Interview with Sergei Shopik, Head of the Customer Experience Lab, Belarus

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Today we continue our series of interviews with experts on marketing, advertising and business. Our guest is Sergey Shopik, founder and head of the “Customer Experience Laboratory”, in Minsk, Belarus.

Шопик Сергей

– Sergey, how did the idea of founding the Customer Experience Laboratory come about?

– The idea came about after talking with my good friend and partner, who is implementing software for data analysis. He said that after a rather expensive implementation, often all analytics in a company continues to rely on the enthusiasm of one person, a maximum of a department. It is good if such a person is the owner of the company. If not, then often an expensive implementation becomes useless and people continue to work with data in the “old fashioned way in excel” or do not work at all.

This gave me the idea that there is a place for an interesting and in-demand business here: helping companies work with their data. I myself am a practicing marketer with good experience in managing marketing in large companies. Therefore, I decided to focus on what I understand the most: the analysis of data about Clients.

– What is the main idea of the company?

– Initially, the company was conceived as 100% outsourcing. For a budget comparable to the monthly salary of a specialist, the company received at its disposal a team of analysts, developers and marketers who take the process of analyzing and working with the Client database on a turnkey basis: Client base segmentation, hypothesis testing, in-depth analysis of transactional behavior, monthly reporting. The market has corrected. In our country (Republic of Belarus), companies are afraid of outsourcing and prefer to hire a person (unfortunately, not always realizing that a good specialist needs to be paid the appropriate money).

Therefore, we gradually shifted the focus from outsourcing to comprehensive consulting in working with customer data. How to collect, how to analyze, how to make decisions and evaluate their effectiveness, automate the process and transfer it in finished form to a specialist of the Customer Company.

The same transformation has occurred with the list of data with which we work. If at first it was only CRM and databases of loyalty programs, now we use open data from social networks, mobile operators, immerse ourselves in UX analysis in order to cover all the analytical tasks of the company as much as possible.

We devote a lot of time to developing our own algorithms for working with data.


Шопик Сергей

– Do you work with foreign companies? How does communication and research of the market and Clients take place at a distance?

“Since this year, we have begun to actively enter other markets. Communication with Clients takes place mainly by e-mail or Skype. Well, messengers, of course, greatly simplified the process. 🙂

With one Client, for example, we completed the entire cycle: from negotiations to completion of the project only through voice messages in Telegram.

Since we work with databases, the distance does not really matter to us. We work either on downloads from the database of our Clients, or with a direct connection to their databases. We prefer the second option. Although it is more time consuming, it allows you to make projects quickly. With unloading, in practice, projects are delayed for an additional 2-3 months. And that’s just communication issues. Additional links appear (for example, the IT department must do the unloading, a separate specialist must transfer it, etc.). And if it was still made with a mistake …

– Tell us about the differences in marketing in such areas as gas stations and restaurant business.

– In fact, there are not so many differences. 🙂 Fuel, in itself, is a very low-margin product. This is a great financial anchor for the company, but it is quite difficult to make money on it. Therefore, many gas station chains are following the path of developing additional services, shops at gas stations and … fast food! Hot dogs, coffee, burgers and other goodies that can be found today at almost every gas station. Therefore, tasks are often very similar.

But if we talk specifically about the differences, I would highlight the following:

  • Purchase frequency. I consider this one of the key indicators that affect many aspects of marketing. The gas station is several times a month. For the restaurant business, a Client can be considered a regular if he comes both once a month and once every two months.
  • Since gas stations, while attractive as fast food, are still about gasoline, a lot of work will be related to the fight against the myths about diluted gasoline.
  • The restaurant business is different in that it almost equally mixes three completely different types of processes: production (kitchen), retail (direct sale of goods / dishes) and service (service / atmosphere). Accordingly, marketing should be built taking into account all these processes.

Шопик Сергей

– Tell me, how many people does the Laboratory team consist of? Is it possible to close all directions?

– Today it is a team of 10 people. Basically, these are analysts, UX designer and developers. In order not to grow the staff, but to focus only on our key competencies, we have a fairly wide network of technical partners.

The only area that I am not completely satisfied with is sales :-). They are completely on me. At first there were attempts to build a sales department, but then I came to the conclusion that in order to sell complex consulting projects, a deep level of competencies in the area being sold is required. Therefore, for the time being, I am the only one doing sales in the company, but I think I will have to return to the issue of the sales department in the future with the growth of the company.

– How actively is business developing in Belarus? What difficulties do young startups experience?

There is an opinion that if you learn how to do business in Belarus, you can do it anywhere.

– There is an opinion that if you have learned how to do business in Belarus, you can do it anywhere 🙂 Seriously, the impression can be twofold. On the one hand, in Belarus, objectively, there is very little competition in almost any area. What plays not only in the “plus”, but also in the “minus”. Why in the negative? Because competition develops the market and gives companies an incentive to develop.

The catering market will be very indicative here. You will not believe it, but before the release of international franchises back in 2013, the delivery time for a dish was 90-120 minutes. And it was almost normal! And then Domino’s appeared with their delivery for 30. Culture shock. But gradually the market reached these indicators and only strong companies remained.

The Belarusian business also has a sufficient level of passivity. We are very slow to adopt new technologies. We are embarrassed to sell. We still have a lot of production thinking – a good product will sell itself. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for a long time. And this is the biggest difficulty, including for our Belarusian startups.

A huge number of companies open and immediately close for this very reason. Misunderstanding that marketing and sales must be built from the very first day. And when choosing where to invest an extra ruble: in sales or in an office :-), the second option is often chosen.

World of tanks, Viber, are all ours and native.

On the other hand, many people already call Belarus an IT country. This industry is actively developing. World of tanks, Viber, are all ours and native 🙂 They are trying to support the industry at the state level. At the end of the year, the HTP decree 2.0 (officially the “decree on the development of the digital economy”) was signed, which gave unprecedented benefits to IT companies and gave impetus to the development of blockchain technologies.