A conversation with Anand Janefalkar, UJET, Inc. and Fadi ElTall, Noon Home
As Founder and CEO of UJET, Inc., Anand Janefalkar has 15 years of experience in the technology industry and has served as a technical advisor for various startups in the Bay Area. Before to founding UJET, he served as Senior Engineering Manager at Jawbone, and also previously contributed to multiple high-profile projects at Motorola.
Fadi ElTal is the head of Customer Support and Insights at Noon Home, and is behind the program’s overall launch strategy and bring up. Prior to joining Noon Home, Fadi founded and ran Nebo Consulting, a consultancy focused on quality customer support and insights; and prior to that, he spent more than nine years at Apple providing customer insights and software support readiness.
These two recently spoke with Retail Operations Insights about customer experience, consumer loyalty, and the future of retail.
Q: How important is the customer experience compared to quality or price in retail?
Janefalkar: About two-thirds of Americans say customer service and experience is as important as product quality or price, with 71 percent of Boomers holding that view compared to 60 percent of millennials. This is because millennials are accustomed to ordering online, trying items out, and then returning or exchanging them. Millennials are also about 70 percent more likely to post a negative review online if they've had a poor experience with a brand's customer support.
Prior to founding UJET, I had a career making products from mobile phones, to audio and fitness products. In all cases, I learned that a bad customer service experience in the eyes of the customer is not contained to the services functions. Instead, the bad experience is translated negatively to the product and the company.
Q: What does Noon Home see on the horizon as primary factors affecting how you'll service customers?
ElTal: Noon Home wants to earn the right to be partners with our customers in helping them achieve their goals, no matter how they want to interact with us. So, the ability to provide omni-channel support is already critical. In the future, we are intrigued by the opportunities of providing in-app support to mobile customers. We think the ability to do that in an integrated fashion with the rest of our customer service architecture can be a market differentiator.
Q: How is consumer loyalty affected after a security breach?
Janefalkar: There’s a gap between the number of consumers who say they’re concerned about the security of their personal data when shopping online, and those who say they would actually leave a brand over a privacy issue. The behavioral difference among generations is again notable: 33 percent of Boomers would not continue to buy from a brand that had suffered a breach, while just 24 percent of millennials said the same.
No matter which demographic they address though, retailers can’t afford to sleep on privacy concerns. Why? Because losing a quarter to a third of your customers in a single event is catastrophic. The resulting loss of revenue, damage to brand loyalty, and potential penalties under a growing web of regulations can, and has, destroyed retail brands.
Q: In light of buying trends, how can retailers better prepare to service their customers?
Janefalkar: Both digital and traditional retailers would be wise to optimize support through real-time communications built on smartphone-era technology. Modern consumers want to be able to access support wherever and whenever they want. You have to meet them on that ground in order to evolve and improve upon the customer experience equation.
It’s not enough to hope AI and chatbots will one day solve all your customer support problems either. 58 percent of consumers think chatbots are ineffective or say they’d prefer to chat with a service representative. Part of what retail brands need to do going forward is to figure out the ideal blend of technical and human support based on the individual customer’s journey (e.g. is it complex? time sensitive? high value?) Simpler issues the customer encounters may be easily handled by a chatbot, or another tool, whereas difficult or urgent requests will demand human support.
The job for retail brands is to map out each customer experience and access the ideal infrastructure - technical and human - to support the customer, and to do this with the same attention given to building a product. The end goal is to provide the quickest and most intuitive resolution possible. This matching of the right capabilities to the context will make customers happy and keep them coming back.
Q: How does poor customer service affect brand loyalty?
ElTal: Because Noon Home address multiple market segments - homeowners, electrical contractors, builders, designers - we need to provide different types of service and support. From the founder on, every member of the team buys into the idea that a beautiful customer support experience is part of our overall offering. We don’t try to change behavior, we help to create a coordinated experience. The net effect of that good service is happy, loyal customers.
Q: When consumers need help, what communications channels are most popular today, and is AI on the rise?
ElTal: We currently support voice, live chat, and email with a dedicated support model that is the backbone of our client success-driven approach. For now, we look at AI as something that can help us be better at understanding our customer’s wants and needs in a given context. Whether or not some of those needs can one day be serviced by AI-powered chatbots, or other automated means, is something we’ll continue to evaluate. Technology is great, it helps us do so much to support our customers, but great service experiences will always require a human touch.