MarTech interview with Ethan Anderson, Founder and CEO at MyTime

Creating a unified view of customer buying behaviors across multiple online and offline channels is key to driving a better and more personalized buying experience; Ethan Anderson, Founder and CEO at MyTime talks about a few ways for merchants to improve how they gather and use data from online channels to improve their customer engagement models:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Ethan, tell us more about your story so far…and what inspired MyTime?

I have always been interested in retail technology, and have worked in the space for most of my career, starting as the Director of Strategy at Buy.com in the year 2000. MyTime was inspired by a market need that wasn’t being met — a cloud-based application that was purposely built for franchises and enterprises who have very different needs than small and medium businesses (SMB’s). Companies like Square really revolutionized the payment and retail tech ecosystem for small businesses, but they weren’t designed to manage multiple locations, some of which might be owned and managed by different franchisees. I asked myself what would be different if you could start from a blank slate and build something specifically for the needs of the larger players, and the more I wrote down, the more I realized that nothing like this existed yet.

In this new world, data has become the competitive advantage and there were no POS solutions designed for the service sector. There was a lack of well-designed, cloud-based software available to address the evolution of enterprises and the tech stack transformation that must occur along with it. I saw a huge opportunity to create and provide businesses with this mission-critical software — delivered as a full-service suite — which could allow them to scale, provide uniform customer experiences, and ultimately give them a chance to compete against the big industry players. 

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In today’s competitive environment driving better interactions and experiences at the point of sale is as crucial as planning an enriching customer journey across different touch points: a few thoughts on how you are seeing top customer facing service providers face challenges with their back end operations in this regard? 

Creating a unified view of their customers across channels is key to driving a personalized experience. Merchants today need to gather data from all the channels in which customers are interacting with them – online, social media, search, eCommerce, and in-store. This allows a complete picture of the customer to be formed, and personal and relevant suggestions can be suggested at checkout. For instance, a customer who regularly comes in for a men’s haircut once a month might be offered a membership which would save him money, drive loyalty, and predictable revenue streams. He might also be offered a 10% discount to try a new shampoo that his stylist recommended or that the POS system recommended based on what other customers like him have purchased and rated highly.

A second aspect of personalization is to make sure you know it’s the same customer coming in even if he frequented multiple locations in your franchise system, since it would appear a little tone deaf if one location sent a ‘lapsed customer’ email even though he just visited a different location in your system.

The bottom line is that identifying how each customer is interacting with the business across physical locations and e-commerce, as well as via all online platforms (e.g., online reviews, social media interactions, appointment bookings, etc.), is critical for businesses to maximize their understanding of individual customer needs and demands. 

This presents the biggest challenge that providers face on the back end: to collect and access all of this aggregate data in one place. However, doing this successfully allows companies to provide a truly personalized experience, from sending appointment reminders on their preferred platform to sharing the most enticing information, rewards and benefits. This kind of personalized experience is key to keeping customers coming back. 

Many businesses find these kinds of back end operations to be a financial burden. However, there are many integrations which can reduce the expenses associated with operations, such as AI chatbots, automated check-out with card on file, and online appointment booking across digital channels such as Google Search, Instagram, and branded mobile apps. 

How can service / appointment based businesses build better wholesome experiences to boost customer retention and loyalty? Can you share a few highlights on top brands from around the world that have strong processes in place?

For businesses to boost customer loyalty and retention, there needs to be a huge focus on customer satisfaction. If customer satisfaction is a main goal, businesses will make it a priority to capture and incorporate customer feedback into their business model in order to address the most common pain points and deficiencies in service. Businesses should also utilize referral programs and rewards — for example, by using historical membership data, companies can identify the best time and the best promotional offers to entice customers to refer a friend. Many businesses have also seen great success through the creation of membership programs, which are extremely valuable in driving customer loyalty and retention. Once you have happy customers, you can build off of that to reap even greater benefits. One brand doing this exceptionally well is Scissors & Scotch, a men’s grooming franchise, has been able to continuously boost their leads by focusing on customer satisfaction, and then upselling those happy customers to recurring memberships. 

Another great example is Lululemon, who saw an opportunity to expand beyond the traditional brick and mortar retail model to offer both shopping and fitness experiences in-store.  They have many loyal customers who love their apparel, but now they’re engaging them with an entire membership program that gives them access to classes, events, and a community that brings customers back into the store, where presumably even more shopping can take place!

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As customer trends evolve and business activities are redefined in this dynamic environment, what are some of the top best practices businesses should follow when implementing back end frameworks and structures?

Some businesses choose to implement the “best of breed” platform for each service, when in fact it is better to have an integrated suite of software, which provides a much more dynamic business environment. This also enables companies to have centralized management and control of their services, which is critical to ensuring software uniformity and consistency across locations, as well as easy service roll out at the corporate level. It also allows for seamless brand experiences, which is especially important when scaling businesses. Although each location will have their own unique offerings, customers should be able to access certain programs — like memberships, referral / loyalty program credits or gift cards — across locations, which is set up on the back end. 

In addition, when expanding locations, companies need to implement frameworks to manage their listings and build their positive reputations — for example, having consistent listings with positive ratings on Google, Apple Maps, Yelp, and other popular online publishers is critical to attracting new customers. Using structured integrations with the POS can automate these tedious tasks. 

Finally, the POS system should be thought of not as a payment processing device, but as a foundational platform of the business’s IT architecture that all other applications can connect into, from HR/payroll and accounting systems on the back end to AI chatbots and eCommerce sites on the front end.  

How do service-based businesses benefit more by building exceptional payment and checkout/point of sales experiences? 

Waiting in line is an experience of the past, and consumers are over the old checkout process. Mobile payment options (both in-app and contactless) are becoming imperative. Some retailers are allowing staff to take payment from anywhere in the store rather than only at the front, alleviating bottlenecks (especially important during the pandemic).  Others are allowing customers to pay right from a mobile app with a card on file with options to add a tip or scan barcodes using the mobile devices’s video camera. Integrated payments with the POS enables many different checkout flows.  The point is to make your point of sale support the customer experience you’re trying to develop rather than the other way around! 

Not only do these options gather backend data which can allow for exceptional personalization through service reminders, product refills, and personalized rewards, but they also keep customers satisfied and save them time. 

A few martech and salestech tools you feel marketers and sales teams today need to integrate into their overall tech stack and why?

AI and machine learning are essential to identify and leverage customer patterns, manage customer preferences, and create informed recommendations based on their historical purchase data. AI and machine learning can even be used for online and offline integrations — for example, tracking customers’ interactions across social media, SMS marketing and in-person purchases to further personalize their experiences and anticipate their needs with proactive communications. 

I also recommend exploring AI chatbots that can be available 24/7 to respond to basic customer requests via chat or SMS since consumers seem to be moving away from phone calls as their primary way of interacting with businesses today. 

Finally, anytime a customer has a positive experience with your brand, it’s an opportunity to increase the value of that customer with a request to leave a positive review, refer a friend, download your mobile app, or sign up for a membership program that deepens their loyalty and increases visit frequency.

Some last thoughts and takeaways for tech founders and CEOs to keep in mind through 2021? 

With an increased amount of capital and investment funds with low interest rates, it is easier now than it has been historically for entrepreneurs to raise funds for their business ventures. However, once funding is attained, companies face an even bigger challenge: how to find and retain the best people and talent for their long-term development. This is a huge key to success and will be imperative for tech founders and CEOs to focus on throughout 2021. 

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MyTime is a cloud-based point of sale and appointment scheduling solution for franchises and enterprise organizations.

Ethan is the Founder & CEO of MyTime, a startup that allows consumers to find and book appointments from over 2.5 million nearby businesses. He is also a mentor for 500 Startups and an advisor at Apartment List. Previously, he was Cofounder & CEO of Redbeacon, which allowed consumers to request bids for home services. Redbeacon was venture backed and won numerous awards including the Grand Prize at the 2009 TechCrunch50 competition and Business Insider’s Startup 2010 before being acquired by The Home Depot. Prior to Redbeacon, Ethan worked at Google as Product Manager for Image Search and Google Video. Ethan also worked in a number of internet strategy and marketing roles at The Clorox Company, Buy.com, and McKinsey & Company. He graduated with Honors from Harvard Business School and Magna Cum Laude from Duke University, where he studied Economics and Public Policy Studies. 

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