Retail

For Better Or Worse, Customer Service IS The Brand

A good product at a good price: that used to be the recipe for a good brand. But a third ingredient in retail is quickly overshadowing those bastions of success, and that is customer service. Consumers want a seamless shopping experience, and if they don’t have one, they want someone to make it right post-haste.

Payments can be one of the areas of greatest friction for eCommerce players, especially if they operate globally and need to handle many different forms of payment. Even within a single country, a shrewd eCommerce merchant will want to offer a variety of payment options for shoppers, from credit and debit cards to eWallets, from PayPal to digital cash.

Done right, though, payments processing can differentiate the wheat from the chaff. A smooth, secure checkout process has its own kind of value. Brand value.

Customer service is one of Amazon’s top bragging rights, and in the future, it’s going to have to be a strength for every successful brand — at least, that’s what Applause CEO Doron Reuveni thinks.

“Traditional competitive differentiators such as lower pricing and better products are no longer enough,” Reuveni said. “The experiences a customer has when interacting with a brand — from the consideration phase through purchase and support — are now determining the winners and losers.”

Creating a seamless process takes trial and error, and that’s where Applause has carved out its niche. The Framingham, Mass.-based company conducts digital experience testing, feedback and research via its network of 300,000 on-demand testers to get real user feedback on web, mobile and omnichannel brand experiences.

PYMNTS caught up with Reuveni to find out how Applause is working with digital merchants as they enter the nascent world of mobile and digital payments.

PYMNTS: How does your business overlap with the payment processing or eMerchant world?

DR: Mobile payment technologies are bringing brands closer to their customers than ever before. Mobile payments volume in the U.S. is expected to reach $282 billion by 2021. We work with brands across a wide array of industries that are all tackling the same challenge: how to offer custom digital [brand[ experiences to their customers to win them over and then retain them.

Applause testers ensure that global users will experience successful real-world checkouts and vendors will receive payments. Additionally, Applause routinely conducts new market research with leading merchants. This research is conducted on a global scale using locally relevant payment methods, and the end result is data and assessments about the viability of payment alternatives around the world.

PYMNTS: Can you give the history on the founding and launch of the company? Why was the company founded? What was the grand idea that sparked it?

DR: [Co-Founder Roy Solomon] and I recognized — ahead of the age of mobile — that companies needed ways to safely test their products before launching them in order to give their users seamless, bug-free consistent digital experiences.

At the time we founded the company [2007], my idea of a crowdsourcing model to software testing was a radical notion. One of the biggest hurdles for Applause was in the nascent stages — having the crazy idea that the traditional way of software testing wasn’t cutting it. Creating a brand-new, “never been done” idea isn’t easy, especially from ground zero.

We recruited testers from our inner circle and paid them to test it. They helped us get more familiar with how the product would work. We started talking to startups and signed on 20 to 30 companies. With that, more testers were referred to Applause, and with more testers came more startups. Once we reached our 100th company, that’s when the forward momentum really kicked in.

PYMNTS: Can you show me some data or proof points on how the company has helped retailers? Please provide some client examples.

DR: Applause has been adopted as an integral part of the software development processes for thousands of companies worldwide, including Google, FOX, Nike, BMW, PayPal and Slack.

The company helped test Shake Shack’s iOS mobile ordering system to fix bugs, such as mobile payment options issues, before launching to the public. The Container Store sources hundreds of testers from Applause each month to ensure customers can make purchases, browse and plan projects with its supplies whenever and wherever they want.

Shutterfly uses Applause for quality and usability testing for their website and mobile applications. E-Bay works with Applause on app accessibility testing to facilitate digital experiences for users with disabilities.

PYMNTS: To what do you attribute your success over the years?

DR: We’re always listening to our customers and using their feedback to make the company better. Applause started off with disrupting the way traditional testing was done, by recruiting a crowd of testers to fulfill the backend of the software development lifecycle. That has evolved over time.

Specifically, over the last few years, our customers have pulled us further upstream in the software and product development lifecycle. Applause now offers feedback and research capabilities, due in large part to customer demand for this insight.

PYMNTS: What is next? What does the future look like?

DR: We’re hearing from more and more of our customers about the challenges of improving their customer experience, because they realize that traditional competitive differentiators such as lower pricing and better products are no longer enough. The experiences a customer has when interacting with a brand — from the consideration phase through purchase and support — are now determining the winners and losers.

In the future, we see customer experience as the epicenter of brands’ success or failure. The road to excellent customer service isn’t an easy one, especially for legacy brands that were not built to be online-first. Digital customer experiences are becoming even more complex and difficult to track, as humans and devices are interacting with the Internet of Things and wearables.

Applause has grown to over 330 employees and plans to double its staff in California, the U.K., France and Israel this year.

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Latest Insights:

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The September 2019 AML/KYC Tracker Report provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

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