The following was transcribed from a recent interview on The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast.
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Today we’re going to talk about creating a great post-purchase Customer Experience. To help me discuss this topic, I’d like to welcome Irina Poddubnaia, Founder of TrackMage.
[Greg Kihlstrom] Why don’t you start by giving a little background on yourself as well as a brief introduction to TrackMage?
I started off my career as a sales professional, and at some point I just decided to move to China and start my own business at the same time. It wasn’t a very smart idea. And when we moved to China, we were running a fulfillment center where we were fulfilling a lot of orders and shipping them across the globe. So that was the point where we discovered the importance of post-purchase experience and exactly how it influenced our income and profit. So what we’ve been seeing is that customers got really anxious waiting for the goods, especially from China, where it takes a lot of time to ship them and for them to get the products. So we discovered that, when we provided proactive updates, we’ve seen less charge-backs and refunds. And that’s when we realized that this probably is a pain point on its own that can be sold for more businesses than ours. That’s when the TrackMage was born, literally crafted in the trenches when we were solving our own problem. And later on, when everything transitioned online and, actually, the business in China closed, we moved back to Bulgaria. And that’s when we discovered that we can just make it its own product. So that’s how my journey started.
That’s great, and so you have real firsthand experience with some of the challenges as well as the opportunities that this product, TrackMage, provides. So that’s great. Well, let’s start by talking about what it takes to create a great post-purchase customer experience. So, to start, let’s talk about some of the pain points. So what do brands often get wrong with their post-purchase experience?
Well, quite frankly, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with post-purchase experience. But the most common one is not having post-purchase experience. Literally, there is just a “buy” button; the customer places an order; and then nothing happens for maybe a couple of days or maybe a couple of weeks. And the customer just kind of forgets about their purchase. And the brand is literally expecting no reaction from the customer. And that’s why we are getting a lot of customer support requests, and we are getting swamped with questions like, “Where is my order?” And there is a term in supply chain management. It’s called “WISMO,” “Where is my order?” That acronym stands for that question, which comprises up to 70 percent of customer support load in retail.
So the post-purchase experience is very important if you want to not only create a good relationship with a customer; it’s to just literally protect your business from charge-backs, refunds and even creating the load on your customer support. So post-purchase experience, it’s not only for creating customer retention and loyalty but also for lowering the cost of doing business with those customers.
I think that’s interesting because some organizations might have skeptics, let’s call it, of people that are not necessarily sold on going above and beyond on the customer experience. That sounds expensive to those that don’t really understand the value. And so, looking at it, it’s almost risk mitigation, right, is a way to look at it?
It’s almost risk prevention, I would say, because it’s much easier to justify the costs when a fire is already happening. So we are putting out fires upon fires upon fires, and we literally feel like we are doing something meaningful. But when we switch into the fire prevention mode and when we look for optimization points that can prevent bad customer experience in the first place, those negative reviews on social media or those different customer complaints that we are getting as retailers, so when we are switching to fire prevention mode, we literally revolutionize our business. Because all those problems, they stop plaguing the supply chain and the marketing department, and all the marketing literally comes from the customers. Because, when you have good customer experience, they share good reviews and the business grows.
Yeah, so what about companies that are doing it right? What are they doing differently? How are they thinking about this post-purchase customer experience?
So the companies that are thinking right, they put customer experience and post-purchase customer experience as part of marketing. The common belief in the industry is that the customer support and post-purchase experience are the cost centers. But, really, they are the profit centers. So when you have a good post-purchase experience, you actually create this trust between you and the customer. And the customers, they tend to buy more from a brand whom they trust. And if you invest in good post-purchase experience and you invest in good customer support, you actually invest in those customers’ second purchase, third purchase, fourth and so on. So you literally create a more sustainable business that grows exponentially because what tends to happen in the industry is that marketing is mainly focused around customer acquisition, not customer retention. So when you are retaining those customers, you don’t really have to acquire that many customers anymore, to continue growing.
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s always so many shifts in industries, you know, so I think there’s been a bit of a focus on separating marketing and customer experience. But I hear you say this, and totally agree with you, that there is such an opportunity. I mean, often with customers that I work with, we’re looking at things like customer lifetime value, which is not just an acquisition play. It’s exactly what you’re saying, which is, OK, let’s certainly get the customer in the door, but let’s make sure they’re happy and they’re buying again and they’re buying more; they’re buying more often; and they’re bringing their friends, too, right? So what advice would you have to a company where they’re having a hard time making that case?
I would definitely start from troubleshooting over points of contact and seeing how the customer experience actually looks from the outside. So literally buy your own product, and buy it from a mystery shopping, like, another email, another address, so that your employees don’t really understand that it’s you. And see how it looks from the customer’s standpoint. So “Do we answer the customer requests? How long does it take to get an email? What information did you get? What information didn’t you get? How did it look” – I mean, in the end – “when you received the product? Were you asked to leave a review? When were you asked to leave a review?” Because sometimes that only happens if a customer reaches out to customer support and when they are asked to evaluate the service. But usually, when people reach out to customer support, something already went wrong, so that they had to ask.
Yeah, and so, just for clarification as well, are there any industries or any focus areas that TrackMage deals with, just to get a sense of your customer base?
TrackMage is exclusively working with e-commerce. And we are working with those businesses that have some physical goods that are moving from Point A to Point B. So we are mainly in physical goods. So we don’t help with digital products, or some courses, or other stuff that doesn’t have to be shipped.
Got it, and then, by that token, if you’re selling digital goods, there can be that instant gratification of, like, download or, you know, get instant access. But the companies that you’re dealing with, there’s that wait time; there’s the delivery experience. There’s, I guess, the hassle of returning, if they need to return stuff. So there’s a lot of challenges, but there’s also a lot of opportunity, right?
Definitely. Online retailers and wholesalers, they have very unique challenges, and it’s borderline between marketing and supply chain and all the hard stuff over business.
What trends are you seeing? Obviously, over the last few years, there’s been a lot of things going on, a lot of changes, supply chain issues, all of those kinds of things. But what trends are you seeing now that companies in e-commerce selling physical goods should pay attention to?
Well, I’m seeing a very interesting trend that started recently, and it’s getting stronger. So it started recently with Shopify, for example, inviting influencers and creators to a platform. Also, there was another platform – I don’t remember their name – that launched TikTok endorsements, a paid TikTok endorsements platform, where the customers can actually just record a video of them using the product and they are going to get paid once they post it on TikTok.
So what I’m seeing is this merger between the creative side of social media and retail. So it’s more and more intertwined, and more and more, those influencers from various platforms are gaining power over consumer needs. So if, for example, one of the Kardashians showed a product, there is definitely going to be demand for that product. So what I’m seeing right now with, pandemic or no pandemic, is that creators are more and more important right now, on the platforms and overall over the Internet.
So let’s switch topics here, a little bit. I see that you have a background in Lean Six Sigma. We share that. It sounds like you might have a little more experience, in practice, with it, but just curious about a couple things. So can you talk a little bit about how you’ve used that approach and where you’ve seen the greatest success using Lean Six Sigma?
Well, we’ve used Lean Six Sigma in multiple optimization endeavors. So basically just, with typical Lean Six Sigma projects, where we take a not-straightforward process with multiple moving parts and people in place, then we apply Lean Six Sigma to really clarify what are the metrics, what should be optimized. And usually what we tend to find are those friction or acceleration points. So the friction points are the ones that are slowing the growth or resulting in some rework or returns or refunds, exactly what I was talking about in the beginning. And the acceleration points are the ones that actually propel the growth, something like the customer sharing a review on social media or the customer inviting their friend to make a purchase, or some other things that don’t cost the brand any money but actually bring extra sales in.
So with Lean Six Sigma, all of those metrics, they contribute to the final result. So what we discovered with a lot of e-commerce companies is that we have even challenges with some things like accounting, bookkeeping, or counting the money. A lot of businesses don’t even know if they lost the money or earned the money, when we’re selling the products, which is really fun to work with, because you invest, let’s say, $20,000, and then you get, what, minus $3,000 in return. So with Lean Six Sigma in place, we were able to help those businesses actually straighten the process out and understand if they’re losing money or if they’re earning money. And, based on Lean Six Sigma, we were also able to tell which products were gaining the most growth of a business, versus the ones that were actually the lost leaders but were not really influencing much of the customer acquisition.
So how about the relationship between Lean Six Sigma and Agile? How do they work together? Do they work together? How have you seen them coexist, if that’s possible?
Well, this is probably my favorite question out of all the questions that you’ve asked. So what I usually explain is that Lean Six Sigma is applicable when the process is predictable, or when you have a standard result. And Agile works with unpredictable, or a very dynamic environment where you have changes upon changes and you have to adapt all the time. So, for example, e-commerce business has both parts. And different kinds of processes should be applied to those two different parts. So the part that is Agile and definitely stays Agile over time is marketing, because you always need to create new and inventive ways to acquire customers, to create different campaigns. And it’s never the same. But when it comes to shipping products, restocking, making sure that the inventory is there, making sure that the shipments are getting shipped on time, this is Lean, because this process is predictable, and shipping one package doesn’t differ from shipping another package, unlike in marketing, where every creative is unique and you have to produce different creatives for different campaigns.
I like that way of putting it. It’s basically using the right tool for the job, right? And, to your point, there’s plenty of room for both in a lot of organizations, probably in most organizations, I would say, because, if nothing was repeatable, you’d have problems, too, right?
Yeah, being too agile is where you’re literally just like, “Oh, yes, this is the new fire, or this is the new priority. And sometimes the companies, they never get out of this perpetual (inaudible), where, like, “Oh, let’s fix this next. This is the new fire. This is the new priority.” And we’ve all seen those companies where the urgent, important, critical, priority is the only way to tell that this is actually the thing they’re working on.
You have to keep creating new labels, almost, for higher priority, or something like that.
Yeah, because everyone is hysterically waiting for the next big thing, and they are always just like, “OK, what is more important than “critical?” Probably “urgent,” right?
It’s like naming a document “final.” You know, never, ever do that because it’s never going to be the final draft of a document, right?
Yeah, I’ve seen some of those cases where there’s a “final, final, final” document.
About the Guest
Irina is a SaaS founder and a certified ecommerce business project manager consultant. She has very broad experience in ecommerce with over 8 years with its different challenges and obstacles: from running a fulfillment center in China where she was living for over 2 years to launching her own SaaS software “TrackMage”.
She has been successful executing Lean 6 sigma optimizations for eCommerce companies: customer support, logistics and overall supply chain management optimization.
Irina is the founder of TrackMage.com platform. It allows Ecommerce stores to have a 5-10% extra sales by simplifying the customer experience. TrackMage tracks the products, do the upsell and then takes care of the automatic follow ups for reviews.
It helped many brands reduce the number of claims received by the customer services and offer a quality service.
TrackMage has signed a deal with Metal Family, the notorious group of content creators who create famous animations on YouTube with Millions of views worldwide. With their rising popularity, they decided to expand and start selling physical comic books and other merchandise. TrackMage was the solution chosen to help them manage all the supply chain from confirming orders till getting thousands of reviews at the end of the sales funnel.
About the Host, Greg Kihlström
Greg Kihlstrom is a best selling author, speaker, and entrepreneur and host of The Agile Brand podcast. He has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations on customer experience, employee experience, and digital transformation initiatives, both before and after selling his award-winning digital experience agency, Carousel30, in 2017. Currently, he is Principal and Chief Strategist at GK5A. He has worked with some of the world’s top brands, including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, GEICO, Marriott, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and VMware. He currently serves on the University of Richmond’s Customer Experience Advisory Board, was the founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee, and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Mentorship Advisory Board. Greg is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified, and holds a certification in Business Agility from ICP-BAF.
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