experience using them. If you know that a customer recently received delivery of a new sofa, opening a service conversation by asking how he’s enjoying it and if he has any feedback makes that customer feel like they’re talking to a friend who knows them and values their opinion.
- Where they are in the journey. When a brand has full context of who a customer is and their current status with your brand, they can deliver a magical experience. For example, when a customer with an open order visits your website, proactively opening a chat window and presenting them with anticipated delivery date for that order feels magical. When a customer calls your service center and the agent they reach knows which mountain bikes they’ve been researching and advises them on which would be the best fit based on personal knowledge and the customer’s past purchase history, that’s magical. Those magic moments turn customers into fans.
- How to go above and beyond. Crate & Barrel knows that buying a sofa or even a set of wine glasses online is difficult for customers because they can’t see, feel or experience the products for themselves. So Crate & Barrel invests in making their service advisors product experts who can describe the nuanced differences between machine-made and handblown glass and how the loft of down-filled cushions differs from foam-filled. To take this a step further, they set up retail displays in their service centers so advisors can simulate the in-store experience online via video chat. They’ve given their service team the power to delight customers in really unexpected ways.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!