Building Stories, Community and WooCommerce Sites

Do the Woo Podcast Guest Abha Thakor Episode 166

Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Building Stories, Community and WooCommerce Sites

Some conversations are hard to describe with a few, simple sentences. Thus is the case with this the chat Jonathan and Anna had with Abha Thakor. She is a journalist by training and moved into communications, project management and digital. She is also a builder who started on the web in the late 90's. Listen in and she weaves in and out of her insights on a lot of touch points in both the Woo and WordPress community.

Connect with Abha

  • @webcommsat
  • Non Stop News UK
  • @nonstopnewsuk
  • Facebook Page
  • Recipes & Wellbeing

Highlights of the chat with Abha Thakor

  • When WordPress first came on her radar [02:50]
  • The community helping people to learn [06:45]
  • It’s about giving back [10:35]
  • Woo comes into the picture [17:44]
  • Why storytelling matters [22:26]
  • What storytelling means to a product builder [26:25]
  • The story brings that trust [29:00]
  • Differences between the WooCommerce and WordPress communities [33:25]
  • An adaptive approach for open source that works for your needs and community [39:17]
  • Humanizing chat bots [41:17]
  • With all things said, some guidance for builders [46:28]
  • A wealth of resources [51:48]

Thanks to Our Pod Friends


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Abha: Because probably the story that they've told you is probably what will inspire somebody else. And so storytelling needs to be something that is positive, it needs to have an integrity to it, but it also needs to be not translated into words that actually people can't understand, because people don't relate to that, people relate to people.

BobWP: Hey, BobWP here and welcome to Do the Woo, the WooCommerce builder podcast, episode 166.. This show is brought to you by YITH plugins at and 10up's Elastic Press Search at Let's join co-hosts Jonathan Wold and Anna Maria Radu for another awesome Woo conversations

Jonathan: Hi, I'm Jonathan Wold. And with me today is my cohost, Ana. Ana, who do we have joining us today?

Anna: We have Abha here with us. I assume that this would be one of our most successful podcasts ever in the history of WooCommerce of us hosting these episodes.

Jonathan: Wow, that's a high bar.

Anna: I will let Abha live up to the expectations, but if she would be willing to introduce herself, because she has a very rich history and she loves storytelling. Abha?

Abha: I'm not sure how I follow that, but apart from that, I am so excited to be here Do the Woo. I had asked Bob, "Do I get to dance?" Because I thought that Do the Woo has to dance.

Jonathan: Can see that.

Abha: Or a music thing in it. Forever I write little jingles for WordPress so maybe I need to write them for WooCommerce as well. I'm Abha Thakor and I'm a journalist by training and I went then onto to do communications, project management and digital. And I also build stuff. So I have this kind of brain that if you can't make it work, you think, "Why not? Can we build something else?" So I love tech innovation and; therefore, I love being here with you because what you're doing is all about doing things new, different, getting the best out of something and finding new solutions, which is basically what makes me tick and bringing people together.

Jonathan: Abha, I'm curious, you've been in the space for a long time, I think a little over 10 years, right?

Abha: Sadly, a bit more than that.

Jonathan: It's not sad, it's fantastic.

Abha: Let's stick to the 10 years. I feel younger then.

Jonathan: Yeah. The more, the better. We'll talk about Woo in just a bit, but where did WordPress first come onto your radar?

When WordPress first came on her radar [02:50]

Abha: WordPress come into my radar under two different segments because it came into my knowledge base in terms of a software or a tool along with other tools. I've been doing web since 1998. So, original Web 2.2, HTML, everything else, been to Dart rooms, learnt PHP, come out screaming and still go back in these Dart rooms occasionally and do PHP. But WordPress was just a tool. It was just one of the things that I used. It wasn't necessarily the end solution to anything that I was doing. And I'm a firm believer in choosing the right IT for the right project and making sure that the people who are going to have to upkeep it can use that tool and that you're not creating something that they will fail from because one of my big passions is knowledge management and it's something I've been involved with pretty much my entire career.

So when I discovered that WordPress was just more than that, it was just not this little product that was on my desktop and some of my clients liked it, some didn't, but it was actually this amazing community that was all about learning. So for someone who's a trainer, finding a community that actually wanted people and helped them learn, and more importantly, made it somewhere that an inquiring mind could actually find a home without being despised or without being, "Oh, you can't think," because a lot of our cultures are about not thinking and about not analyzing.

And I've done a lot of work with women in tech about how women, my generation in particular, would be in tech companies and we would get to make the tea. We would be building the solutions, and as we build the solutions, at the board meetings, people would come up and go, "Hey, love, I'd have two sugars in that tea. Here's my code." And you would go 10 minutes later into the presentation room, and I had a fantastic chief executive who would say, "And let me introduce you to Abha, who's been project managing this." And you could see the faces and it would just be like, "Okay, what is she doing, because she's a girl and she's young?"

In my career, I've been on the opposite end of being quite young and getting quite high positions and not in a time when that was something that happened a lot. And I literally walk in the footsteps of giants because I have followed my mother in tech and in medicine, but also people of her generation that really innovated amazing things. One of my best AI colleagues is 89.

Jonathan: Wow!

Abha: And she can run rings around me, and yet she never gets invited to do presentations. From that perspective, discovering that WordPress was the space that is fascinated with helping people all over the world, not just in the country that you're in, and that you can be part of that and you can be part of making solutions.. I was part of the lead for leading the communications for how we did Learn WordPress launch. And I just feel so passionate about telling stories and telling people why you need to learn this and how you can learn it. And the fact we've got enough free resource called Learn WordPress is amazing.

The community helping people to learn [06:45]

Jonathan: You become exposed to this community and you see its attractiveness; this focus on learning where some cultures just aren't, what do you think makes the WordPress community like that? I've got thoughts, but I want to hear yours. What is it about that contributes to this willingness to help other people learn?

Abha: I think it's different things. I've also got a background in community management, and from a management perspective as well; a leadership perspective, and part of that is about understanding people's motivations. So it's not just about what helps them put food on the table, but also what helps them in terms of motivation for their own personal growth, their continued professional development, what makes them feel satisfied about the work that they're doing, which may be voluntary, doesn't have to be paid.

It could be that they're using skills from looking after children to project manage something in the WordPress space, or from being a carer and doing that. Equally, from someone who might be a developer, but who wants to learn about project management and the satisfaction that they can grow and learn from that. And I think that's partly what drives the WordPress community. But I think also, a lot of people say, "Oh, yeah, we've got to go about diversity," but they don't realize that diversity and inclusion is what actually drives that learning culture, because it is about people feeling that they can and they're able to, and there are no barriers to, and there's nobody saying, "Actually, you can't learn it because it's not in your language." Come to the WordPress community and it is.

I've just done WordPress Translation Day sixth edition, my third WordPress Translation Day. And literally, I go to every one of the events that happen, and I sit there with my dreadful Italian or really bad Spanish accent, but I try. But the reason that I try is because every time I do that, I remind myself how hard it is for somebody whose English is not their first language to be not only translating what they're reading or hearing, but translating it and they're replying almost instantly. And that is about how the community grows as well because when you see that, you're inspired by it and you're inspired by people.

And as part of the reason that I was really wanting to do a contributor story series with WordCamp Europe, which I was involved in starting, and we carry on now, we carry on through other things, and why I feel passionately about the people of WordPress, because it's telling those stories that inspire people to grow and to feel, "I want to be part of this, even when it's hard, because open source is not an easy environment and it has its challenges."

And the more that we can feel part of a community, and we can feel, not necessarily cosseted, but feel that, "Actually I'm okay to say or ask a question..." I ask 101 questions. I've just been leading my first few bugs grubs, and I ask loads of questions. And I apologize constantly and go, "I'm really, really sorry, but does that mean this?" But part of the reason I do that is because hopefully, I'm old enough and been around long enough to ask those questions, whereas somebody who is new to the project may not feel confident in asking.

Jonathan: You can model it for them, show them.

It’s about giving back [10:35]

Abha: Yeah. And when I was them, I wanted people to be asking the questions so that I could learn. So it's about giving back.

Jonathan: What stands out to me, as I've thought about, is I think there's this sense of shared ownership, because I see a lot of people who will just give freely because that's who they are.

I also see people, though, who wouldn't strike me as being motivated by altruism, but who have this sense of, "If I help this person, it's also helping me because this is ours." And with open source, it's like, you can step into ownership... There's no barrier to it. By using it, you're partaking. And I'm curious, is that's something that I've seen. Why are they willing to help others? And I think whether we're conscious of it or not, there's this recognition, "This is ours. The more people who have success with it, the more it also helps me." What do you think about that?

Abha: Before the pandemic, 18 months of every single contributor event that was in the community, I had some involvement with. And I was in the journalistics and the communication strategist part of my head wanted to understand how and why we sustain contribution, how we get people to do long-term contribution, but also what is that bit about altruism? Because it is, there is a huge aspect for that for a lot of people. And a lot of the people who spend hours, who work across time zones, who don't necessarily benefit in any way financially from the project, but still give lots and are behind the scenes may not have the sense of ownership. I hope they do in the long-term. I hope we can foster that because I think that's lovely.

I think if they can feel the ownership, but they may have a sense of belonging. And I think it's belonging to something that is bigger than yourself, particularly during this pandemic.. One of the things that we've tried to foster in the marketing team has been about staying connected, because people can suddenly feel very isolated, they can feel that their whole network has disappeared, they have no one to peer share with or no colleagues to share with. And that can be very difficult, but if you have a sense of belonging and hopefully a sense of ownership, which I think can come later on sometimes for some people, then it gives you that comfort zone, but it also gives you the strength to say, "Actually, I think this maybe would solve or could solve something." And it gives you a confidence to say that.

It may not be received particularly well. I'm not saying that open-source is always a welcoming environment, because I don't think it is. I think we aspire to be and everything that we do should be about welcome, but the more we can make people feel that they belong and that they can take a break, they can go back and deal with the crisis that's happening in their life or their work and they can come back, they can find things that suit them... I'm a great believer in async contribution. It creates a lot of work, a lot of extra work from a project management perspective. It's not a good route from a project perspective, but it's a great route for inclusion and it's also a great route for finding a better solution together.

I work with a lot of challenging projects and carers projects, disability projects, and all of it is about co-production and really saying that, "Please stop it being as on them, please try and understand the words about co-production and being together, because actually you can make solutions together." And the way tech is advancing, and I'm very privileged to be in a career, in an organization that can be part of that, and all the AI developments and machine learning that we're part of, there is no other route apart from working together. If we don't work together, the tech solutions will fail and they will fail on a humanitarian perspective as well as a business perspective because the two are now so intertwined in terms of delivery and understanding what guides and motivates people.

And that's not about sitting on their shoulder and going, "I'm going to match anything you do," but it's about being understanding of the fact that your user is pretty much king in a way that they have never been before. And that innovation, I think, is also about WordPress and WooCommerce, because Translation Day, I sit there and I did the quiz at the end of the event. And every time it blows me away to find that the big growth in our translation and our WordPress instances that are being used are in non-English U.S. versions. And it always blows me away. And there is something very special, and I can only repeat what I have heard with great joy from others, because I don't have that privilege of doing of being able to translate it to that level. I can translate to English UK, which is still important.

But if you're reading your software, be it WordPress, be it WooCommerce, be it something else, and you're reading it in your own native language, with your own nuances, and to hear the people every time talk about it with such passion that the magic that they feel and the ownership that they feel, going back to your point, Jonathan, of using this, be it for a family website or for an e-commerce platform, or just a library community scheme, but that sense of ownership, "This is what I belong to, and this is what I can build in my language, in my country," is phenomenal. And I think that's going to be one of the huge growth areas for WordPress, again, in the future and hopefully, it will influence it even more. And I think it's something that we should cherish as well.

Anna: I think I made a good point in the beginning of this podcast. And if this doesn't inspire our listeners who aren't already contributing to WordPress and WooCommerce to do so, I don't know what will, but if you need more details, you can contact Abha directly.

Abha: Definitely, definitely. I never lose an opportunity to get people to contribute.

Woo comes into the picture [17:44]

Anna: That's awesome. I think that it's very important for people to know that this is actually a thing, this is not just an agenda that we would like to promote. This is actually the reality of what's happening in really large and small WordPress and WooCommerce communities. I would be really curious to know the story of when Woo came into picture for you.

Abha: Whereas I've used Woo quite a lot, I work with some wonderful developers and we did Call for Code last year. And we got into... We did so really well, actually Call for Code, but we've also been using it for things like boats and boat trips, as well as in education. And I have fabulous things that were amazing, but also just the arts and crafts, because I have a real passion for that. And I blame Dwayne for this because he introduced me to crochet and knitting and my house has now been taken over by balls of acrylic and needles. And he probably gets very tired of me sending him images. It's very relaxing, by the way, if you've never tried it.

But one of the things that I discovered was that working in big organizations and that the smaller organizations just did not understand how to use e-commerce in a way that was about their whole business. They used it as an add-on. And the days of it being an add-on has gone. This is an intrical part of your business planning. It's not just something that you have as a, "Oh, let's add something, let's sell a couple things." The best WooCommerce site that I've probably done was for an eight year old, who decided that she wanted to have a shop.

Jonathan: That's awesome.

Abha: And she was so excited and I was like, "Okay." And she was empowered. I kept trying to give alternative solutions because I thought, "She's never going to be able to use this." And she not only uses it, but she maximizes a huge amount of sales. She now sells to various different countries and she's still creating designs that she's using, but it was the enthusiasm that she had for it and there was something about the name.

Now, I know I joked at the beginning of this about a song and a dance, but actually, I remember when I first talked to her about it and I said, "And it's WooCommerce." And she was like, "Oh, that's so cool a name." And she just really got behind it. And I was telling her about doing the Woo. And of course she knows it from the song.

So I've heard the song on the phone yesterday as well, which she sings much better than I do, because I don't know it. And it's when people who discover WooCommerce and realize that it's not this complicated, big business solution that I think makes it special. I love WooCommerce London. Every time I talk to people about using WooCommerce, the platform, I also say to them, "Will you please sign up to going to these sessions?" And even if it's not now, please, as soon as you start developing your site, don't just rely on the developers, but also learn about it.

Jonathan: This is the thing about going to the meetups in general, same for me, it's the enthusiasm. And for me, I see that ownership manifested, where the person... It's like, there's work. You have to figure things out, and I see that enthusiasm that's willing to do it, that's willing to put in the effort and it's willing to ask the questions and it's infectious. It's like, "Oh, man." I hear someone tell their story and like, "Wow, they did that. I wonder what I could do, or could I encourage someone else to do similar?" And that's something.

It's one of the things I've actually loved about the move towards virtual meetups over the pandemic, has been the opportunity to get people connected who wouldn't otherwise. And at the end of the day, the thing that made it all work was really the storytelling and connecting around it.

Why storytelling matters [22:26]

So at the beginning we talked a bit about, what do we want to cover? So storytelling, you've got a lot of context in marketing, PR, communications, community. That's a word that we hear. What does storytelling mean to you? Why does it matter? How should we think about it?

Abha: I think I hear the word storytelling a lot. I've got 20 blah, blah, blah; we won't focus on the number of years, experience in journalism and communications and PR. And I get really exasperated when people tell me in a professional environment, "Oh, we will do storytelling." And the storytelling is basically nothing about the person or capturing what it is that it means to them. And it becomes some corporate. I'm trying to find a polite word to say it. Some corporate blurb that has nothing about the real person involved. And storytelling has been around for thousands of years, the only difference is the tools that we use. A story, to be effective, has to have certain components to help people understand that story and to reach and to be moved that story.

That doesn't mean that we create stuff that's not there, which there was an emphasis on and that's one of the things that I would really say to WooCommerce firms, please don't create stories that aren't true, that are... And because it will come back because there are things like reviews and people, if you change their story dramatically to fit your corporate brief or what you're trying to sell, they will come back and they won't work with you again, but it's also a lost customer. And actually, you don't need to do that because probably the story that they've told you is probably what will inspire somebody else. And so storytelling needs to be something that is positive, it needs to have an integrity to it, but it also needs to be not translated into words that actually people can't understand, because people don't relate to that, people relate to people.

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And now back to the show.

What storytelling means to a product builder [26:25]

Jonathan: Imagine for a moment, I'm a Woo builder. Maybe I've got a plugin focus on WooCommerce. How should I think about what you've just said? Where it's like, "Okay, maybe some people leave me reviews, but storytelling hasn't really been a thing that I think about." What would you say to the plugin authors out there? How should they think about this?

Abha: See, the best stories are going to be actually the people who write to you and give you a particularly strong review saying why it made a difference. Now, don't just use their review and run it as a promotion with all your branding around it, talk to the person, because talking to the person, one, you're more likely to actually get the context of that story. That story itself is likely to therefore be more powerful, you have empowered the person and the customer, you've made them feel valued, which is important because this customer has taken time to contact you. It is so easy to say a negative review. In our culture, it is, sadly, not something that people will jump to do to say and pay a compliment.

The RNLI are a really good example, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, I think it's called. And they are at UK and Ireland charity, and like many other organizations, they monitor what is happening. They monitor, like many other organizations, they monitor what is happening... coming up, but they don't just take them, reproduce them and say, "Hey, this is all about us." What they do is actually something that is the same for what you could do for a product.

It's, "Let's talk to this person, let's see what the context is. Let's see what else they might want to say." And it may be that they want to share more. And if you don't have the conversation, you could have just missed out on the best story and something that will not only interest your audience, but will also motivate your staff.

Anna: I think that there's also something to you say about trust elements, especially for newcomers in WooCommerce. We have reviews, maybe we have just a couple of them. We don't have much to count on. Are there some other possibilities?

The story brings that trust [29:00]

Abha: Certainly. Yeah. So, the WooCommerce place that we work with, we often say to them, "Okay, if you are working with a charity or you are sponsoring something because you passionately believe in it, what are you saying about that?" And not from the perspective of making money off that charity or making money off that course, but actually, what is it that is part of your story? Because actually telling your story, and that doesn't mean telling the public. And I've seen it with WooCommerce builders. I've dealt with a couple of sites recently that they've sent me, and they literally talked about what they had in their toothpaste and when they brushed their teeth, what came out of their teeth. And it was just like, "Why would people want to know this?"

And it was because they looked at social media and people talked about breakfast and things like that, and they didn't know where to start. So, that's what they did. And I have got permission to tell that story because they said, "Someone should have told us this."

But it's telling your story and telling what you are comfortable with sharing because some people, and I say this from the fact that I'm one of the editors of the People of WordPress series, and we've just interviewed Ronald. And we've interviewed lots of other people who are from e-commerce as well, but actually talking to them and saying, "Okay, what are you happy to be reading about yourself? What are you going to be happy about someone talking to you about? Is really important and that's for any person.

And that's the joy for me, coming from a PR background where I'm a chartered PR practitioner and that's a lot about actually thinking about the ethics of communication and how we deal with things in a positive way and we involve people. We don't do communications to them, we create or we do communications together because it's about being listened and heard. And helping people be listened and heard is the greatest way to do that. So, Jonathan, you've talked about ownership tonight. So if I was talking to you as a product developer, I would say, "Okay, share a little bit about what that means in terms of why it's special to you, how and why it excites you," because that is your story. And that may be what you invite other people to share as well.

For example, with the boats work that we do, we ask the captains to share what it is that they love about taking people on these wonderful excursions, because it's actually COVID safety. And it becomes much more than this e-commerce thing that you're supposed to do. It becomes a living and breathing part of your business and part of your organization. And that is when business really innovates, it's when you get fantastic solutions, it's where you meet and collaborate with other people. And more importantly, you get to meet exciting customers that makes day with you for the rest of your business career. And that's the people that you want to be at your party when you retire. So, it's bringing that locality back to you, really.

Jonathan: When I started working with the WooCommerce community a little over two years ago, I looked and see, "Okay, what are the values? What are the things that mattered to us?" And I saw a few things that stood out: the importance of inspiring people with what's possible, of empowering them to move from inspiration to action; do something with it, and then doing so in a way that's inclusive as possible.

And for me, all that really was was taking things that I've seen and felt in WordPress broadly, just bringing it into a bit more specific of a focus, because a lot of that was about the store owners, the merchants, the entrepreneurs, the people. So it's like, "Hey, inspire the 80 year old with what's possible and then empower her to take action on it, and then do so in a way that remembers that we're part of this global ecosystem, where we think about language, we think about making things accessible.

Differences between the WooCommerce and WordPress communities [33:25]

I'm curious from your vantage point and seeing both of these communities. And I would say the key difference to me is how the WooCommerce ecosystem has this benefit of focusing on business and transactions, whereas some things are just clearer because if they're going to do well, they're going to be focused on customers. They're going to be focused on solving a problem for a customer. Maybe let's start with, what are some of the differences you see between these communities, positive or negative?

Abha: Going back to our story boarding and storytelling. When we had the COVID outbreak, one of the things that I got pulled into, because I've got a background in emergency planning communication as well, was doing public health. And we produced pretty much around the clock public health information for communicators. And as part of that, one of the things that I was being contacted for all the time was by people wanting e-commerce solutions- because their businesses were failing, because their livelihoods were collapsing, because they did not know what was safe, they did not want to take something into an environment and be the person who carried it there. And it wasn't just the big businesses. So I heard from a lot of big businesses who wanted quick AI solutions. If I had a pound for every time I got asked for a quick AI solution, I would be a very rich woman and some charity would now be very rich as a result.

But what it showed me is that the opportunities for the WooCommerce community and for the broader e-commerce space are very different from the opportunities just in WordPress. And that's not to negate either of them because they're different, but what it means is that where WooCommerce is and the opportunities it had, because you had a catalyst, it enabled and should continue to enable the WooCommerce community to jump up at a trajectory, which the WordPress community has not had that kind of catalyst.

Yes, more people took up blogs, but they didn't necessarily maintain them. And generally, I'm not talking about WordPress in itself, but just generally, the figures that we're seeing in terms of research data across the world is that a lot of people started telling and having websites. But as things have changed, as we had a new norm, as they've gone back to work, and they've been forced in some cases to do that, that a lot of that self-reflection type sites have disappeared.

And that's not surprising and it's not a disrespect to any platform that they may have used, but that's not the same for what we're seeing in e-commerce and in the e-commerce space. My first degree is in economics and social things. So from an economics perspective, we are definitely seeing a huge growth in what people are doing as part of e-commerce, but also how that is being part of their existence.

I went to a seminar this afternoon where I was speaking at. They were talking about how you need to find automated solutions as part of your e-commerce because this is now your life. And that is a different sense than you need to update your websites. Now, I'm a news journalist by background, and I've worked on 24/7 sites for major events, and I can tell you, it is not the same because updating a website with rolling news has its issues and has its things that you need to change and monitor, but running an e-commerce platform globally, my goodness, the things that you have to keep on top of.

And if you have a good software that has appropriate and useful add-ons, add-ons that can grow, can change, can be tweaked to what you needed, can have automation within those things, can increasingly use the appropriate AI things, because that is where e-commerce is starting to go in terms of machine learning, into the chat bots, they're all part of that, but to do it responsibly, that is a very, very big challenge, but it's also a massive opportunity that e-commerce has never had the like. I was part of the first e-commerce bubble, the 1990s and the crash and all the things on the websites and huge amount of e-commerce sites just went to the floor. And that was a big, big catalyst. It's nothing compared to what we're seeing now.

Jonathan: Yeah. I remember when we made the decision to go virtual with the WooCommerce meetups and just seeing the growth almost, and what's happening is that people are coming and saying, "Hey, help. I need help. How do we do this? And people are helping. And they were getting stores online.Because it's one thing to have a WordPress site or a blog, and you'll have an audience and there's comments, there's different pieces to that dynamic that are interesting and important for a lot of reasons. And it'd be able to get those ideas out there and connect.

An adaptive approach for open source that works for your needs and community [39:17]

With an e-commerce, now you have this very direct, very visceral customer relationship that just makes things clear. And depending on what you're doing, the opportunity for storytelling becomes a lot more obvious if you're solving problems for your customers. And then within the context of the pandemic, things like food delivery, there's all these things that just are very core to what people value, and I think there is something about this community and this shared sense of ownership that when I think about some of the proprietary platforms and where they play to their strengths. They have to, by their nature, take more of a one-size-fits-all approach to the solutions that they'll make available just by their nature, because they're focused on scale, whereas within this open source ecosystem, we can take a much more adaptive approach to, "Okay, what's really going to work for your needs and your community?"

Abha: Definitely. And I think that's actually one of the most exciting things about it. And we could still do that in WordPress. WordPress has huge opportunities and growth opportunities, but there is something that is for WooCommerce and that's not about taking advantage of the situation, it's about responding responsibly, creatively, effectively, well thought out and researched and being able to respond where change is needed. And I often say to people that, "Yes, we can build you an e-commerce platform, but you still have to remember you're talking to people." If you take the people out of your e-commerce solution, it's not going to work.

Humanizing chat bots [41:17]

I audited the chat bot last week on a WooCommerce platform and it was the most dehumanizing experience. I spent from 10 o'clock in the morning to six o'clock in the night, going round in circles with this chat bot because I had to evaluate it.

And every time I put my answer in, it would say, "You are being recorded and you are doing this." And it was like, "Can I speak to a person, please?" In the end, I was actually talking to the chat bot and just going, "Please, please, please, human being." There's been research that won't surprise you, that what people say when they're hold on the phone, and especially when they've been on hold for a long time, and the comments that come up, don't ever assume that you're not actually being heard.

Jonathan: That's funny. Yeah.

Abha: And that's the thing with chat bots. And I've worked with firms who think it's really clever to have a recording device put into the chat bot, one they can hear. And they say, "Oh, we're providing a better service," you know? That's an invasion of privacy and it probably breaches lots of data reflections. So, another message to people out there, know your data protection. And if you're dealing with homicide, don't just think we can gather any information possible and we can use AI in any way or shape that we want, because it's not a good idea. But going back to my people concept and the storytelling that it really is about people. And if your customers and...

I probably can't name a company. A well-known shopping online service that has an e-commerce solution where people can try on clothes that they... I'm trying to not mention their name. They can try on clothes and see, "Oh, would they fit me?" You can do that at some of the well-known specs shops, glasses shops. You can get an image to show you what the glasses might look like. And some of them now go into Android people walking next to them to go, "Hello, I think that looks really nice."

Not because they think that people are not important, but because they realize people are important and people will often take their basket that they haven't taken through the checkout yet, that they have just abandoned, and they will be motivated to finish that if your message to them is actually a human message. And I've seen WooCommerce developers do this too, and they make the messaging and the baskets so ferocious and so unhuman that you think, "Okay, you may get a couple of people who will convert and finish their basket out of fear, but they're certainly not going to come back." And the chances are, they're going to return the item and that's the cost to your business.

Jonathan: Wow. Yeah. What a difference the tone can actually make, right?

Abha: Definitely, definitely, but you make it a pleasant message. You make it about the product, and that's increasingly possible with automation as well, that you can make it about the fact that I've got candlesticks in my basket. "Have you forgotten the candle sticks for your special occasion?" "Oh, yeah. I'm going to complete that." That's the person who cares about whether I get my candle sticks.

It's not really a person, but it gives an impression that as a store owner, you have thought about their customer journey. And again, I know we've not out of the pandemic, but where we are now, the opportunity for the WooCommerce community to come together and understand how you speak to your customer, how you make your customer, not in an artificial way, but in a genuine way, feel that you value them; that they're not just a statistic, that you actually want to know what their repeat item might be. You might want to know how they... what it was about their experience that they really enjoyed, but don't ask them so many questions before they've left the site and immediately after they've finished the site that actually they just block you on email.

I've got little a little plugin for WooCommerce emails. Sorry, it's really, really cool, but the WooCommerce page, on the help page, it has a brilliant page all about how to do emails and any product developer out there. And I'm sure Jonathan probably wrote it. It is fantastic. And it's probably one of my most quoted resources to people because it tells you.

With all things said, some guidance for builders [46:28]

Jonathan: I didn't write it. We have some really sharp folks on the marketing team, who I know contributed to that. It's that humanizing thing. And so one thing that Woo has done fairly well over the years is bringing that personality. And with a name like Woo, you have to look for, "Okay, we clearly have a personality potential." As we're moving towards a close, when you think about the builder's listening, that their work, they're either creating shops for customers or creating plugins, they're a part of this ecosystem working with all these store owners, what are some of the things that you want them to think about and keep in mind, given all that we've covered? What guidance would you offer?

Abha: I think if they approach it from the perspective that actually not just, "I'll go back to my giants pod," if you're a new web developer or store owner, and you have never done this before, one of the great things about using WooCommerce is that you are literally standing on the shoulders of giants. So you are not alone. These are tried and trusted and really enabled products that can help you and that you can learn from. So don't be afraid. Don't go into it half-heartedly. Look at the resources that are there because they are, and I'm constantly signposting things on the WooCommerce community site where it's not just from a marketing perspective, but it's also from a technical user. This is what you do and why. And if you're not sure, then there's probably someone out there who knows the answer, and it's not hard to find now, it's not that you have to do a search that was like 300 pages.

So remember that, go into it positively, but go into it from a long-term perspective. I've seen so many e-commerce shops startup, respond to the pandemic and close because they have not been able to understand Woo and they've gone to another product that they've then not been able to do either, or they have been dissuaded by what they think is complexity, but isn't. So be clear on what your own skills are and what you need to bring in. So if your skills are not in developing the storefront, and it's not something that you are going to feel you get right. Because there's a legal aspect to developing a storefront. It's not just about, "I'll have a website and I'll sell some things on it." There's other things that you have to set up, there's payment gateways, there's identification, there's how you deal with data protection, there's 101 things.

It's also about performance. And one of my things about WooCommerce sites, think about the performance and where you're hosting it. If that's not your bag, talk to somebody who it may be. You don't have to hire the first person you speak to, but you do have to know what it is you're trying to achieve, where you want to go in the long-term, and it's got to be more than just a two-month thing that you might think, "Oh, yeah, I'll do that and then I'll abandon it," because there is so much now you can do, you do not have to be a big firm to have a really good e-commerce platform. And you don't have to have all of your products now. I think that's another thing that I think people are misguided in sometimes, and as a project manager, it's one of the things that I'm really keen that people understand, that their journey to the store and their journey onwards in how they may want to diversify their shops.

So be clear that you can sustain it, don't wait to have all of the products that you may want on your wishlist, because people do that. They don't get started. The 80 year old that we talked about started with seven products. That was it. And first of all, she was going to have three. We said, "Okay, maybe a bit more than that." And she loves it.

And it can be that enthusiasm, it can be something that you learn about, it can be something that becomes a part of your identity, and that is fine and that doesn't mean that you have to have stumped on your head, that you are the biggest or the strongest business person in the world. It just means that you have to have an enthusiasm and interest, go and look it up on the WooCommerce website, and more importantly, join the community, contribute to it and help make the solutions, because that's what makes a difference and that's what will keep your motivation, it will keep your energy, it will find you new products, and it will be something that you will be talking about to your family and friends for the rest of your life.

A wealth of resources [51:48]

Anna: I think that that's awesome. And I would also like us to expand a little bit more on that. I checked your Non Stop News UK Twitter handle, and it's full of really useful resources and mentions of all kinds. I really advise our listeners to go take a look at that. Would you mind sharing some more resources that we can check to learn more about what you shared there yesterday?

Abha: Yeah, definitely. We've been doing quite a bit on Woo recently, so we can probably put all together for you and do a little special page for you if you guys would help. And a lot of them do go to WooCommerce pages, but they do explain why, because we find that just putting a link to something without explaining how this will help you to an audience that is frightened about doing e-commerce, or the opposite; is got these such grand plans that they want to take over the world and you need to go, "Okay, let's scale it down a bit." But we can definitely... We also have Facebook, we have Non Stop News UK on Facebook and Non Stop Business Support on Facebook too and we share stuff and resources there as well.

And definitely, more than happy to do that. On Twitter, as you said, Nonstop News UK. And for people who wanted... There are plenty of people in the community who you can talk to. I am just one of them. And I need to emphasize that the... And I hope that you will get a warm welcome from anybody that you approach, but if anybody specifically wants to talk about the journey that I've had, that I've been in real estate, I'm training WordPress TV marketing community team.

Anna: But I'm in those teams because I know my skills can make a difference and I want to help other people who are coming up who may not have had the experience. I've been really lucky. I've had some great mentors, I've had a mum who I still work with and who is in her eighties and is on the release and regularly picks me up on my coat. But there is so much and so many people out there. It doesn't matter what your background is, where you live, what your first language is, what's your age is. And I think that's something from the WordPress community.

Abha: My personal thing is that don't just think that if someone is retired age, that they're not actually able to contribute to just as much, if not more, and value that. And I think that's something that I see in WooCommerce, it does value that more. From what I've seen as a director of a firm, I've definitely seen that. And I don't know if it's replicating the community. I hope so. But I've seen so many people-

Anna: I've seen that as well and I've been really encouraged by that. And we want more of it.

Abha: It's great. Definitely. And I see 70 year olds who are starting up businesses because WooCommerce is an option.

Anna: And there's a community they can connect with.

Abha: And I think that is amazing. And also setting up websites because WordPress is an option and that's great too, but we just need to find out about it. I was on the contributor lead for WordCamp Europe this year. And if you go to WordCamp Europe's website, there is a page called Contribute on the 2021 website. And you can find out all about the teams that existed at the time and some of the things that they did. And it's a great way to start. Also, go to and find out all the teams, or go to WooCommerce's community. And what I'd like to see is more of that in the community. I don't know if, Jonathan, that is the plan. If there is to help people with specialisms, be able to help with specific areas, but I think that's something that it can definitely learn from the WordPress community.

Jonathan: And my recommendation for folks, the WooCommerce Facebook group, if you're on Facebook, is great. Otherwise, and/or showing up to the meetups, you mentioned the London meetup, there are meetups all throughout. And if there's not one in your area, start one up. There's a lot of opportunity there.

Abha: And all those are brilliant stories. And then we've got the online WP meetup stories that we do, and if Bob decides to do my storytelling podcast, then you'll be seeing a lot more of me because I will be wanting to tell all these of the WooCommerce meetups that exist. Every single person who has an enthusiasm to share is what makes it special.

Anna: That's beautiful. Abha, thank you. I should say, thank you so much for helping us fulfill the promise I made at the beginning of this episode. I was like, "Okay, I don't know if this was sorted out, but it was brilliant." So thank you so much for being part of our conversation today.

BobWP: Hey everyone, BobWP here, thanks again for tuning in to today's show. I would like to give one more shoutout to our two Pod friends. No matter the need you may have in your next Woo shop build, YITH has you covered with over 100 excellent plugins at Add that powerful search to your clients site with ElasticPress from 10up via

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