Raj De Datta: “Get your customer experience out there”

Understand who your user or customer is and deeply understand their motivations and what they’re seeking. For example, a company leader should ask why your customer came to you, what your customer was looking for before they arrived, why they came to you in the first place, and why they didn’t come to you before. As […]

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Understand who your user or customer is and deeply understand their motivations and what they’re seeking. For example, a company leader should ask why your customer came to you, what your customer was looking for before they arrived, why they came to you in the first place, and why they didn’t come to you before.

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj De Datta, CEO and co-founder of Bloomreach. Raj brought 10 years of enterprise and entrepreneurial experience with him when he co-founded Bloomreach. Before launching the company, he was entrepreneur-in-residence at Mohr-Davidow Ventures. Prior to that, Raj served as Cisco’s director of product marketing and was on the founding team of telecom company FirstMark/LambdaNet, which grew to 80 million dollars in run-rate revenue. Raj also worked in technology funding banking at Lazard Freres. He holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Princeton University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. His thoughts on navigating the challenges of high-growth startups can be found on his blog on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in the Philippines and came to the United States as a student. At Princeton, I studied engineering before finding my way to entrepreneurship. My foray into entrepreneurship was accidental, but I’ve made a career out of it. In the past two decades, I’ve had my hand at three different companies — my latest venture is Bloomreach. The idea for Bloomreach came about after moving on from Cisco. I call this time in my life my two years in the wilderness. I spent this time thinking about my next venture and saw that while millions of dollars were spent on online advertising, less was being spent on the actual shopping experience. Bloomreach has created to power the best online buying experiences with AI-driven search and merchandising content management, and digital experience tools.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I was fresh out of college, two entrepreneurs-turned-mentors approached me to help them start a telecom company in Europe. I had never been there, but they wanted me to move. I decided to move to Paris to set up our company but quickly learned there were a host of hurdles and hoops I needed to jump through to even complete simple tasks, like setting up a bank account. From there, I moved to London and helped start the company. From this experience, I learned it doesn’t hurt to try. I teach my kids to not overthink decisions that are inconsequential or reversible. If something can’t be reversed but isn’t important, then do it. If something is important but can be reversed, do it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My first business partner/mentor, the one who sent me to Paris, was the one who pulled me into entrepreneurship, instead of engineering. I’m grateful he helped me discover the world of entrepreneurship and provided me an opportunity to jump in. I’m also grateful to my wife. She’s been there through the ups and downs of my three companies, and it wouldn’t be possible without her.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Great customer experience is essential for business success because when you think about how businesses compete in a world of increasing information, how do you stand apart and differentiate from the competition? Things that once differentiated brands — like a great product or unique sales channel — can be easily replicated on a moment’s notice. The opportunity for uniqueness lies in whether a customer, a seeker, remembers you, and remembers the experience. People live a life of digital to-do lists and are seeking something — a gift, love, adventure — and the businesses that will succeed both online and in real life are the ones that put the seeker at the center of all shopping experiences.

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 think the big hurdle for a lot of companies is that they confuse customers and human beings who are seeking things. A customer is someone who is buying something from you. Improving the buying experience really only requires lightweight changes like price adjustment. However, behind that customer is someone who’s seeking something greater. To create a great experience that caters to that motivation, brands need to ask themselves how to help that person achieve that goal. Car buyers, for example, are often after a fuel-efficient vehicle. But instead of building a car that uses less gas, a business leader could build Tesla. One is tweaking the existing experience and the other is rebuilding the experience around the customer’s motivation.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

More competition does help improve the customer experience companies offer. Nothing opens people’s eyes more than losing business. But brands often have the wrong response to this. Brands shouldn’t copy their competitors to try and win back lost customers. They need to personalize based on their business and customers. In addition to increased competition, customer behavior changes push companies to improve customer experience. The rate of change for how consumers use technology is huge and so businesses are being forced to adjust the customer experience to better cater to how we operate in our digital lives.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

One of our customers, Uncommon Goods, decided they wanted to address human motivation at the core of what they do. When people shop with Uncommon Goods, they’re really seeking the perfect gift, not just looking to make a purchase. So Uncommon Goods built a gift-giving chatbot with our technology. The chatbot recommends what gifts would be the best options for the person a customer is shopping for. The company took our technology to get to the heart of what people are actually seeking when shopping on their site — advice on what to give someone — and turned it into a “wow” experience for customers.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Overall, the gift-giving chatbot was very successful during the holiday season. My personal success story was in searching for a gift for a friend who enjoys home goods, cooking, entertaining, and the TV show The Good Place. With those interests, the bot recommended “7 deadly sins glasses.” Though I had no idea what I was really looking for, the gift was exactly what I was seeking.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Understand who your user or customer is and deeply understand their motivations and what they’re seeking. For example, a company leader should ask why your customer came to you, what your customer was looking for before they arrived, why they came to you in the first place, and why they didn’t come to you before.
  2. Figure out how to satisfy that intent as fully as possible. If someone is trying to read a great book, don’t just sell books, focus on helping your customer figure out how to read a great book. Or if you’re a guitar manufacturer, why is your customer buying a guitar? If they’re trying to become a musician, help them fulfill that intent rather than just selling them a guitar.
  3. Get your customer experience out there. The initial version of any experience will be imperfect. Once that version is out in the world, iterate along the way. As you’re iterating, listen to all the data. In an e-commerce store, for example, every click, non-click, browse, view, and non-view is all a vote from your customers.
  4. Think about how the business model that supports that great experience. Having a great customer experience is only effective if that great experience pays the bills. Business leaders need to align the outcomes and motivations of the seeker with the business model you offer. For example, if the people seeking something from your business are looking for a long-term relationship, but your business charges a lump sum upfront, your business model is misaligned with your customers. A subscription model might be a better fit.
  5. Build cross-organization competencies to deliver a great customer experience. Common mistake companies make is to say that creating a great customer experience is the job of customer service alone. A “wow” customer experience involves a lot of people — designers, developers, marketers, and executives. Businesses need to assemble a holistic customer experience by working with people across the organization.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

At Bloomreach, we have a number of different vehicles through which our customer can share their “wow” experience in a way that’s authentic to them. To share a few examples, customers can inspire others to reach out by participating in a case study, telling a story on a podcast, participating in a webinar, or attending an event and sharing best practices with colleagues.

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. 🙂

Right now, we see a lot of division in the world and I think one of the reasons for that is that the forces at work are focused on the short term. When we think about things in the time scale of now, next month and next year, there are frequently opposing points of view. I think that if we asked people about the five things that will matter to the people that come after us, nine out of 10 people would agree on what those things are. So, I would build a movement that only focuses on those things that matter to the people that come after us and advocates for the next generation rather than this one.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Twitter @rdedatta and @bloomreach_tm

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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