Delivering great customer experience is not just a nice-to-have—it’s what’s going to give you a competitive edge.
Customer experience has been growing in importance to marketers in recent years. It has consistently been recognised that focusing on the customer is a primary driver of innovation, agility, and responsiveness. It enables brands to survive disruption, and even to become disruptors themselves.
Now, according to Econsultancy’s 2017 Digital Trends Briefing, published in association with Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company), most companies expect delivering an optimal customer experience to be what differentiates them from their competition over the next five years. This year’s report surveyed just over 14,000 marketers and found customer experience ranked as both their biggest opportunity and their top priority. Backing that message up, 71% of marketers said optimising the customer journey across multiple touch points would be very important for their digital marketing over the next few years, with 66% emphasising the importance of consistency of message across channels.
But delivering seamless, consistent, and valuable customer experience is hard. It requires a digital transformation, which in itself is not enough. To be able to deliver great customer experience from one end to the other means an organizational transformation too, which requires a change in strategy, culture, skills and processes.
Struggling With Strategy
Of these, the report reveals that marketers feel strategy is the hardest to master, with 40% admitting they’ve struggled to develop and find support for a cohesive plan for the future of their business. The fact that this percentage hasn’t fallen from last year’s report indicates just how tough this challenge is.
But as management guru Peter Drucker is supposed to have said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. In other words, get the culture right, and the strategy should be easier. And the report found evidence of progress in this area. The percentage of marketers saying they found the cultural aspects of digital transformation hard to master dropped from 46% in 2016 to 34% this year, and the report suggests that the arguments for changing cultures to become more customer-centric have been won. Now it’s a question of actually making it happen, and hoping the strategy follows.
Culture change impacts on other areas too, particularly collaboration and process. Companies are starting to move away from silos towards the collaborative approaches, which just over half the client-side respondents felt are crucial to delivering optimal customer experience. The report also suggests cultural change is behind the small drop recorded in the number of marketers finding process issues difficult to master.
Data Remains Key
Data remains the most important factor in delivering great customer experience, according to the reports. Marketers certainly feel they’re getting better at collecting the right data and using it in the right ways. The proportion of marketers saying they found data difficult to master fell from 46% in 2016 to 37% in 2017, suggesting this area, too, is benefiting from the move towards more collaborative, less siloed cultures that encourage data sharing across departments.
But while it’s no surprise that companies are making data analysis a priority, there’s also a sense that we’ve moved into a new era of data use. In the 2015 report, data-driven marketing was the top priority. Now customer experience tops the priority list, and data-driven marketing has dropped down, being rated top priority by just 11% of marketers. About the same percentage are prioritising cross-channel marketing.
The report suggests that what’s happening is that cross-channel and data-driven marketing were the first iteration of customer experience. As companies’ command of data has matured, they no longer need to prioritise this approach, and can move on to the next iteration.
Experience By Design
The report also links focus on customer experience with the embrace of a design-driven approach. The number of marketers saying their business is either definitely or somewhat design-driven is almost the same as the number saying customer experience is a priority (62% and 63%, respectively). This makes sense, because design isn’t about what things look like, it’s about how they work. Great customer experience doesn’t happen by accident—it has to be designed.
Adopting a design-led approach faces many of the same problems as becoming more customer-focused: fragmentation, siloing, lack of capability, and lack of strategy. But things are changing here too. The importance of design is being recognised—more than four-fifths of marketers believe that design-led companies outperform the competition, and three-quarters plan to invest in design next year.
So we seem to be at a turning point with both design and customer experience. The intellectual arguments for both have broadly been won. We’re now moving into the period of execution. And the businesses that execute the most quickly and effectively will be the ones that dominate their markets in years to come.
Digital trends are going to be a big topic of discussion at Adobe Summit 2017, March 19-23 in Las Vegas. Click here to view the agenda and register. (Bonus: Enter code CMDC17 for a $200 discount.)