Tema Frank of Frank Reactions interviewed by VL for 7 questions series on supply chain data integration and ecommerce

7 Questions eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration: Tema Frank

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The 7 Questions Interview Series: eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration

The 7 Questions Interview Series: eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration “The 7 Question Series” is an investigative content series where we seek out key leaders in a specific industry and/or subject matter expertise area and ask them 7 key questions that “enquiring minds want to know”. There is a twist however to these questions. We provide the person being interviewed with a hypothesis for each question. This helps to frame and set context for their answer.

eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration Series Objectives:

eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration Series Objectives: The objective of the e-commerce series is to establish direct connections with eCommerce experts across the globe and ask them the same set of 7 questions regarding e-commerce data integration in the supply chain. We want to derive insights from their direct experiences and expertise that will help e-commerce companies, both B2B and B2C at all stages of their evolution. We are also curious to see if their answers are similar or different. These interviews will be featured on this website as a series.

Interview with Tema Frank, Founder and Chief Instigator of Frank Reactions

TemaFrankHeadShotAbout Tema Frank

Tema Frank is a digital marketing and customer experience pioneer. Founder and Chief Instigator of Frank Reactions, she has over 30 years’ experience in marketing, customer service, usability testing and business strategy. Her clients have included organizations such as the Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of America, the Government of Alberta, Cruise Ship Centres, ING Direct and the Alberta Motor Association.

Using social media techniques before social media existed, Tema (rhymes with Emma) built an international panel of 75,000 mystery shoppers using no paid advertising. Her company’s ground-breaking approach of having large numbers of prospective customers do usability testing of websites from their own computers changed the way websites are evaluated and gives clients great insight into how to increase web sales conversions and customer loyalty.

Tema hosts the weekly Internet radio show (podcast), Frank Reactions, which discusses how companies can meet (and exceed) the ever-increasing customer service expectations in our social media era. The podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher and at her website, FrankReactions.com.

A highly rated international speaker, she has also taught digital marketing and customer experience courses at the University of Alberta, the Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour in France, Grant MacEwan University, and in short courses for companies and government departments.

A best-selling author, Tema Frank is working on a new book called People Shock: Why People Matter More Than Ever in the Digital Era, & How Your Business Needs to Change. It discusses the need for changes to how companies are run internally in order to deliver on their external customer promises. Core to delivering great customer experience, she argues, is developing better relationships and processes for the people involved, from suppliers to your front line to customers and back.

The Interview:

Robin: Recent statistics tell us that close to 50% of consumers do not buy online. Why do you think that’s the case?

Tema: First of all, those numbers are changing quickly, especially as companies like Amazon start offering free same day or next day delivery. Historically, one of the barriers has been consumers’ impatience to get the product. Fast delivery helps overcome that, as does the growing trend of retailers offering “order online; pick up in store”. Since almost everybody starts their product research online now, this gives the consumer the benefit of knowing for sure the product will be in the store when they get there, the ability to have it same day with no shipping costs. (Shipping costs are an especially big barrier in Canada.)

Robin: Only 10% of Canadians plan to do their holiday shopping online in 2014 compared to 44% in Britain. Why do you there is such a large margin?

Tema: Canadians have typically been badly served by our retailers online. Frank Reactions has done a lot of research on this, and the underlying factor has been the reality that Canada has a less competitive marketplace than exists in countries like the US or Britain. So Canadian companies have felt less need to offer online sales.

This is changing as more US companies are setting up Canadian operations. A big barrier to purchasing from US sites had been the hassle of getting products across the border and not knowing exactly how much the product would cost because of duties and dollar exchange rates. But when you can buy from their Canadian operation, this is no longer a problem. This is increasing competition in Canada, forcing more of our retailers to up their game. But we still have a long way to go.

Shipping costs are also a huge barrier in Canada because we have such a large, thinly spread out population. The population density in the UK, France, the US and elsewhere is much denser, so shipping is cheaper. That said, there are some innovative ideas in the works to lower shipping costs in Canada, such as having shipping to convenience stores that are easy to get to and are open 24/7.

Robin: In our experience very few e-commerce sites integrate their systems and data making it impossible to scale and putting customer service and relationships at risk. Why is that?

Tema: One barrier is the learning curve. Technologies are changing so quickly that it is overwhelming to try to keep up. I think a lot of organizations get paralyzed by fear of making the wrong investment decisions. Many of them have taken bad advice in the past and have a fear of doing it again. If you don’t understand the technology yourself, how do you know if you can trust the vendor? How do you know what questions to ask? How do you know if their answers are true?

In Canada, I would also relate this again to the less competitive marketplace. If you have few competitors, customer service and effective sales processes are less important. Also, with a smaller market size, it is harder to convince Canadian companies that the investment in aligning their data and technology systems is worth the cost.

Then they get into a vicious circle: If they don’t invest in doing things properly, they don’t deliver good customer experiences, so people stop wanting to buy from them, which reinforces the belief that the marketplace isn’t big enough to justify the investment.

Robin: In your view are online retailers and sites leveraging their transactional data strategically? Are they making good use of their data to make strategic decisions and generate more revenue?

Tema: Very few are. As noted earlier, most haven’t invested enough in the systems that would help them track and analyze the data effectively. Few have staff with the right skill sets. Let’s face it; most people who go into marketing are those who didn’t enjoy the number crunching of their other business courses. Companies need to start developing marketing teams that include strong quantitative analysis experts, and IT needs to develop better understanding of marketing objectives.

In fact, one of the biggest barriers to using transactional data effectively is the silo mentality in most companies. To deliver the good customer experiences (online and off) that will keep people buying; all departments need to be involved. Inputs need to flow smoothly from suppliers, production has to be efficient and effective, marketing and sales staff need to work together, orders have to route to invoicing and shipping departments and are handled well there, and post-purchase customer relationships have to be maintained.

Robin: What are the key differences and similarities when it comes to B2B and B2C e-commerce?

Tema: Although B2C gets most of the press, B2B e-commerce became big long before B2C started catching on. In the B2B world, profit margins are often larger than in retail, so the incentive to invest was clear sooner.

That said, there are some things that B2B sellers could learn from B2C. In either case, you are ultimately selling to individuals. You need to understand their personal motivations, not just the corporate goals. And you need to speak to prospects in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Technology companies in particular are often guilty of overdoing the jargon on their websites. Even people with graduate degrees prefer reading “plain English” in marketing materials. It’s faster, and we are all under intense time pressure. Often the jargon is so bad that even prospective customers can’t figure out what the company does or how it is better than the competition. (Here’s an example of overdone techno-speak and how it could be rephrased to be more effective.)

Whether you are selling B2B or B2C, your websites should be usability tested (by outsiders) and must cover the basics, such as:

  • your company’s unique value proposition,
  • social proof (e.g. testimonials from real customers), and
  • multiple ways to contact you easily.
Robin: What’s next for e-commerce? Where do you see things headed?

Tema: Ease of use is becoming increasingly important. When I started Web Mystery Shoppers in 2001, almost nobody had even heard the term “usability”! That’s really changing. And ease of use is no longer just about the website; it is about the total customer experience. Companies are starting to rethink all their processes from a customer-centric point of view.

Obviously another (but related) trend is the growing use of social media as a way to connect with prospective and current customers, and as a way for customers to get “independent” reviews of what you offer. Both negative and positive reviews get multiplied in their impact now, so selling quality products and treating customers right is more important than ever before.

And finally, there’s a growing use of technology and big data to understand and connect with customers. With increasing sophistication it will become easier for companies to customize their marketing so they reach the right prospects at the right time with the right offer. And increasingly that offer will be delivered by mobile technology, which adds a whole other level of complexity to connecting systems and designing websites and other communication that will work on screens as small as a wristwatch.

Robin: How involved and active is the C-suite in developing an e-commerce strategy and monitoring the success of ecommerce sales?

Tema: Sadly, not very. While there are a few companies that are treating e-commerce as core, most still are not. This is a mistake. While total online sales are still a small proportion of overall sales for most companies, we are in a time of revolutionary change. The switch from horses & buggies to cars didn’t happen overnight either, and those companies who kept focusing on making better buggies eventually got wiped out.

About Frank Reactions 
Tema Frank has been working to make the Internet work better for businesses and their customers since the 1990s. Working under the Web Mystery Shoppers name we helped clients such as the Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of America, Cruise Ship Centres, and the Government of Alberta make their websites more user-friendly.

Now we’re working to also help mid-sized and smaller companies use the Internet, mobile, and social media to grow their businesses.

Tema’s Social Outposts: LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Website | Podcasts | Google+
Tema Frank can be reached at tema@frankreactions.com, on Facebook’s Frank Reactions page, or toll-free at 1-866-544-9262.

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