Agile Commerce: Three Questions For Carmen Sebe, CEO, Avangate

I recently had the chance to catch up with Carmen Sebe, CEO of Avangate, to talk about how agile commerce is effecting its clients and how it is positioning its solution to support the transition to agile commerce.

Avangate provides software companies with eCommerce, partner management solutions, and an affiliate network; assisting them to sell their products online as well as to manage a global distribution network. Founded in 2005, Avangate currently serves more than 1,500 software companies through its SaaS eCommerce solution and has a 22,000 member affiliate network. Carmen is a seasoned technology CEO who has worked with European and global clients for many years.

Forrester: Carmen, thanks for taking some time out to talk to us about your business and agile commerce. We have been talking to clients about the evolution of their business from channels to touchpoints. You serve clients selling digital goods across a number of different models, such as B2C and B2B. How are you looking at agile commerce and what does it mean for your business?

Ms. Sebe: For our business this has a two-fold implication: on the one hand in the way we help our customers — software sellers — reach and deliver products digitally to their B2B and B2C users. And on the other hand, agile commerce will impact the way we reach our clients. With agile commerce, software vendors will expand their product offerings to allow access to their services via many if not all touchpoints — and we have to be prepared to accept and support such behavior. It’s our vision to facilitate this process for our clients and shoppers.

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Reinventing Contact Center Culture To Improve The Chat Experience

I once was told by a chat representative that “I've spent years having people yelling at me — chat is a nice change."

I’m often amazed at how elegantly contact center representatives can diffuse frustrated or angry customers, and I am not surprised that many of these employees reach a tipping point. But chat should not be the resting place for telephone-weary service representatives.

A contact center that provides an excellent customer experience is not created by accident. Kerry Bodine has recently published a document that discusses how call center culture can create an amazing customer experience, including abandoning metrics that encourage bad behavior by ditching those that don’t have a material influence on customer experience such as relieving agents from handle-time targets that focus on efficiency at the expense of customer experience.

This research is highly applicable to eBusiness professionals who offer live help via chat and manage contact centers directly or indirectly. It is tempting to get distracted by the online experience of chat and overlook the efforts that will improve the experience between an agent and a customer. Chat has the potential to be a meaningful customer experience. For insight into how this can be achieved, I encourage you to read “Elevate Chat From OK To Outstanding By Reinventing The Contact Center Culture.”

Postbank Tops Our German Bank Content & Functionality Benchmark 2011

eBusiness executives at financial firms often ask Forrester: "What can I improve about my website to sell more products online?"

The short answer to this question is: "You need to help customers on your websites achieve their goals". But what exactly does that mean in terms of content and functionality? To give a profound answer, we have analyzed how customers use financial services websites to research and buy financial products and what content and functionality they expect – based on our Consumer Technographics® surveys.

With this knowledge, we have created Forrester’s Website Functionality Benchmark methodology that tests how well financial services websites support the phases of the customers journey and help drive online sales.

In Germany, the Internet is an important distribution channel for financial products. Some 23% of German Net users researched and 9% have bought a financial product online in the past 12 months. 

To help eBusiness executives at German banks drive online sales, I have reviewed how well the websites of eight German retail banking brands help customers to research and apply for a giro account – and published the results in the report: "Benchmarking German Banks’ Sales Sites 2011".

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The Next Generation Of Digital Financial Services

[With apologies to all those of you who had already read this, I'm re-publishing this as the Forrester gremlins ate my previous post.]

For the past few years, many eBusiness and channel strategy executives in financial services have had a nagging sense that today's websites would be rendered obsolete as new technologies emerged or younger consumers developed radically different behaviour patterns. We think that time if fast coming upon us. 

For the past six months we've been working on our vision of the Next Generation of Digital Financial Services, led by my colleague Alexander Hesse and inspired by the work of leading eBusiness teams worldwide. Although our vision is not an exact description of how all digital financial services will evolve, given the wide variety of markets that eBusiness executives operate in and the different strategies of their firms, we think the next generation of digital financial services will be characterized by five things:

  • Simplicity. Making it easy for customers to achieve their goals.
  • Ubiquity. Interacting with customers wherever they want.
  • Personalization. Making the entire experience relevant to individual needs.
  • Empowerment. Enabling customers to take action by themselves.
  • Reassurance. Providing human help whenever it adds value.
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The Role Of Social Gets Clearer For Financial Services

To this point, marketing and specifically interactive marketing have been the focus of social and its applicability to financial services. A colleague of mine – Nate Elliott – has written on the opportunities for the industry on a few occasions, and if you have not seen his work, please check it out.

The role of social outside of pure marketing has been less clear to this point, and it is only now that we can see the areas social can move the needle for financial services. Over the last year, Forrester has written numerous reports and case studies on the subject, and I wanted to highlight a few key areas of social strategy and related reports on the subject. In my view, those areas include:

  • Online sales. For years, marketers have used testimonials to sell products and services, but that concept was foreign to most eBusiness executives in charge of online sales then USAA showed the way. USAA uses customer ratings and reviews to drives sales on their web site. The essence of the strategy is to use the “authentic voice” of the customer to win over would-be shoppers, and represents a great way to tap the good will that USAA has garnered over the years with it customers. During a nine month periord in 2009, the utilization of customer ratings and reviews drove nearly 16,000 incremental product sales.
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Agile Commerce: Three Questions For Jodi Watson, VP Global eCommerce

I recently had the chance to catch up with Jodi Watson, VP, Global eCommerce & Consumer Insights at Wolverine World Wide to understand what impact the transition to agile commerce is having on her role, her organization, and Wolverine World Wide’s business.

Since 1883, Wolverine World Wide has been a global manufacturer and retailer of footwear and apparel brands, operating in more than 190 countries around the world to bring to life brands such as: Bates, CAT Footwear, Chaco, Cushe, Harley-Davidson Footwear, Hush Puppies, Merrell, Sebago, Patagonia Footwear, and Wolverine. Jodi is an experienced direct-to-consumer leader with more than 15 years in eCommerce, catalog, and retail at a wide range of firms prior to Wolverine World Wide.

Forrester: Jodi, thanks for taking some time out to talk to us about agile commerce. We have been talking to clients about the evolution of their business from channels to touchpoints that span mobile devices, social networks, advertising, marketing, traditional channels, and various places online. How are you looking at this and what does it mean for your business?

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Welcome To The Era Of Agile Commerce

Multichannel commerce no longer makes sense. As consumers are increasingly connected through a wide array of Internet-connected devices, the traditional multichannel commerce experience is becoming obsolete. Customers no longer interact with companies from a “channel” perspective; instead, they interact through touchpoints. These touchpoints include channels such as stores, branches, call centers, and websites, but also emerging interactions such as apps, social media, mobile sites, SMS messages, and interactive advertising -- across a wide range of devices such as smartphones, tablets, Internet TVs, cars, and even appliances. 

As a result, it is time for organizations to leave their channel-oriented ways behind and enter the era of agile commerce —optimizing their people, processes, and technology to serve today’s empowered, ever-connected customers across this rapidly evolving set of customer touchpoints. This is agile commerce.

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What Should A Virtual Agent Look Like?

Not all companies that offer a virtual agent elect to have an avatar. However, many companies choose to make cartoon, 2D or 3D renderings of a human to personalize the experience, support the brand, and reinforce the conversational nature of the interaction.

 But what should an avatar look like? Here are some considerations for eBusiness professionals who are designing a virtual agent avatar. Your avatar should:

  • Resonate with your audience. Pam Kosta, CMO at VirtuOz advises, “It’s key to make the user feel like this is someone they can get help from.” Marketing & Creative Services Manager at Next IT Jennifer Snell agrees, “When it gets right down to it, if your consumers don’t like it, they aren’t going to trust it or use it.” Here are two examples of avatars designed to appeal to their respective audiences: The Army’s “SGT STAR,” which reaches 18- to 22-year-old potential Army recruits, is a 3-D animation while AT&T’s “Charlie” looks warm and caring, with a vague ethnicity and age to appeal to a broader demographic base.
  • Have a look that reflects your brand. Sometimes a company has a prominent brand persona like the Michelin Man. Though less common, others may take elements from their logo. Most frequently, brand will influence what an avatar is wearing, hair style, etc. For example, a brand appealing to a younger segment should choose edgier clothing, while a conservative brand should dress its avatar in a more button-down fashion. eGain suggests companies model their avatars after their spokesperson in other media.
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The Secret To Loyal Financial Services Customers

Eight years ago, Forrester set out to find the corporate trait that does the most to create loyalty among financial services consumers. Loyalty, of course, is about more than simply retaining customers: Loyal customers are willing to buy more, borrow more, save more, and invest more with the firms they already use. We tested dozens of variables, including the length of the customer’s relationship with the firm, the quality of the firm’s customer service, and the firm’s money management skills. One trait emerged above all others: the perception on the part of customers that the firm does what’s best for them, not just what’s best for the firm’s own bottom line. We call it customer advocacy.

Our research continues to show that customers who rate their firm highest on customer advocacy are most likely to stay at and do more business with the firms they use. In the just-published “Customer Advocacy 2011: How Customers Rate US Banks, Investment Firms, and Insurers,” we show which firms are ranked highest by their customers – and which ones bring up the rear. 

The Big US banks dominate the bottom of our rankings of 47 firms. Thirteen of the bottom 14 firms are banks, including all of the nation’s 10 largest banks. Fewer than one-in-four customers of Citibank and Capital One Bank believe that the firm has their best interests at heart.  Small banking institutions, on the other hand, are among the customer advocacy leaders – and are winning market share in the process. Two-thirds of the customers of credit unions and well over half of the customers of regional and local banks rate their firms high on customer advocacy.

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We're Looking For Advisors To Manage The Rapid Growth Of Our eBusiness & Channel Strategy Executive Council

The barometer of success for today's eBusiness and channel strategy professionals is changing rapidly. The emergence of new connected devices, global and empowered customers, and the management of "traditional" channels all present difficult challenges. 

  • How will customer behavior determine your evolving commerce strategy?
  • How should you optimize your people, process, and technology to serve today's empowered customers across touchpoints?
  • How should you apply social and mobile to drive commerce?
  • What approach should you employ for your commerce globalization and international expansion efforts?
  • What technology should you apply to best support commerce and service, drive revenue, and reduce costs?

Our team works to help you address these questions every day. Specifically, within our growing council of eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, our advisors manage relationships with eBusiness executives at top-tier firms to help them address these and other challenges. And based on our growth, we're looking for help. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming an advisor on our team, please consider the following open positions for which we are hiring:

  • Senior Advisor - Serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals (US)
  • Advisor - Serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals (US)

I hope we'll have the opportunity to work together!