Innovators: Avoid The Siren Song Of “What’s Hot”

How to innovate successfully in payments, where as a rule, complexity reigns? According to Applause CEO Doron Reuveni, among the best approaches is to focus less on “what’s hot” and more on the ever-evolving needs of the consumer.

Innovation is both genesis and lifeblood for companies, especially within the payments space. Finding new ways to transact here, there, everywhere and at any time can both satisfy a consumer need and a profitable provider niche, but as our latest Commander in Chief installment with Applause CEO Doron Reuveni explores, agility is key.

PYMNTS: How would you define Applause’s approach to innovation?

Our approach to innovation is two-fold. First and foremost, we’re focused on the needs of customers. Innovation is only valuable if it’s usable. Every time our team is working on a new service, the first thing we think is, “How will this benefit the customer?” That’s the basic element we start with before diving in.

Because customer needs can change at a moment’s notice, we have to be agile and flexible enough to adjust at the same pace.

That’s why we are well-versed in a number of agile practices like Scrum, Kanban and XP, to name a few. We work with some of the most innovative companies in the world around payments and other technologies, enabling us to become the spear of innovation for enterprises. We also work with many emerging growth startups and SMBs, which forces us to be agile, fast and responsive, while providing continuous momentum to the market and to customers. We learn a lot of lessons working with these clients that we’ve been able to apply to our own business.

PYMNTS: What is the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?

Hands down, it has been to create and build Applause. I feel that Applause has evolved, and will continue to evolve, how companies think of digital experiences.

We invented a way to solve a problem that wasn’t just new, it was better. Applause focuses on crowdsourcing, not outsourcing. Crowdsourcing is really the evolution of how digital work is accomplished as it integrates with the gig economy and provides infinite flexibility and scalability.

Originally, we started with digital testing, but it’s blossomed into something bigger. Every brand is going through some type of digital transformation, and there is even greater need now to understand and meet the needs of companies redefining their customer experiences. Applause is massively expanding into helping top enterprises and brands perfect their digital experiences.

PYMNTS: What do you think that most people underestimate about innovating in payments?

The payments industry is complex. Most people understand this in a general sense, but they underestimate just how complex innovating in today’s digital world has become. We’re seeing an explosion in not just digital payment offerings, but in the actual approaches taken by companies.

Traditional providers like credit card companies, digital-only services like PayPal and retail companies, are all investing in digital experiences in different ways, though it remains to be seen what approach customers will fully embrace.

Regardless, the ecosystem for creating these solutions is incredibly intricate. The complexity of mobile payments shows up when looking at the entities involved in the entire process, and where these entities will be operating. While some countries use mobile carriers as the issuer, gateway and network (through what is called direct carrier billing), other countries use the bank as the issuer, acquirer and network. The regional variations of the payment flow make for a massive amount of complexity in the ecosystem as there are also regulatory and compliance guidelines that will shift depending on the region.

For mobile payment apps, companies then need to validate that the app works on all sorts of different mobile devices, operating systems, with the leading mobile carriers, with different merchants and in all locations. Without help, these processes can become fragmented and overwhelming.

PYMNTS: What keeps you up at night? What concerns you most in the payment solutions space?

Digital payment solutions are at the center of digital experiences for customers across all kinds of industries. This space is already big business and is only expanding, but at this point there is still cause for concern, namely because while customers like the idea of these solutions, they don’t fully trust them yet.

There is an element of perceived security and an element of actual security — both of which companies need to address before trust can blossom. To address the actual security concerns, companies need to professionally and thoroughly test their security before bringing products to market, as vulnerabilities in payment solutions can lead to fraud, lost funds and damaged reputations.

By perceived security, I am talking mainly about user experience as it relates to the digital payment space. Because digital payment solutions deal with such sensitive information (such as credit info, personal details, etc.), any sort of glitch or clunky experience will seem nefarious to users, even if it is completely normal and unassuming. Customers are understandably slow to give digital payment solutions another try after a poor digital experience when they believe their personal information is at risk.

PYMNTS: What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?

One of the biggest trends in my line of work is the movement toward a customer-centric world. More than ever before, companies are paying a lot of attention to digital experience (DX) and customer experience (CX). Modern brands have recognized that traditional differentiators, such as lower prices and better products, are simply not enough to sway customers in crowded markets. The experiences customers have with a vendor — from consideration to purchase and support — will dictate the success of a company. Moreover, we’re increasingly seeing that payment transactions are more than a function … they are expressly tied to how a customer feels about a brand. Even if the payment piece is through a third-party, customers still associate the experience with the brand that is front and center.

PYMNTS: What person or company do you think “gets” innovation and why — and, conversely, who or what has missed it and why?

When I think of innovation, I think Amazon. Amazon just “gets” it. Amazon puts the customer at the center of the digital experience. Online shopping was a niche-play before Amazon. Now, because of Amazon, people all around the world do the majority of their shopping online.

On the flipside, when you talk about companies that are maybe missing the mark in terms of innovation, I think offshoring companies could do more to adjust to this idea of customer-centricity. The offshoring testing model has become stale, slow and lacking in innovation, with no ability to replicate real, local customer experiences. With the state of offshoring, companies are looking for alternatives and finding them in the form of crowdsourced testing services to identify and meet the needs of real customers.

PYMNTS: What advice would you give a young innovator in this space and why would you tell them to heed it?

I think a lot of people get too caught up in “what’s hot” and don’t think enough about how consumers will actually use the solutions they build. When it’s all said and done, the most important thing an innovative solution does is solve human problems. That’s what it all comes down to. And I think a lot of companies trying to innovate in payments are missing this human element. So, the best advice I could give to any young innovator is to focus on the problem you are trying to solve, pay attention to the market and listen to your customers.