Arlen: I am your host Arlen Robinson. And today we have a very special guest Bob Barry, who is a principal at AnswerLab, where he’s guiding Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and many others to create new, optimal online experiences in this age of coronavirus. He’s also the founder of The Human-Computer MasterMind Academy.

Bob: Thanks Arlen. Glad to be here. Looking forward to chatting. 

Arlen: Yeah. Yeah. Likewise I’m and I’m super excited to talk to you today about our topic at hand. And you know, we’re going to be talking a little bit about creating that optimal online experience.

As I had mentioned in the intro and. You’re pretty much a master at that because these days eCommerce companies in the age that we’re in right now, there is so much competition online, no matter what it is that you’re selling, you know, in order to successfully grow your business, increase your sales, 

Bob: increase your traffic.

Arlen: And just survive. You have to have an optimal online experience for your customers and your prospects, because otherwise if there’s holes in the experience or people have a negative or bad experience, they’re going to number one and they’re going to just bounce away, go to your competitor, or number two, they’re going to leave you a negative review, which can definitely be detrimental to businesses these days.

And so. That’s the topic of today, but of course, before we get into all of that, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your background and specifically how you got into what you do today? 

Bob: Certainly my history goes back quite a ways. I got my start. Back at, uh, in the early nineties with Hewlett Packard.

My original background is in computer science. So I’ve geeked out on interactive systems and interactive media interactive experiences. For a long time, I worked for HP for about 15 years in the days when bill and David Packard were still alive. It was a very different company back then. And I was one of the early e-commerce the business managers.

So in the early nineties, when e-commerce was a brand new concept, we were starting to do some of the very first online systems to help customers, mostly an engineering population, order products online. And that was a very unique experience being involved in the early days. But since then, I’ve been involved with a number of startups.

After I left HP, I got involved in starting my own companies. We designed some early. Interactive experiences for young people to help them learn about transitioning to real life and learn about financial topics in the workplace and things like that. And all of those online programs were. Provided via number of different types of eCommerce systems, depending on who we were selling them to.

And then recently I’ve been working for answer lab, which is a premier user experience company based out of New York and San Francisco. And we work with, as you mentioned, Google, Amazon, Facebook, FedEx, a lot of major companies that have massive e-commerce systems. So spend a lot of fun working for them.

As they invent new stuff and as they try to adapt and refine their digital strategies in this age of coronavirus and figure out how to expand the ways that they’re providing selling marketing stuff online as well. So it’s been, been a long and interesting road getting from there to here. Okay. Yeah.


Arlen: that sounds great. Yeah, you definitely have a diverse background and have worked with some of the, some of the heavy hitters. So I know, but you have a wealth of knowledge that you. You’re coming to the table today. So I’m kind of super excited to dig deep. Now, when you talk about the customer experience and really optimize it, the thing that the average eCommerce business, these days, if they’re looking at, to analyze there customer experience and optimize that, where do they really begin in the process?

If they’re looking to dive into it, We 

Bob: look at it from a fairly broad perspective. I think a lot of people, when they think customer experience or user experience, they tend to focus. Largely on the actual interactive systems that somebody might experience when they log on to an online catalog or when they go to purchase something from an online store, we actually look robbed than them.

We start with the individual, what’s the story of their life? What are their challenges, their needs? What is the day in the life look like for them? How do they buy what they buy? How do they interact with. Things online in the context of their whole lives, whether that be B to B or B to C. And so starting with that, that gives you some sense, a better sense of how people make decisions and how they locate, you know, whoever you might be online.

Then beyond that, the approach you might take to really understand them and really understand how well they can figure out your eCommerce system, it’s really based on your budget. So I did some work during the last economic downturn for. Deluxe corporation, where we did some pretty extensive multichannel research on the number of ways that customers interact with their systems.

There are financial services and financial documents company. They were in the midst of a major transition during that last downturn, about 10, 12 years ago. And, uh, we started with virtually no budget. We had a couple of empty offices that we set up where we started inviting people in and having them interact.

We’re active with the website and after doing a lot of immediate testing, With people and how well they could get onto their eCommerce system and find the products and get through a basic ordering process. We were able to identify a lot of friction, a lot of bottlenecks in that online web system and fix those.

And then we realized some benefits, some actually increased revenue from that. And then that increased revenue allowed us to justify expanding that lab. Expanding our research to look at a call center, to look at the Salesforce, to look at printed materials because those e-commerce systems, of course, don’t live in a vacuum.

You know, they have to integrate well with all the other ways that customers interact with you or customers want to do business with you. So I started very small with virtually no budget. Demonstrated some outcomes and some results and some business impact and were able to then justify more budget beyond that.

On the other end of the spectrum. When we work with the big companies that I mentioned, you know, they have massive budgets, they literally spend millions on this, and this is an ongoing process that they do over and over. It’s part of their culture. So you can start with almost nothing and start asking those questions and optimizing your systems, or you can spend any amount of money depending on the size of your business and your operation.

To figure out how successful are people being. Can they find you, can they make sense out of you? Can they complete basic purchasing tasks? 

Arlen: Yeah. Very important. Yeah. I know customer experience these days. It also does kind of go hand in hand with your overall. Customer service aspect of it as well. I guess there’s almost kind of like a, a handoff that does happen.

The customer experiences, you know, the initial experience that somebody has with your site, all of the points of contact that they have with your business online. And then, you know, when they do become a customer, then there are aspects of that where there’s an experience there. That’s still kind of tied to the customer support aspects of it as well, because.

That’s a whole experience ended up itself, how people or your customers are interacting with your staff, your customer support people through all channels. So it’s all, I think it’s kind of really heavily intermingled with that. Now these days, we all know that there’s so much online when it comes to, you know, information to all of these different social channels and to when it comes to purchasing online, there’s so many options.

So obviously these days. Everybody has a short attention span. You know, if we don’t get what we want right now, when it can’t find it in a hurry, then we’re jumping away. You know? So with that in mind, this short attention span in this kind of cluttered marketplace, what are some things that can help improve the overall online experience of a, an eCommerce business?

Bob: That’s a really good question. And you’re right. People tend to make decisions. Very quickly and our attention spans get shorter and shorter. And there’s actually been research done with younger people. We used to think that a typical person could keep two, maybe three things going in their mind at once.

But young people we found in the gen X population, it can actually do four or five things at once. Okay. So they’re going to have YouTube going and they could be, you know, looking to purchase something. They can, now they can be listening to music, it can be doing their homework and they, so this is the population that’s now going to be the purchasers of the future.

Right. And so, you know, that attention span question is a big deal. I mean, there’s a lot of ways to do this, but probably a good way to sum this up is to really focus on. Where do we lose people? Where do people exit, where do they lose focus? And there’s a couple of major approaches there. One is to sort of look at, there’s kind of a sequence of things that people go through cognitively in order to successfully, like for example, to successfully complete a transaction.

So yeah, it happens faster than I can probably explain it, but they have to find you, they have to decide they’re in the right place. They have to. Understand what they’re looking at. They have to care about what they’re looking at. It has to be meaningful to them. They have to be able to identify very rapidly where to start whatever task or whatever thing they’re interested in.

They have to then be able to successfully navigate their way through it to some successful conclusion, whether that’s a purchase or downloading something or communicating with somebody, whatever that might be. And then they have to walk away feeling like they were successful and it was, and that was a good process.

At any one of those stages, you can lose somebody. If the experience isn’t seamless, if it isn’t really clear where they are, if they get confused, if they get distracted, then there’s all sorts of ways that they’re gone. And you don’t complete that transaction. Then as a business, you’re not successful.

Another one too is, as I mentioned earlier, with these multiple touch points. So that example I shared earlier, they, the company had a very powerful eCommerce system. But a lot of times people chose to order by phone instead of online. And what happened is that we tend to lose people in the transition from web to the call center.

So optimizing that transition as well. So those handoffs from one touch point or one channel to another can also be a place where we lose people. So the more we can verify that those are smooth and seamless and that people find their way almost to where they don’t even notice it’s happening. Those are ways that we can, you know, really.

Compete for people’s attention because in many cases, not only are we competing for their money, but we’re also competing for their attention. 

Arlen: Yeah. Very true. And yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned that example of the company deluxe that you were dealing with. Cause I actually have a personal experience with them.

Myself. You mentioned they do financial documents and things in there. They’re a huge provider of the. Of checks, you know, checks that you write from your bank tied to your checking account. And I do recall a lot of times, I mean, this is kind of dating myself, going back, you know, 10, 15 years to 15 years ago.

I can recall when I was ordering checks. Yeah. I was, even though I’m an, a tech guy, I’m an online guy. A lot of times I was more likely to just call them and then place the order. But I did see, as the years progressed, They definitely improved their integration with the order process because I bank with bank of America.

And I do recall it’s integrated into your online account system where you could easily order checks. And there’s like a handoff that happens with takes you over to the deluxe interface, but it’s pretty seamless now. And it’s. When I was just thinking about it. Cause I do recall in the earlier days, and I think when I tried that it was a total totally different experience, you were 

Bob: totally taken to a whole another 

Arlen: site and I was a little unsure about it.

So I think I envisioned, he just called because I’m like, all right, are they going to get all my information? Correct. Let me just go ahead and make a call. And so I see over time, they really narrowed it down where they saw that the experience had to be really. Cohesive and seamless. And when somebody is ordering, nobody gets lost on the way.

Cause like you said, that’s kind of one of the main things that can happen with the customer experience. There are there holes where people drop off because the experience wasn’t good or something wasn’t clear. And that’s really one of the main insights that you mentioned amongst the, you know, amongst many others.

Now, when you look at a company is actually looking and analyzing their current situation. As far as customer experience is concerned. And before deciding what 

Bob: they want to 

Arlen: focus on, what are some other mission critical insights that you can understand when looking at customer experience? 

Bob: Well, oftentimes I want to come in and your deluxe story too.

So in that example, you know, you were willing to pick up the phone, right? And make that effort. And what we discovered is there are a lot of people that weren’t, as they weren’t sure that they were going to get their questions answered, or they were going to find what they wanted or the, or the process didn’t seem seamless to them.

So that’s a really good example. Also, it’s interesting to note, too, that in recent years, deluxe has actually transitioned to being a provider of a number of interactive online digital systems for small business. So they actually deliver now. ECommerce platforms for small business, with social media and email marketing and a variety of other things.

So they’ve actually made that transition now beyond the original financial services. To providing interactive tools, forums for small business. But anyway, to get back to your question, the mission critical aspects of this. So in addition to what we traditionally think of in customer experiences, making sure that it’s usable, meaning people can complete various critical tasks.

Another part of it is, is useful. So something can be very usable, but not necessarily useful. In other words, is it relevant? Do they care? Is it something, is it a product or a service or something that they need or want another business? Critical thing that we discover a surprising number of times is just technical functionality.

When we do customer or user experience evaluations, sometimes we find that things just break. It used to be dating myself. Now is that I started doing this many years ago. If the system worked on windows Explorer on a desktop computer, you were probably good cause that was 90% of your customers, but that’s not true anymore because there’s countless number of devices and mobile and tablets and operating systems and apps and everything out there now.

And the only way to really know for sure that what you’re putting out there. What kind of inter interactive systems you’re launching to your target audience and your prospects? The only way to know those are all working is to have them test in a native environment. In other words, in their homes, their offices.

The street corner or whatever it happens to be, make sure that things work because so many times we’ve been working with clients or customers and we find that things just break and they just don’t work on whatever combination of device and operating system that somebody might be working with. Those are business fundamentals that are business critical that.

Your customers are being successful and obviously therefore, as a business, you being successful as well. 

Arlen: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. You said it’s very important these days because of the multitude of devices and software systems and apps that just have to talk together that you got to really do your due diligence these days is to make sure that you at least cover the main.

Systems the main devices. I mean, it’s near damn near impossible to make, to cover everything. And you know, everything, you go the highest every platform, but you know, you have to make sure you get the big ones and make sure the experience there is solid and seamless. You know, now for businesses digging in there and they are, they’ve analyzed their current customer experience and they’ve been going through and they’re looking to make some changes to improve that.

What should they be looking for? As far as their main points of outcome, when they’re going through improving the overall customer experience 

Bob: right now, Arland, the main thing really is this whole process that’s happening in the world with the Corona virus and the lockdowns. And. What impact that’s having on our global economy and our individual businesses changing very rapidly right now.

And the number of innovations that are out there, that ways people are adapting. Yeah. I’ll just name a few quick examples. So right here, locally is a construction company that does remodels and they obviously, now can’t go into homes and do a lot of the face to face work. So they’ve pivoted to a purely video type of business model where they will.

Teach people how to video, what parts of their house they want remodeled. They’ll provide videos back on simulations of what the remodel will look like and materials and processes. They’ll actually video when they’re going to be in the house and actually do the work. So 95% of what used to be face to face eye contact is now all virtual contact.

No, the cafe down the street, which we used to frequent. All the time is now gone to ordering entirely online and picking up at the curb. And, you know, there’s so many restaurants that are doing that. When I interact with my doctors now, I don’t go to the doctor’s office. I do all my consultations via zoom, right.

My have a son in college and everything that he’s doing is now gone online. And another example of a local tailor who is teaching people, how to size their own clothes in their own bodies. Using the camera on their phone. These are all new experiences that people have not had before. So the theory that we work off of is that any outcome in business and certainly in e-commerce, because ultimately e-commerce has to lead to a transaction.

All of those outcomes, all of those transactions are the result of individual people, making decisions based on what they encounter in whatever experience you provide them. And all of those experiences are now changing so rapidly. So what companies need to be paying attention to are how are their customers, their clients, their businesses that they serve, how are they innovating, changing, and adapting, and it’s happening very rapidly.

So that’s probably the number one thing. That we ought to be paying attention to because the world is changing very quickly. And if we don’t keep up, then we’re gonna fall behind and we’re not going to know who our customers are and what they need and how they want to do business with us anymore. 

Arlen: Yeah, that is so true.

Yeah. We are definitely in a different world now and it’s just seemed to kind of happen overnight, but all of these new ways of. Reaching your customer and the way that they interact with your businesses have changed. And those are some great examples of why that she mentioned of the, uh, the home remodeling businesses that have pivoted they’ve had no choice really, but to do something like that.

Cause otherwise if they didn’t. Become virtual then, you know, that’s just money lost and, uh, you know, you know, jobs and projects that they wouldn’t be able to do. So, uh, yeah, it’s kind of been birthed out of necessity that these changes in overall customer experience kind of has brought us to, you know, as we, he prepared her to wrap things up now, I’m always a huge advocate of learning from the big players in the space and what they’re doing because.

As we all know, there’s an a, you’d mentioned this earlier. There’s so much money and time and resources spent towards making these types of decisions when you come to these bigger brands. And so, in your experience, what are some other things that you’ve learned from these large e-commerce brands when it comes to customer experience or the kind of little golden nuggets that we can lean from them as far as how any it commerce business can improve.

Bob: Yeah. Yeah, there actually are a number of them. I just hit some of the highlights. So today, first and foremost, what they’re focused on, what we’re focused on is protecting our people, protecting ourselves, our employees, our families, our customers, our clients destroy viruses for real. And we’re fortunately in a position where we can leverage virtual experiences and we can do so much.

People are being very, the good news is people are being very creative. They’re figuring out how to innovate and adapt, but that’s number one is we have to make sure that we protect ourselves and we do the right thing. And at the same time, we’re sensitive to what others are going through. Cause this is a major impact on people’s lives in so many ways.

So, and these big companies, the clients we work with are really that’s first and foremost is to pay attention to those things. They’re also doubling down on interactive, virtual. He, whatever e-commerce, e-learning remote work, he workshops and any way that they can do this in ways that will increase the velocity of how, how much they’re going to be able to innovate and adapt to what’s happening.

You another really interesting one, which we could probably do a whole podcast on is this whole question of all of the data that we have now. So much of B to B and B to C eCommerce is based on. All of the knowledge that we have about our customers. And that could be as simple as email addresses and with a lot of the population now being laid off or changing jobs or companies downsizing or pivoting or all the things that’s going on.

I think we have to be really careful about whether or not the data we’ve relied on is still valid. Some of it certainly is, but do we know? So there’s going to be a process that they have to go through to reevaluate. The customer data that they have and how they keep track of people, how they market to and how they manage their transactions.

Of course, all this that they’re doing, they have to do it remotely. Right. Which means that whoever you’re working with. They’re at home. You know, the kids are there, the dogs and the cats and the grandparents and the person outside the window with the lawnmower. And so it’s a whole new way of doing business now, now, and they’re figuring out how to adapt to those.

I think mostly what these companies do is user experience. And the whole room Elm of who people are and how they interact with our online systems is deeply embedded in their culture. It’s not an afterthought. It’s not something that they bolt-on towards the end. It’s very beginning when they do the development, they included at every stage along the way.

And that seems to be what helps a company like Amazon. You think of all great eCommerce companies, they’re in the forefront. Their ability to embed that in every aspect of their culture and everybody that works there is essential to them being as successful as they are. 

Arlen: Yeah, that is so true. It’s definitely something that can’t be in kind of an afterthought.

Like you said, that you just bolt on there at the end, because it’ll be clear from the customer’s point of view. If you know, you really haven’t gone through and done your due diligence about. Your interactions with them and, um, yeah, those major players, like you said, Amazon has done a tremendous job in, and just making their whole experience part of their culture, where you just in any dealing that you have with them, it’s, it’s all so seamless and you come to, to rely and expect a certain outcome just because they it’s all just part of who they are as a company.

So, yeah, that’s, uh, Definitely a great example and some other great examples that you mentioned. Well, Bobby, it’s been awesome having you on the podcast today. I’ve definitely learned a lot, a lot. It’s really timely that we talk about customer experience. One of the things you also mentioned is that because of this whole age of the coronavirus, the businesses that have certain data from.

They’re about their customers that they’re going to have to kind of do something a little bit of re-evaluating because things are definitely a bit, a little bit different. And some of that data, they may not necessarily be able to rely on because things are a little bit different as far as people’s needs.

And what people can also afford. Price points are going to have to change a little because, you know, economically there’s so many people that are. That are really been hit hard. So you have to be, you’re definitely gonna have to go back to the drawing board in some sense, and, uh, you know, kind of reconfigure some things, but you know, it is, what’s part of being an entrepreneur.

You gotta be light on your feet and you gotta be able to adapt to the changes. So I think the entrepreneurs of the day we’ll get through this and, um, we’ll be successful. And, uh, you know, hopefully the customer experience will be a major part of. What will be improved now? Uh, you know, one of the things I always like to close on is kind of just switch gears is so our audience can get to know you just a little bit better.

You know, if there’s one closing, uh, fun fact that you’d like to share about yourself, what would that 

Bob: be? Yeah. I was like to one of my favorite memories. I think I mentioned that I, early days of my career, I worked at Hewlett Packard. Right. And I was one of their early e-business e-commerce managers. And we, um, back then in the early mid nineties, when the economy was boom, HP was throwing loads of money at them and the web and the internet.

And we were inventing. E-learning e-commerce systems, uh, cloud based services, social media. We were experimenting with all these things before a lot of those terms even existed. It was a lot of fun. It was sort of the wild West days of, of the internet on the web. It was fun to be involved in that. And I guess the other non work thing I’ll.

Share is that I like to fly fish. So that’s a form of extreme social distance thing that I’d like to practice. Then it’s me away from all these computers and devices. And I get to get off the grid for a while and think about something else. Okay, 

Arlen: cool. Yeah. That’s some good stuff. We appreciate you sharing that.

You know, I do recall those early days also of the web, as you mentioned with you with Packard and they were doing some pretty cool things and yeah, those were some interesting times because you kind of saw a lot of innovation. That all of that has kind of shaped the way we are, where we are today and yeah, fly fishing and definitely something I’d like to try.

I’m here in Florida and there’s a ton of lakes here in Florida. So I always see somebody fishing. I actually live right across from a little small Lake, or I don’t know if you want to call it a Lake or pond or whatever it is, but people are always over there fishing and I’ve I’ve yet to go over there.

But, uh, one of these days, a minute, I’m going to have to jump in there and see what I 

Bob: get. Give it a try. It’s good for the soul. 

Arlen: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve heard definitely. Well, great, Bob, I appreciate you sharing that. And finally, if any of our listeners would like to pick your brain anymore about customer experience and you know, anything relating to eCommerce marketing or anything like that, what would be the best way for them to contact you?

Bob: So if people go to e-com that’s E C O M dot it’s the user’s dot com. You can sign up for a very in depth set of materials. It’s a e-library with a lot of full courses in it about how to get it started and how to get into some fairly advanced topics around a lot of what we’ve been talking about. That’s free.

If you sign up for that, you’ll also get a consult from me. Again, I work with a lot of these top companies to guide them through that process and we happy to help anybody that needs some assistance and some guidance on how to do it for your own business. So again, that’s, e-com. Dot it’s the


Arlen: great. Thank you Bob, for Sharon ed and I, hopefully our listeners will take advantage of that and get access to those resources. So I appreciate you sharing that and definitely thank you again for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast. 

Bob: Okay, Arlen, good luck with the podcast and good luck with your business as well.

Appreciate you having me. 

Arlen: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Podcast Guest Info

Bob Berry
Principal at AnswerLab