Keep your customers loyal during the pandemic – Hear from experts on Go Digital With EZAssist

Why should merchants go digital? What are the challenges faced by them in how they are, and in the process of transformation to digital? How does EZAssist enable merchants to tackle these challenges? These questions and many more are the topic of discussion in the first episode of Go Digital With EZAssist, with Firoze M Zahidur Rahman, CEO and Chief Solution Architect at Loosely Coupled Technologies, Syeda Nawshad Jahan Promee, COO at Loosely Coupled Technologies and Lipi Khandker, Fashion Designer and MD of Bibiana. Find the episode here.

RJ Shantu: Since stores and everything have been closing down, you might be worried about how you’ll get your shopping done. So here let me tell you about EZAssist that has been working on this, and at the same time, the work you had to previously do physically by going to stores, how you liked one thing then the other, now if you could do that completely virtually, then how would you feel? Well your head is spinning, right? To make these matters easy for you, today we have with us our guests who will explain everything to you. Explain the challenges faced by small and medium enterprises and how you can tackle them. I invite Firoze M Zahidur Rahman (Jewel), CEO and Chief Solution Architect at Loosely Coupled Technologies, and Syeda Nawshad Jahan Promee, Chief Operating Officer to join us on screen. And we have with us Lipi Khandker, fashion designer and Managing Director of Bibiana. 

Good morning!

Jewel: Good morning 

RJ Shantu: Okay, yes we can see Nawshad apu too. We will add Lipi apu too, but she isn’t here yet, she will be joining soon. But let us begin, starting with Bhaiya.

How are you bhaiya and Promee apa?

Promee: I’m well, Shantu.

Jewel: I’m good, Alhamdulillah. How are you, Shantu?

RJ Shantu: I’m alright, Jewel bhai. I think it’s important for us to stay strong in this situation. And staying strong is a gift. Let’s start our discussion.

For our listeners tuning in on-air, please do join us on Facebook Live, we can be seen on Facebook Live right now on https://www.facebook.com/ilovedhakafm/ 

So join us and stay connected. The show will go on from 11 am to 12 pm. You can make any queries here on the first episode of Go Digital With EZAssist.

So now I have a question for Jewel Bhaiya, in the developed nations of the world, a major development has been seen in digitalization, so how important is it for us to keep up with these digital times?

Jewel: At one point, going digital was something that gave an edge. But in today’s world, going digital isn’t really a choice, it’s about survival. It’s not a trend anymore, it’s similar to how everyone has electricity at home now, it’s becoming a staple or it has to be. This pandemic has accelerated the process, we’ve suddenly grown up and we’re catching up with all the developed nations.

But I would like to point out that things in Bangladesh happen slightly differently from how they happen in the rest of the world. For example, with the success of Alibaba and other giants, in other countries the small businesses got killed off. But in Bangladesh, you can see small stores on every corner. Our shopping behaviour is we ask a guard or a servant to quickly run to the store and get something. So the convenience factor for us is quite different when compared to perhaps people living in the US, or London, where they may need to drive to the nearest store to get supplies. Our lifestyle is very different and therefore we have to rediscover digitalization and ecommerce on our own terms. In other countries, big retailers deliver the goods directly to doorstep. But in Bangladesh, people have a good relationship with the local corner-store shopkeeper. We don’t buy from the coke from the Coca Cola company, we get it from the corner store nearest to our house. People do go to Shwapno, Agora, but the relationship with the corner-store shopkeepers will also always be there. 

So I think that perhaps we have to make the economic choice of getting these small local stores on a digital platform. Small grocers, local boutiques, etc are a part of our culture and practices. So in our digital journey, these small and microbusinesses need to be brought to a digital platform to serve their customers. 

This is entirely my personal opinion but I think Bangladeshis would rather buy from a trusted local store than some unknown place even if it were offering cheaper prices. It’s yet to be figured out, but these small and microbusinesses will become digital, but how that will happen is something we have to build on together. 

RJ Shantu: Okay, so going digital has become a lifeline now. So what do you think are some of the challenges here in this process?

Jewel: I think a challenge for people is that often we freeze up when faced with a crisis. We think our problems will be solved on their own. So this major crisis that hit in the form of the pandemic last year, a lot of people thought it would soon pass and things would go back to how they were. So I think this mindset poses a challenge that people really need to get out of, things will change in the next few years and recognizing this reality becomes a challenge for many.

For example, we are facing the same problems this year as we had been last year near Pohela Boishakh, most people hoped that the problem would pass, that when the vaccine arrived, things would immediately go back to how it used to be, but that didn’t happen. Bangladeshis are very hopeful, which is a good thing that can help us move forward but in this situation we have to come to terms with the fact that this problem is not going away and that we have to adapt and change with it. 

Flexibility and openness in the way of thinking is a challenge.

I don’t think technology itself is a challenge due to the sheer level of smartphone penetration we can see. We aren’t lagging behind when it comes to technology usage. But the biggest challenge we do face here is how to incorporate that technology into our businesses.

So people have to transform and accept these changes, if not embrace them. The good news here is that we are capable. We have very good mobile networks, our telecommunication infrastructure is good, our distribution network is good too, we can find anything we need within a small radius around us. This means that going digital is not the challenge, but getting people to have the mindset that they will do it and that they can successfully do it is where the challenge lies.

It’s a choice, so if we believe we can do it then we can.

RJ Shantu: Exactly. Is there anything that you’d like to add, Promee apu? 

Promee: I have an example that I’d like to share. I live at Rampura, and usually buy clothes from the stores at Khilgaon. But due to the lockdown, I couldn’t go out there to buy them myself. So I went online and chose something from Aarong and had it delivered to my home. But what this means is that the stores I usually visit at Khilgaon lost out on some sales. So people need to get out of this state of being frozen in place. They need to want to transform to keep up with the digital wave.

RJ Shantu: To the people tuning in with us from home, maybe you have a store that is closed right now due to the lockdown. Now, aside from having the physical shop, if you were to run operations online as well, you would be the one reaping the benefits. So from this place, I would like to ask Promee apu, you have worked with many SMEs so far, in the initial stages of their going online, what are some problems that you’ve encountered with them? Not problems per se, but challenges that they face.

Promee: So in my experience, I’ve seen that SMEs face difficulty in conveying what their product offering is to the consumers. So in this process of letting consumers know, they might go for digital marketing or other steps, and there is a cost incurred here, or there is the matter of their skillset and the processes to go through, I’ve noticed that they struggle in this area as well.

RJ Shantu: Sorry to interrupt but Lipi apa has joined us just now, hello Lipi Apa.

Lipi: I’m so sorry for being late, there were technical difficulties.

RJ Shantu: No problem. There isn’t much to say about Lipi apa, she’s the fashion designer and Managing Director of one of my favorite brands, Bibiana. We were just in the middle of a discussion with Promee apa about the challenges that SMEs face in the initial stages of going digital. Let’s finish that and then come back to Lipi apa.

Promee: As I was saying, in the initial stages, they have a production stress, they deal with a lot of steps, when to order, when to deliver, production costing etc. So with all of these steps, the first challenge seems to be to build the mindset that you’d do this business on a significant scale. So at first when they go online, they might bring their existing consumers to the platform, but customers when they’re at stores like to see the product, get information, analyze and then make a decision about the purchase. So posting all the product information, taking proper pictures, including the size and material and other information that the customer might want to know, sometimes the business owners panic about getting all of this done. These are some of the initial challenges I’ve noticed.

RJ Shantu: Okay I’m sure you have many more stories to tell after working with SMEs, but for now let’s get to Lipi apa. Lipi apa, in the current situation the physical outlet is closed but your operations are running smoothly online, digital has become a lifeline now, so is there anything you’d like to say about that?

Lipi: We actually went online about 3 or 4 years ago, customers asked how they could reach us without having nearby outlets so I had to deliver. I’m not tech savvy at all, but I did what I could. But last year, I have to mention EZAssist here, a meeting with Jewel bhai opened my eyes to the fact that I can actually get a lot more business through the digital platform. Last year, I was in a rough spot with all the stock we had but struggling to get it sold. Jewel bhai and Promee apu guided us through a lot of those struggles.

Again, last year there was strict lockdown going on, so deliveries were an issue. EZAssist helped with the percentages of deliveries completed and those that failed. A lot of challenges came up at that time.

Jewel: I’d like to add something here, I think Lipi apa is honestly an inspiration, she doesn’t give up. Her blood pressure may rise, she may be sick, but she will always get work done. She went through such lengths to get things delivered to the point that she sent her own car to deliver some of the goods to customers. So as I was saying before, if we actually want to get things done, we end up doing them.

But so many blunders would happen, people in general are impatient. Their delivery would be delayed and they’d even go so far as to threaten the business with court cases, but what we understood is that people actually really liked Lipi apa. They have been buying clothes from her for years now so why is Lipi apa not delivering their goods now? The customers often just wanted her attention and responses. During Ramadan, people would start shopping from Sehri time till about 10am, so we stayed up to handle those. It was such an interesting journey.

There was a lot of pressure, but I’d also say it was fun.

Promee: There were also cases where people needed the deliveries at a specific time, maybe they were going out of town the next day. Or they specifically needed it for Eid. So those also led to some interesting events.


Lipi: I’d like to mention a funny story here.

RJ Shantu: Sure, go ahead

Lipi: So that consumer rights case that was filed against us, someone had to go to the hearing. At that time, what happened was that it was a very hectic time and one of the workers, he just left to go to his hometown and didn’t return and there was some blunder with his work. Some miscommunication and mismanagement that led to a delivery getting messed up.

The case is actually still ongoing, someone goes to hearings but nothing is happening. It’s kind of funny at this point.

RJ Shantu: Well, from hearing everyone tell these stories I can tell that the whole ordeal was a fun experience for everyone. As Jewel bhai said, everything is more organized now and not as many hassles, but there was some time that you went through where a lot of work was put into getting all the pictures and information to consumers about your designs. So during that time, modelling and photoshoots weren’t possible, so how did you guys get things done?

Lipi: Well it wasn’t always possible to model the clothes but we tried our best to focus on details as much as possible, and we learned something that customers also want to check what the clothes look from different sides and angles. Before, we used to only take one good photo of the product and that was that, but now we take photos from all sides and angles and we don’t post them, but if customers make an inquiry about it then we have the photos already at hand to show them. 

I feel like I’m learning more and more everyday about operating on this platform. Like nowadays people might want a small videography of the products. And so many more insights.

RJ Shantu: I have a question for Promee apu here, when dealing with customer inquiries, what are some challenges you’ve encountered?

Promee: We have a chatbot on Bibiana’s page and it responds to people’s queries, but sometimes there is unique information that it doesn’t understand and cannot give, so along with the bot we have a support assistant. So the support assistant can answer all further questions that the customer has, which leads to their making the final decision.

Jewel: Let me add something here, customers in Bangladesh are quite interesting. They want the chatbot that answers to be Lipi apa. They’re used to interacting with Lipi apa, so they don’t follow the rules of this separate platform. As much as we insist that the customers fill up the order form, they just keep sending their phone number, address and other information on messenger. Sometimes we have to fill up the form on their behalf and then send the invoice to confirm the order.

To deliver the product to the right person, we have to check the order form, see the design code, find the product from the store, then send it to the right person. So there’s a lot of steps involved. For the customer, this is a significant decision of course since this would be the one dress that they buy for an occasion. But every day, Bibiana gets hundreds of messages and orders, they are an established brand in Bangladesh. So it’s important to have some cooperation from the customer’s side as well. Until now, we’re getting these done with EZAssist, with support people, we even call to confirm orders sometimes, but as much as there is a learning curve for the sellers, the customers also need to go through the learning process when shopping on a digital platform. 

RJ Shantu: On that note, we have a text from one of our regulars here, Saddam. He says that the messaging process of Bibiana’s page is very complex. What would you say to that?

Jewel: Of course, if you go to a physical store and check out the product and buy it, that’s very easy. Again, if you talk to someone on the phone or directly text them on Messenger, the process is easy again. But for a business like Bibiana, during peak seasons, we have thousands of people to deal with every day. For this huge number of people, we cannot really handle things personally. Texts get lost in swarms.

So we have had to create an automated journey, and customers have to go with it. We cannot have enough people handling all the queries that we get, especially during peak seasons.

Every new thing has a learning curve. We can’t give the experience of human interaction in selling online, not in this volume. But we are trying to strike a middleground here.

Even in physical stores, a salesperson cannot always attend to you during rush hours. In stores there are delays in finding products too, but people are quite considerate of that. Online too there needs to be that consideration. We do have support teams, but they cannot be at beck and call 24/7 for everyone.

But if there are any specific pain points that Saddam would like to point out, we would definitely try to address that.

Promee: Everyone needs to take a step forward here, so we once provided an incentive that we’ll give discounts only if someone is completing the order process online. At that time, people went out of their comfort zones and did it successfully.

Jewel: This is important to note, we even turned off cash on delivery and said the discount is only for online payments. At that time people readily went through the right steps, understood the platform, and placed their orders. So it’s interesting how when there is a good offer to avail, people are willing to give the effort, but otherwise it’s cumbersome. So I think there needs to be some effort from the customer’s side.

RJ Shantu: For the audience, there is an offer going on for Bibiana Go Digital Merchant of The Week, you can shop there with EZAssist Chatbot BD, you can get all information by texting a simple Hi to the Bibiana messenger inbox, and you’ll get a 50% discount on the unique and incredible products of Bibiana, including Sarees, Kameez etc. You might be confused about the process but for that we have a video demonstration ready for you. We’ll go on a short break now.

(Video Ad)

RJ Shantu: Alright, it was pretty simple right? Avail the 50% discount now. Let’s get back with everyone on the screen now. Promee apa, do you want to add something?

Promee: Usually we go to Bibiana’s page and click on the messenger icon, or we find an ad and decide to text them for further information. Let’s say you like a saree and want to browse more from the album, it directly takes you to that album and it opens and you can browse through.

RJ Shantu: Okay, I’d like to ask Lipi apa, you’ve had a successful business through outlets, and then you went online on a digital platform, so would you suggest other business owners to also follow this and go digital? 

Lipi: Of course I wouldn’t say go entirely digital, I would like people to still visit our outlets. But not everyone can, and for them the digital platform is a must. There is the lockdown, and even aside from that, people are very busy with their work and lives. And there are also some housewives that don’t like going out at all and they’re busy with their family and household, and for all of these people the platform is integral. At one time, they might have asked a family member to go buy something, but now they get to choose that for themselves when it’s an online platform. Everyone is on Facebook, people of all ages.

It’s a huge platform, I think it has expanded significantly since last year when people were forced to go online, but this is a great medium that is connecting people to businesses, Bibiana or other fashion houses. 

I like to see things positively, when the pandemic started I thought if I didn’t have as many outlets I wouldn’t have to pay the rent and employee salaries and I could just have everything online and it would be enough to make my ends meet. This pandemic has been a war for us businesspeople.

Jewel: As a businessperson myself, the sheer stress of running a business and not getting enough money to pay the salaries of employees that depend on you, you cannot even imagine. Of course, the employees are under stress if they’re not getting their salaries.

Or when an outlet needs to be closed down, the employees there, their salaries, if you don’t go through that then you actually cannot imagine just how difficult it is to bear the burden.

The books can say one thing, but a business closing down isn’t just about the books, the thoughts going behind it, wondering what I’ve done wrong, could I have done something to prevent it? The way that people are doing business in physical stores, shifting from that and going digital is not easy. But then again, leaving the physical stores, the employees that would be out of work then, see we don’t do businesses just for ourselves, there are other people always involved that depend on it. We have a responsibility to them. We cannot just turn a blind eye. Especially for brands like Bibiana that have hundreds of people relying upon them, Lipi apa cannot just turn a blind eye to them even if she had wanted to, I’m not sure if I’m explaining this right. It’s not just about the money or the profits. The people in the business, we grew with them as the business grew up, we have stories with all of these people. We cannot just think about ourselves and shift the business to something else. But then again, we do need to be practical, and here I think if we can be brave, we can do right by everything. For example with Lipi apa, if a customer gives their measurements, she customizes the clothes for them. That is an innovative service that she provides, and with these additional services the people come in. 

Again we once had an order for a dress that needed to be altered, the delivery was in Narayanganj and it was for a baby shower. The whole altering and delivery process generally takes 10 days, the delivery was delayed, delivered on Friday instead of Thursday, but Friday was when the baby shower was. So this whole process has a lot of people involved and as business owners we have a responsibility for all of them. 

See, the customers are all the same. Sometimes they come to the outlets to shop, and at other times they order online. We need to keep both online and offline operating, transform as needed. Going to outlets to shop can be a stress relief and again browsing online when convenient is also there. We have to transform to cater to both of these scenarios. It’s a mix of journeys. It’s not always profit driven. In Bangladesh sometimes if you see someone doing business you judge them like criminals, but it’s not always profit driven, you’re doing a lot of things. It’s a different kind of stress.

Lipi: During the pandemic, at one time people were saying they won’t buy clothes when people out there are suffering. But what I say is when you buy something from Bibiana, 60% of the proceeds go to the artisans that handcrafted the designs. These people are also stuck not getting the income they would’ve gotten when people refuse to buy the products. I had to convey that message. Other business owners followed and soon sales went back up. All we ask is that you buy domestic products, those manufactured and sold here in Bangladesh, support the people of this country, support the economy.

RJ Shantu: We should support our national products. We have one last question from Taslima, she wants to know how she could get onto the EZAssist platform. 

Jewel: You just have to go to our EZAssist page and send a message, someone will get back to you and help with the process. Very simple. 

RJ Shantu: Alright, so we’re at the end of our show here, is there anything you’d like to say to the audience in short words? 

Jewel: I don’t really have anything separate to say, but first of all thank you so much Shantu for inviting us to the show, I think it’s a very nice initiative by Dhaka FM that we can openly discuss these stories and look back on the journey. 

RJ Shantu: Now let’s get to Lipi apa, would you say something to the people tuning in? 

Lipi: I’d also like to thank you for inviting me to the show, and I’d like to thank EZAssist, they have genuinely helped so much. Without their insistence I don’t think I would’ve showed any interest in going to the digital platform with Bibiana, I was so hopeless at that time. They got me out of that. 

And to our audience, I’d like to implore that you always buy our domestic products and use domestic products. That’s the only way to develop our local artisans and their work. Thank you. 

RJ Shantu: Promee apa? 

Promee: Yes, thank you everyone for being able to sit together like this and discuss the journey we’ve been through together. We started our journey with Bibiana, learned so much, and grew together.

RJ Shantu: The offer at Bibiana can be availed simply by sending a “Hi” to the Bibiana chatbox, there might be many customers among the audience here, get your 50% discount on sarees, salwar kameez etc now. We have to end our show here today, I for one am a huge fan of Bibiana, as are many of you I’m sure. Thank you so much Jewel bhai, Promee apu, Lipi apa, for joining us today. I hope we can sit together again someday like this, and of course on future episodes of Go Digital with EZAssist I hope we may see each other again.

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