Give the People What They Want:
Why Customer-First Companies Will Always Win
As Director of Omnichannel Development, Irina Davidova leads a team of people engaged in the ever-evolving task of improving customer experience. But at ecommerce furniture giant Askona, it’s a mission that’s championed and upheld top to bottom throughout the entire organization. And with over 30 years in business and more than 2 million mattress sales per year, they’re surely doing something right.
“Naturally, this isn’t something that happens overnight within a single team,” says Irina. With extensive user research and the creation of buyer personas which are shared across product, development, engineering and beyond, “we’re always supporting the interactions of departments so that the user experience can be better and ever more consistent and powerful, every step of the way.”
We’re always supporting the interactions of departments so that the user experience can be better and ever more consistent and powerful, every step of the way.
With everyone on the same page, a forward-moving sustainable growth momentum becomes all the more seamless, so teammates and colleagues are always abreast of progress, performance, and changing priorities.
According to Irina, “Customer-centric, omnichannel operations are a company-wide project that brings us ever closer to our clientbase.” In this exclusive interview for Supersales, she was kind enough to share her time as well as the expertise that has helped infuse every Askona employee with a customer-first mindset. Read on to learn how your team can follow suit.
How did Askona first arrive at the implementation of a customer-centric omnichannel strategy?
This is a concept that’s long been understood, with many books and blogs written on the subject. It’s impossible not to pay attention to the fact that customer-first companies win, and it’s something that we all should have started focusing on yesterday — but getting to that point depends on the horizons of your own company development, business goals, organizational architecture, and beyond. We happen to be in the thick of it now, and it’s a fascinating time to be working in this space.
When did you realize the true value of a seamless, omnichannel user experience?
A few years ago, we conducted a study and found that 70-80% of our customers were wandering from channel to channel, not spending enough time in any one store or engaging enough online to ultimately convert. And now, post-pandemic, we’re seeing a perceived lack of product information online coupled with decreased in-store presence, which makes it harder to close the deal. Feedback shows that people are also frustrated with a prohibitively long customer service cycle — which is why we’re investing in that, too.
These days, any one shopping scenario can start online or offline and finish at one of the two with a dizzying array of overlaps and interactions. We examine these very closely to find out why and how these steps are taken in order to continue providing the best possible user experience leading up to conversion.
Was it difficult to align employees, executives, and stakeholders across teams and departments along this singular vision?
Customer-centric, omnichannel operations are a company-wide project that brings us ever closer to our clientbase. And with such a treasure trove of information at our fingertips, we’re able to track all our victories as well as our losses to understand what went well and what went poorly — and, more importantly, why. Through omni, we’re able to understand almost any scenario and prioritize changes, which benefits everyone on board.
How has the pandemic affected your job, company, and service offering?
Like many other companies, over the past year we’ve had to accelerate our digital development. Most internal communications and interactions with customers now take place online. Based on user feedback, we know that most people aren’t really ready to go back to in-store shopping — but they still expect the same level of quality service from the comfort of their home. Many buyers want to see the product live and get expert insight and advice before they purchase.
That’s why, in addition to improving benefit descriptions and product visualizations, we’ve begun to experiment with quizzes and AR while closely studying other factors that go into making a purchase decision, including sample options, delivery terms, additional warranties, and the like.
We’re also introducing an omnichannel, single window of customer support called “Point of Service” that ensures consistently high quality sales interactions — as well as a steady stream of user feedback that helps us improve their decision-making process at every stage of the sales funnel while updating our own tests, hypotheses, and pivot possibilities.
How would you describe the current competitive landscape and its impact on your business?
In Russia specifically you can very much see an uptick in the competition with big players from Europe and America opening up and trying to get their piece of the market. Then you have the single-product brands that sell maybe two mattress models and go all-in on marketing and do it really well. We naturally keep an eye on what they’re doing, but overall we’re grateful for the communal development of a healthy culture of sleep across our markets.
of our customers
were wandering from channel to channel, not spending enough time in any one store or engaging enough online to ultimately convert.
What can retailers and eCommerce businesses do to stand out and differentiate themselves in a saturated market?
These days, it’s no longer enough to just offer up a quality product. Customers expect a superior experience at every interaction and point of service. And the only way to win the race is by becoming a favorite brand among the buyer majority.
Online, we’re focusing our efforts on simplifying the steps it takes for customers to find what they’re looking for, like making it easier to understand the differences between models in a user-friendly way.
We conduct dozens of A/B tests per month to accommodate the preferences of different user segments and we don’t hesitate to change established business processes to correspond with evidence of evolving customer expectations.
Can you share some of your team’s process when it comes to measurement tactics?
We’re pretty transparent. At the end of last year, we took care to learn how to track the effect of testing hypotheses and provided ourselves with several tools for testing. When formulating each hypothesis, we re-evaluate which metrics to focus on and make sure that the trackers of all these metrics are working correctly. With enough traffic to surface insights quite quickly, we then generally roll out the initiative with on-site A/B testing.
There are certain hypotheses that we can’t always use A/B testing on, like when integrating Apple Pay or Google Pay options that appear across channels and touchpoints. Currently, we’re working on adapting better to different devices, so sometimes it makes more sense to just implement and see what happens.
In a recent win, we actually found a way to test impact by collecting feedback before and after implementation. Our users are now able to ask questions at any touchpoint, from any device — and from there we can then measure differences.
What would you love to see happen in the ecommerce industry over the next year or two?
I’m looking forward to the Ecom World Conference to finally get a deeper look at what’s been happening with European people and companies. But at Askona, it’s on my team to make sure that the channel-to-channel customer transition is the most seamless and enjoyable that it can possibly be.
When our customer service team as well as our in-store salespeople have access to client data — like which products they’ve added to “Favorites” or previous issues they may have encountered — a smoother overall user experience is enabled. People can pick up right where they left off with shopping, inquiries, and any other kind of brand engagement, so that the customer experience becomes truly seamless no matter where they choose to engage.
Ecom World is the world’s largest online event for the Ecommerce industry.
Screenshot: Ecom World Conference
How has Between been helpful in smoothing those customer transitions and strengthening your omnichannel strategy?
Working with Between has been a game changer for our company. It’s enabled us to provide an awesome customer experience with video consultations that have filled the gaps and led to an amazing decrease in bounce rates. And it’s a tool our employees are really excited about, and something more and more of our stores are requesting because it’s a clear sales driver for them.
What’s really valuable is that we’ve also been able to analyze a new set of user behavior. We see that the people calling in aren’t always at the point of purchase — but we’re able to follow their steps toward conversion, which has been 5 to 10 times higher since we started using Between.
5 to 10
conversion has increased since we started using Supersales
If you had a magic wand, what’s the first on-the-job problem you’d try to solve?
We all just want it to be fast and easy, right? But so far, no such luck. And even if it were possible to do it all quickly, setting up teams, drowning in details, and the interconnected relationships, questions and processes would just get more and more complex.
Of course, if there’s a magic wand I’m ready for it — as is my entire omniplatform team. We’d happily just continue testing on the basis of endless hypotheses to keep getting better and better at what we do everyday.