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 Gabriel Theis.
Can you tell us about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in a charming German village between Frankfurt and Cologne, in the middle of the peaceful countryside. Our large family of six children was quite unusual, but it certainly played its part in shaping me. It taught me the significance of teamwork, sharing, and taking responsibility. These qualities are crucial in the world of business, where being egoistic can be detrimental.
But the person who had the biggest influence on my life was my grandfather. A successful businessman who came from poverty and managed to build a family business from scratch, which eventually grew into a massive operation of 400 employees. He was a true example of how hard work and perseverance can lead to success, no matter where you come from in life.
What led you to this specific career path?
Around 2017, while recovering from elbow surgery, the world of cryptocurrencies grabbed my attention, and I couldn't help but dive right in. I spent countless sleepless nights devouring everything I could find about cryptos, NFTs, and the metaverse. It was an exciting new discovery that had me hooked!
When I came across Cobalt, my initial involvement was as an NFT investor. I was immediately drawn to the problem they aimed to solve: the prevailing metaverse solutions suffer from a lack of customer-centricity, clear objectives, defined use cases, and a specific target audience.
These have been a contributing factor to the declining popularity of the metaverse. Cobalt recognized the need to develop an immersive ecommerce where brands could embrace digital fashion and connect with an entirely new customer base: Gen Z.
Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?
We acquired our first customer very quickly, considering the exclusivity of the luxury industry and the uniqueness of our marketplace. It is worth remembering that fashion luxury retailers are often known for being late adopters of innovation. Nevertheless, we managed to close a deal with a prestigious brand within just one month to develop their virtual shop on our ecommerce platform.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
In an era where 70% of US consumers from generations X to Z consider their digital identity to be "important," according to a 2021 study by the BoF, we're working on bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds. This is the core of what we do. We help high-end brands to develop their own virtual shops in our marketplace, where these digital products can come to life digitally. We design a 360 approach not only for the brands but also for their customers.
What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success?
First, honesty with oneself and others. It's not always easy and can sometimes lead to conflicts, but if the intention is good, honesty always helps forge stronger relationships.
Second, the “never give up” mentality I learned from my grandfather. We all face moments where we just want to throw in the towel, but it's those moments that determine whether we break through or break down. Persistence and consistency are the keys to keep moving forward.
The third trait is the ability to stay open. It involves cultivating an open mindset and maintaining curiosity about the world. By continuously engaging in learning and embracing new experiences, we allow ourselves to grow and evolve.
What was your original vision for your ecommerce business? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
Currently, retailers rely primarily on algorithmic recommendations to upsell their products, while marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify lack the personal touch and customization found in traditional in-person interactions.
We were driven to build a platform where customers could explore vibrant three-dimensional shopping, bringing the engagement of in-person shopping and gamification to the digital realm. I believe that the future of retail lies in creating exceptional experiences that seamlessly blend the physical and digital worlds.
How do you define a successful omnichannel customer experience?
It is simple. The brand itself is the lifeblood of the business, permeating every step of the customer journey. When customers can experience the brand through any channel without friction, then that is the result of a successful omnichannel approach.
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?
In our case and based on the current stage of our startup, our immersive ecommerce allows customers to try on items virtually and visualize how they will look in terms of matching and combinations. This provides a better understanding of how different pieces work together, which is often lacking in traditional online shopping experiences. By offering this feature, we aim to reduce customer uncertainty and increase confidence in their purchase decisions. This, in turn, can help minimize returns and associated costs for both customers and the company.
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?
The foundation of our business lies in emerging technologies. Cobalt, as an ecommerce company, originated from the tremendous success of the NFT collection called C-01, which features digital wearables.
On the one hand, social media enables us to have a channel where our community can freely share their feedback. On the other hand, we leverage social platforms to stay up to date on industry-related innovations.
We acknowledge the rapid advancement of technology and consider it an undeniable reality, almost like a "law." Our primary strategy revolves around cultivating an innovation-friendly culture. We actively embrace disruptive ideas and engage in ongoing experimentation with technology.
How do you train and empower your customer service teams to deliver a high-quality, omnichannel customer experience?
To ensure that our customer-facing teams deliver an exceptional, immersive omnichannel experience, we prioritize training in two essential areas: our core values and our immersive shopping solution. Our team members' proficiency in technology ensures a seamless onboarding process as they swiftly familiarize themselves with our platform.
Moreover, we empower our customer-facing teams by providing them with a solid foundation in customer-centricity, forward-thinking, and reliability. This equips them to make well-informed decisions, aligning with our brand values and cultivating satisfaction and loyalty.
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?
At this stage of our business development, we have not yet adapted our ecommerce platform to different languages. Currently, our main platform language is English.
However, as we expand into new markets in the future, we have plans to customize the experience by tailoring messaging and product offerings to resonate with specific cultures. This approach will allow us to provide a more personalized and relevant experience for our customers in different language markets.
How do you ensure that all your customer touchpoints (e.g., website, mobile app, physical stores) are seamlessly integrated and consistent?
First, we established a distinct brand identity, recognizing the significance of this often underestimated step in building a strong connection between companies and customers. It serves as the visual embodiment and essence of our brand, particularly vital for fully digital enterprises.
Second, we ensure that this brand identity permeates every channel through which our customers interact with us: social media, website, marketplace, press releases, marketing materials, or even our team members. Brand identity encompasses not only visual elements but also the overall experience customers have when engaging with our company representatives.
Third, we maintain a dedicated communications team that actively monitors our brand's online presence and diligently oversees its representation across various channels. Their focus lies in safeguarding our brand's integrity and ensuring consistent portrayal.
Can you please share five things a business needs to build the best omnichannel customer experience?
1. Innovation: The one-size-fits-all approach of current algorithmic recommendations is killing ecommerce platforms. With the growing influence of digital-first generations like Gen Z and Gen A, digital experiences face a significant challenge: Engaging users with an attention span of merely eight seconds. Constant innovation is crucial in securing and retaining a significant market share among the upcoming generations.
2. Seamless user experience: Balancing innovation with user experience was one of the main challenges we encountered when developing our immersive marketplace. For our beta test, our product owner hand-picked 100 users from our community of 200,000 to ensure we were receiving constant feedback about our user experience.
3. Consistent brand identity: In an era where consumer brand loyalty is increasingly fluid, it is almost mandatory to be consistent. We realized that managing our brand became easier when we allocated a specific person to ensure our brand's presence across all customer touchpoints.
4. Data insights: The primary advantage of adopting an omnichannel customer focus is the capability to collect and analyze information from various data sources. For instance, let's imagine you are contemplating the development of a new feature, X, based on your customers' on-platform behavior. However, you observe that your teaser tweet about the potential development of feature Y received overwhelmingly positive feedback from your customers.
In a scenario where your tech team is required to prioritize the development of only one of these features for the next month, the question arises: which one should you focus on? This is when data insights become invaluable. This is only possible through an omnichannel approach where all channels are equally important and maintained.
5. Browsing experience: Particularly important when it comes to the number of details available and how easily customers can check out and match items. In our specific case, our platform is designed to offer 3D browsing capabilities, allowing customers to explore products from different angles and perspectives. Additionally, our shopping assistant is designed to curate fashion recommendations to our customers to help them find the perfect matching accessories or clothing items.
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?
As a digital native and fully immersive ecommerce platform, our greatest opportunity and challenge lies within innovation itself. Being at the forefront of disruption is a privilege. Nevertheless, innovation always goes through a phase where it becomes difficult to understand and, therefore, adopt. However, we are witnessing a positive trend where customers are becoming more aware of and familiar with immersive technologies, especially post-Apple Vision Pro launch. This, undoubtedly, facilitates the onboarding process to immersive experiences.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be?
Education shapes our lives, yet traditional education systems often neglect practical everyday knowledge. To address this, I would start a movement to educate people about environmental protection, financial literacy, and healthy nutrition. By doing so, we can actively contribute to the well-being of our planet, foster stronger communities, and promote individual health.
What "next big thing" tactic or strategy should leaders in ecommerce be digging into?
To blend the physical and digital worlds in the shopping experience, become familiar with ground-breaking devices, such as the Apple Vision Pro, and learn how ecommerce can be enhanced through virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality.
What is everyone wrong about in ecommerce?
They don't know that current ecommerce experiences are actually boring.
What are you reading right now?
Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.
What product, tool, or service do you wish existed?
An Iron Man suit at a fair price. I could fly, dive—I could do anything with it.
What product are you obsessively using right now?
Laptop, AirPods, and... ChatGPT.
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