October 25, 2014

Tu Nguyen of Gongshow Gear: Providing Automated Real-Time Customer Service

Many online small businesses generally do not have the resources to keep their business staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  However, consumers have come to expect immediate customer service solutions.  So what’s a small business to do?  Tune in as Tu Nguyen, VP of Technology for Gongshow Gear, joins Brent Leary to share how he and his team have been able to provide automated real-time customer service and, in doing so, have increased their sales by 7 to 10 percent.

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Tu Nguyen of Gongshow GearSmall Business Trends: Can you give us a little bit of your background?

Tu Nguyen: I was studying at Carleton University, studying science back in 2003, and that is where I met my partners Gerry and Craig while they were playing junior hockey at the time at Ottawa Ontario.

They were selling hats with “Gongshow Hockey” stitched on front of it. They were selling shirts from the dorm room and also in the back of the van. A long story short, given the initial success, we realized this may be a viable business.

Small Business Trends: Can you talk about how the term “Gongshow” is really a part of the hockey culture?

Tu Nguyen: Gongshow is a lifestyle hockey apparel brand.  The word Gongshow, if you can remember, first originated from a hit TV show back in the 70’s.

Since then, it has been made popular and adopted by the community of the junior hockey culture and a go-to word to describe the chaotic, crazy situations that can often occur on or off the ice. The word has become, over the years, pretty synonymous with hockey culture.

Small Business Trends: What do you guys sell online at Gongshow Gear?

Tu Nguyen: We sell hats, tee shirts, and a lot of apparels.  We introduced jeans this year and really extended our line and are really growing with the market.  It’s typical stuff that hockey guys would wear; hats, tee shirts, jeans, even jackets were introduced this year.

It is a full line of stuff that incorporates hockey culture into the fold.  So it really pulls from sayings and slogans, and also low key stuff that you can wear from day to day as well.

Small Business Trends: Can we talk a little bit about some numbers?

Tu Nguyen: Right now on Facebook we have over 75,000 members. On Twitter we have around 26,000 followers. A lot of the hockey guys are very close knit and they like to share stories.  It’s really a great medium for us to showcase their stuff and get feedback from them directly.

Small Business Trends: How do you transition those conversations into sales on the website?

Tu Nguyen: The thing with this new generation of customers now using social media is that they think differently.  All of a sudden, with this new social platform, they’re extremely tech savvy.  They are very informed and they are very engaging.

They like to provide feedback as well.  Most of all, they want answers as quick as possible. We have leverage on that social model and are able to adapt to that. They want to hear directly from the brand.

Small Business Trends: How are you able to leverage newer technologies to get the information to them right away?

Tu Nguyen: Back in the day, we’d get a scenario where they were writing in, or phoning in the traditional method and asking something.  Whether it’s, “I am 6 ft. 190 lbs.  Which size shirt should I get?”  It’s very non-technical questions really.

Or they could be at the last checkout screen and they have a question, “Do you take PayPal?  Why isn’t my credit card working?”  Let’s say it was Friday night or on a Saturday, for a small business, we may not have the luxury of weekend staff or night staff to take the calls, or to even email these customers instantly.

So it poses a challenge in terms of time to purchase. Because as they are waiting for an answer, they may have lost interest and gone somewhere else to buy something.

Nanorep is a cloud-based customer service app we use that fits right into that social model I was talking about. Customers want things quick, and we have to find some way to answer them quickly.  So the service is really working well for us. It was really set up for a small business and it is easy to use and maintain.

Small Business Trends: How has Nanorep impacted the conversion rate you have on your site?

Tu Nguyen: It takes a little while to build a knowledgebase based on the questions coming in from site visitors.  But we have seen a dramatic drop in emails.  Not only that, the answer rate now is anywhere between 65% to 75%, which is pretty good. So on a typical day we would get ten or twenty redundant emails.  Like this one, “I’m 6ft 1in, 190 lbs.  So what size do you have?  Or, “Is the credit card working and why not?”

Those questions are now being answered automatically per our programming by Nanorep.  So over the course of eight months, we noticed an average rate of anywhere between seven to ten percent higher sales generated by customers having Nanorep answer questions rather than waiting, and then later returning to purchase something.

With Nanorep we have these trace snippets that allows us to do an AB test. That is how we were able to see those rates and we are seeing a ten percent higher rate.

One thing to observe is the time of purchase conversion. They were on our site, and they are looking for questions and it can be the difference from them buying that day, or the next day, or never at all.

That definitely helped in the aspect of receiving that ten percent increase. Let’s say if a hundred visitors were to come and engage, at least ten of those would be buying that day or that hour and that stems from the weekend and night sales as well. So we’re definitely seeing some improvement in those areas.

Small Business Trends: Where can people go to learn more about you and your Gongshow Gear, and how they can buy stuff?

Tu Nguyen: They can go to Gong Show Gear.

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

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Brent Leary


Brent Leary Brent Leary is a Partner at CRM Essentials and organizer of the Social Business Atlanta conference. Brent serves on the advisory board of The University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence, writes the Social CRM column for Inc.com's technology site, and blogs at Brent's Social CRM Blog.

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