Q&A: Joe Bush, CEO – The Chat Shop, London, UK
The Chat Shop are the leading premium full-service conversational agency – they help organisations grow revenue and improve customer experience through the power of conversation.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve been toying with little business ventures since I was about 14, from washing cars to selling custom t-shirt kits online to launching a mini website development agency. I learned best through trial and error and developed a small network of freelancers I could rely on to fill in my skill gaps.
After college, I managed a milkshake shop, which taught me a huge amount about business in general, looking after margins, and the importance of nurturing people and building trust within your team.
I then studied Business Management at Aston Business School in Birmingham. The course involved a placement year, working in an external business for experience, but instead, I wanted to build my own, so my co-founder and I launched The Chat Shop with £5k seed funding (which we quickly spent on a couple of Macbooks!)
As we were bootstrapped, it was up to us to take on every role: chat agent, sales, marketing, web development, etc. this hands-on experience across the company laid the foundations for my current role as CEO.
Can you tell us what your company does?
We are the leading premium full-service conversational agency – we help organisations grow revenue and improve customer experience through the power of conversation. Wherever an organisation is on their conversational journey, we help them fast-track time to results through fully managed solutions and consulting. We are human-led and tech-enabled.
Ultimately chat has evolved; what once was considered a support channel is now a prominent growth driver for brands, and its use is not limited to company size or sector. We work with fast-growing start-ups to global organisations to help them achieve their business goals.
We have a strong focus on innovation, and our clients work with us as we have consistently taken conversation up a level to exceed both business and customer expectations.
What’s special about your company? Is there a particular gap in the market you are trying to address?
The reality is to add true value to both an organisation and its customers isn’t so simple. We’ve spent the last 9-years and 3-million human conversations solving one problem – “How can we take conversation up a level?”- and, we’re still learning.
We are incredibly effective at adding value throughout the customer lifecycle, taking customers from consideration through to purchase, and on to loyal advocates. Whether you’re selling thirty mattresses an hour or six custom kitchens a day, we’ve become a key part in the marketing mix of a complete range of different retailers.
Our experience working across different market sectors combined with unwavering focus, mature operations and processes, and market-leading in-house technology means we can be more efficient, and more effective than others. We work with our clients as partners. We’re not afraid to challenge thinking, be completely transparent, or take action that reduces our revenue but improves the return of our clients. As a result, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a very loyal, long-term customer base.
We truly believe that Conversational Commerce is the biggest competitive advantage every retailer should be taking advantage of.
What challenges are retailers facing in 2021 and where do you see UK retail into the next year or so?
The shift in consumer shopping behaviour was occurring pre-pandemic. Without a doubt, the Covid-19 lockdowns accelerated this shift to increased digital shopping adoption.
Brands have had to adapt quickly to cater to meet demand – this has presented many real opportunities for retailers to keep innovating to reach new shoppers, expand their customer base and drive engagement. However, it can be challenging to tailor messaging, email communications and ensure your website user experience matches the needs of your audience. Everyone has different priorities, considerations and expectations, and though personalisation is on the rise, it’s rarely that personal. Retailers need to put strategies in place to tackle these challenges.
Today’s consumers have never had so much choice – more places to make purchases without even having to leave the house. With such an abundance of options at their fingertips, they’re unlikely to purchase from a retailer that does not meet their expectations. Combine that with heightened competition – experience will be the key differentiating factor for consumers and brands will need to put this at the heart of their offering.
Retailers will also need to pay attention to the complete customer lifecycle from pre-journey to post-purchase – many have been focused on the acquisition, and this can only take you so far. If customer reviews highlight poor service with the aftercare/service, this can hinder future growth.
Tackling this, while also improving your customer acquisition cost to lifetime value metrics isn’t an easy task.
As always, there will be winners and losers. Those who can stay agile, take time to listen to their customers, and prioritise the full customer experience will come out on top.
How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?
For consumers, it’s all about personalisation and experience. For ecommerce businesses, it’s all about CAC:LTV. For us, it’s all about demonstrating the value conversation can bring to retailers, to enable them to scale without the overheads or extended learning/optimisation cycle.
Conversational Commerce is growing in popularity, and for good reason. We’re ready to take on new challenges and improve the retail experience for brands and consumers alike.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
Growth and innovation. With increased demand, we’ve refined and scaled our operations so we’re ready to take on larger and more complex opportunities. We’ve also been investing in a number of promising technologies across personalisation, and efficiency. These include improving our AI natural language processing capabilities, as well as the upcoming launch of a feature we’re calling Dynamic Engagement.
Dynamic Engagement uses advanced targeting to enable us to solve the common challenges throughout the customer lifecycle including basket abandonment, discount codes, product recommendations, and returns – often without ever needing a human to be involved.
Are there other companies you partner with that help you achieve your goals?
We’re LiveChat’s #1 rated partner and having worked together for the last 8-years, their technology is a core part of our technology ecosystem. We’ve developed a suite of applications on top of their technology, some for our customers, and some to enable our competitive edge. LiveChat has continued to innovate and have been a key part of our success to date.
We have recently hired a partnerships manager and are in the process of launching a partner programme. Our approach with the partner programme is to work with a range of organisations, including digital marketing agencies to bring the often missing link in any organisation’s marketing mix – chat!
On a personal note, what are the key challenges – and most rewarding aspects – of your role?
We are not short of opportunities, but in order to be effective we have to focus on doing fewer things incredibly well. Staying true to this mentality can be challenging at times!
My role is incredibly rewarding. We’re self-funded and therefore not accountable to investors. As a result, we can run the business the way we feel is right, allowing us to be innovative and agile in our approach. We are blessed with a hugely diverse workforce across the UK and USA, and this brings fresh ideas and a really engaging working environment. One of the hidden benefits of a remote team is we can hire the best, regardless of location and commuting distance to a central HQ.
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