In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about five things that a business needs to build the best omnichannel customer experience. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Lloyd.
Can you tell us about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up as an avid athlete, playing soccer, basketball, and swimming. Ultimately, I focused on swimming and ended up as a varsity swimmer at Stanford. I was fortunate to participate in the Olympic Trials twice and was the team captain my senior year, and we won the NCAA title my senior year. My experience as a swimmer helped me understand the importance of hard work and goal setting, two attributes I try to instill in every organization I join.
What led you to this specific career path?
Honestly, nothing in particular. Upon graduation, I planned to become a doctor, but none of the doctors I spoke to were enthusiastic about the medical field when I spoke to them. Feeling a bit lost, I taught preschool for two years before briefly living in Austria. Upon returning, I got a job as a marketing intern at a software company, which I really enjoyed. Since then, I have spent most of my career at early-stage technology companies in a variety of roles. I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years as a CEO.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I firmly believe we are in the early days of a fundamental reinvention of omnichannel fulfillment that began at the start of the pandemic and will continue for a decade or more.
Amazon has set consumer expectations sky-high, and virtually no brand will be able to build its own fulfillment infrastructure on a comparable scale. This means they will be dependent upon 3PLs to modernize and add resiliency to their fulfillment strategy. But the process of finding and working with a 3PL is an outdated experience that has been largely unchanged since the late 1900s.
We have two products designed to work in tandem and usher in a new era of dynamic, hybrid shipping networks. Our Network Manager product allows 3PLs to partner with other geographically complimentary 3PLs to build multi-node, geographically distributed fulfillment networks without the cost of leasing and building out additional warehouses. This will allow even single-location 3PLs to compete with the largest 3PLs, using an asset-light partnership.
Additionally, Extensiv's Fulfillment Marketplace will streamline how brands find, evaluate and receive quotes from 3PLs. These two products working in tandem, will provide the efficiency and transparency of an ecommerce shopping experience in an industry that is currently largely operating based on paper and Excel.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
For some time, I’ve thought that the fulfillment side of ecommerce needed a better solution, and in 2021, I had an opportunity to drive incredible change.
In 2021, 3PL Central focused on providing warehouse management software (WMS) to third-party logistics companies. I saw an opportunity to change how ecommerce brands and 3PLs work together by building a platform that can provide inventory visibility from shopping cart to doorstep.
In a nine-month period of time, we acquired and merged Skubana (order management), Scout Software (in-house fulfillment WMS), and CartRover (ecommerce integrations with 150+ shopping carts and marketplaces) with 3PL Central.
We combined these four companies to create Extensiv and set on the journey of creating the future of omnichannel fulfillment and the connected commerce platform that brands need to scale throughout their entire growth lifecycle.
What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success?
At our company, we talk about the “Three Es”: Effort, Execution, and Expectations.
Effort is the most obvious. Working hard is beneficial to everyone in their career, and you will never hear our leaders tell people not to work hard. However, while there are times we have to work hard, outworking our competitors is not a sustainable strategy. It is a short-term approach in times of need.
Execution is how disciplined we are in our day-to-day. Do we ensure we are diligent in our communications and follow-up? Are we following the processes we have designed? And, most importantly, are we ensuring everything we are putting into the market is of exceptional quality?
Expectations: Most employees view highly successful people and companies as somehow “special” in terms of talent or some other advantage. One of the things I learned in my swimming career is that the single biggest attribute of people that achieve great things is that they believe and expect that they will be successful. The expectation that you are going to create something exceptionally meaningful and enduring drives people to execute with discipline, holding themselves to a higher standard and putting in the effort required to create something truly unique and compelling.
What was your original vision for your ecommerce business? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
The original idea behind 3PL Central, which was our original name before we rebranded to Extensiv, was to create software to help third-party logistics companies run their business better. This, in turn, allowed those 3PLs to better serve their customers’ ecommerce needs through better shipping accuracy, visibility to inventory and order status, and accurate billing.
Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a successful omnichannel customer experience?
A great omnichannel experience is primarily about meeting the customer where they want to engage.
When you engage, it is critical to provide them with accurate information on what products are available in what channel and provide a path to purchase. Almost every brand struggles to provide a robust data backbone that makes a single version of the truth, representing every sales and distribution channel, available to consumers.
Additionally, you must allow consumers to control their decisions by giving accurate information about fulfillment times and costs, so they can be empowered to make educated buying decisions based on their preferences.
What role do technology and automation play in reducing ecommerce logistics costs, and what specific tools or solutions have you found most effective in achieving this?
The simple fact is that as soon as an order needs to be shipped on an airplane (even if it is second-day air), most brands are going to lose money on the order. If you are fulfilling from a single warehouse, 30% or more of their orders will be delivered by air.
Extensiv’s technology makes it far easier for brands and 3PLs to use rules to intelligently fulfill out of more than one warehouse with visibility and accuracy. This can literally save brands tens of thousands of dollars a month in shipping costs and improve the customer experience by getting goods to consumers sooner.
What role do social media and other emerging technologies play in your omnichannel customer experience strategy, and how do you stay current with the latest trends and innovations in this area?
Ultimately, it is critical to remain attuned to consumers as their behaviors and preferences evolve. Just as Facebook has waned and Instagram and TikTok have been ascendant, there will continue to be changes in customer behavior. The foundation of long-term success needs to be a constant orientation around data and quantification so you are aware of the changing trends and behaviors.
Building an approachable and meaningful brand is a huge part of storytelling and emotional attachment. Still, the best omnichannel sellers are building their evocative experiences on a foundation of data and insight.
How do you ensure that all your customer touchpoints (e.g., website, mobile app, physical stores) are seamlessly integrated and consistent?
Although it isn’t the sexy part of building a brand, inventory, and order management are the foundation of meeting customer expectations. Giving shoppers an accurate picture of what is available, when, and at what price is the foundation of trust. And trust is non-negotiable.
Certainly, there are a lot of structures and processes you can build beyond this foundation of truth. But if your inventory and order information is inaccurate, you will eventually disappoint your consumers, no matter how much you invest in brand and shopper experience.
How do you train and empower your customer service teams to deliver a high-quality, omnichannel customer experience?
In an omnichannel world, there is nothing you can do to deliver a great customer experience if you don’t have the right foundation of data on what products are available where and at what price.
The systems that are used to manage inventory information need to be the same systems your customer service agents are using to address customers’ concerns. And you need to trust your employees to make good decisions on behalf of your customers. It is far better to make a concession to a great customer to keep them purchasing versus risking losing them for life.
How do you ensure that your omnichannel customer experience is consistent across different geographies and cultures, and what specific strategies have you found to be most effective in achieving this?
Because Extensiv deals more with the backend fulfillment side of the omnichannel customer experience, we like to think through the most important things consumers need to know.
Is the product in stock and available? How long will shipping take? How much will shipping cost? Although these things don’t drive sales, they can easily prevent a consumer from completing a sale.
For that reason, we believe creating a consistent and transparent fulfillment process is key. Visibility to inventory availability, shipping costs, where the order is in the fulfillment process, the time to delivery, and to tracking of the orders in progress can make or break the customer experience and influence the likelihood of purchasing additional products from a brand.
Can you share five things a business needs to build the best omnichannel customer experience?
1. Single system of truth: If you are operating on different systems for different sales channels, you are bound to disappoint your consumers.
2. Meet your consumers where they are: Everyone loves focusing on their own physical or online store because it is an environment you control. It is equally important to have faith in your brand promise and engage on social and marketplaces where there are more voices and perspectives. Today’s consumers can find whatever product they want anywhere in the world, anytime. They are in charge, so meet them on their terms.
3. Fast, free shipping: This one is simple—they can go to Amazon and get this. Unless your product is really unique, this is an expectation, and they will buy from the seller that offers it.
4. Cohesive returns strategy: It can be financially challenging to offer free returns on everything. Think about the long-term tradeoffs of offering free returns (very customer friendly) versus charging for returns (better financially in the near term, but may reduce long-term customer loyalty)
5. Choose the right partners: Ecommerce today is complicated, and you are dependent upon other solution providers to deliver for your customers. Whether this is your web design agency or your third-party logistics provider, you need to spend as much or more attention on them as you do on internal teams. Otherwise, your customers may be disappointed.
Looking ahead, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges in building the best omnichannel customer experience, and how do you plan to address them in the coming years?
Be present where your shoppers are but understand that you can’t control every aspect of their shopping experience. That said, the one thing you can control is a consistent delivery experience.
Every order you receive from any channel needs to be delivered on time and with complete accuracy. It isn’t the sexy part of omnichannel, but shipping and delivery are within your control and need to operate like clockwork.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be?
At Extensiv, we are focused on fulfillment professionals that are often blue-collar jobs working for relatively low wages. Yet, we deliver the technology to help these businesses operate better. Our goal is to fuel the upward mobility of individuals working in the supply chain industry. Twice a year, we offer scholarships to college students looking to build a career in the supply chain.
Beyond that, we aspire to educate more of the employees at the 3PLs we work with to learn about our technology and grow their careers in information technology. Helping warehouse workers grow into knowledge workers is one of the great opportunities that we aim to accelerate.
What "next big thing" tactic or strategy should leaders in ecommerce be digging into?
Distributed fulfillment from more than one warehouse.
What is everyone wrong about in ecommerce?
Too many brands are digging their own grave by continuing to do business with Amazon. They are swallowing all the ecommerce traffic. It is understandable to sell on Amazon because of sales volume, but using AFS, MCF, and other Amazon services means you are not in control of your own destiny.
What are you reading right now?
Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act. It is a fascinating study on the importance of being attuned to the environment around you. If you are always focused on the near term, immediately relevant, then you are missing out on the opportunities that surround you. If you want to be attuned to possibility, then open your aperture and experience it all. The knowledge you acquire may or may not be directly relevant, but the broader your perspective, the better your decisions.
What product, tool, or service do you wish existed?
I’m biased because I think we’ll be the first to deliver it, but a service that ensures the inventory that ensures a SKU/inventory item that is closest to the consumer is the one that is delivered to a consumer. Why do we ship items cross country, based upon warehouse location, when the same SKU is in a warehouse close to the consumer?
What product are you obsessively using right now?
I am embarrassed to admit it because I am unhappy with Elon Musk’s views and approach, but the product I am focused on most is Twitter. I believe strongly that the world community needs to support Ukraine’s liberation of its territory. I thought wars of aggression were a thing of the past, but Russia proved that wrong. I believe it is one of the few clear-cut questions of right versus wrong, and I am incredibly supportive of the Ukrainian cause.
Twitter delivers news and insights in a timely and unfiltered way that is unmatched by traditional media, but moderation and promotion of topics are of great concern under Elon’s leadership.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
On the Extensiv blog.
Don't miss out on the latest tips, insights, software recommendations, and expert advice from The Ecomm Manager. Subscribe to our newsletter today!
More great ECM content:
- What Is Omnichannel Commerce: Examples, Strategies & 10 Steps For Success (Guide)
- Omnichannel Marketing Strategy For Beginners & Useful Tools
- A Guide To The Global Order Fulfillment Process
- What Is 3PL (Third-Party Logistics): Definition & Top Companies to Use
- Ecommerce Returns Best Practices: How To Handle & Solutions (Guide)
- How To Offer Free Shipping On Your Ecommerce Store: Examples & Solutions