Back when 1899 turned slowly into 1900, we were in the “Age of Manufacturing.” Some 60 years on, that changed to the “Age of Distribution,” which quickly morphed into the “Age of Information.” Then some time around 2010, we entered the “Age of the Customer.”
There isn’t a successful company out there that hasn’t made customer experience a priority. According to Forrester: “Customer-obsessed strategies are a shared agenda for business and technology leaders—requiring a common view of what is happening in the market and how best to respond.”
In other words, before a company can even start thinking about offering top-notch customer experience, it must first construct the framework that makes CX innovation possible.
“We work with a lot of companies that are focused on customer experience and digital transformation,” said Loni Stark, senior director, strategy and product marketing, at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company). “We’ve begun to see a pattern in terms of how companies are setting themselves up and laying a foundation for CX success. For example, you need a digital foundation first, before you can even really talk about customer experience.”
Indeed, a strong digital foundation is one of three framework fundamentals, according to CX experts. The other two: a data-informed content strategy and internal cultural alignment.
Strong Digital Foundation
Enterprises must understand “a critical paradigm” as they begin this technical and digital journey, according to Craig Gorsline, president of ThoughtWorks.
“The drivers of the world they are existing in are so different,” he told CMO.com. “Speed, scope, and impact are all operating at a different velocity than they did even 10 years ago. And enterprises, more than ever, are really having to face the stark reality that they need to not just augment legacy technology, but they need to really rewire the entire enterprise.”
Carl Madaffari, Epsilon’s senior VP of marketing and innovation, said companies need to have the “technology chops” necessary to understand the current customer experience and determine where improvement is needed.
At the forefront is the need for strong analytics to guide real-time decisions, making “one view” of the customer more important than ever before. Beyond analytics, content management, listening tools, and personalization technology are key to creating a strong digital foundation.
“If you look at the way we function as human beings, if you and I are talking, I’m listening to what you are saying and I first need to process what you’ve said before I can respond,” Adobe’s Stark said. “Companies should be striving to build out a digital foundation that mimics our real-world interactions, where they listen, process what’s been said, and only then react.”
Marketers must have a digital foundation that allows them to study the customer journey, where it hums, where there’s friction, and where it’s completely broken down, said Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group, and author of “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design.” “This is the low-hanging fruit to iteration,” he told CMO.com. “Innovation comes later.”
Additionally, companies must be able to identify their traditional customers, connected customers, and desired customers, and organize them by behaviors, preferences, and values—not demographics, Solis said. Take note of what they value and why and how they spend their hard-earned money, he suggested. This will set the foundation to modernize the brand for a new generation of customers.
Building out a strong digital foundation, Solis added, also means bringing in social scientists to humanize today’s—and tomorrow’s—customers to the business, and to explain what it takes to be culturally and technologically relevant in their world.
Data-Informed Content Strategy
Once a strong digital foundation has been set, the next hurdle is figuring out content. “If you think about every digital experience you have, whether it’s on a tablet or a phone, there’s content being delivered to you,” Stark said.
Indeed, marketers today have to create more content than they’ve ever had to before. By 2030, 50% of all marketing will be done in real time, but many companies aren’t set up to fufill that mandate from a content perspective. As a result, they first need to restructure internally in a way that enables them to be more agile. That means having the right people, processes, and technologies in place to create content, draw insights around engagement, and consistently optimize to ensure the message is right.
“Companies need a new way of being able to think about their content and how quickly they can create it, which is very different from the world they are used to where sometimes it was just one channel, like a paper catalog,” Stark said.
Additionally, companies need to rethink how they create content, placing data at the center of their strategies in order to map to all the various touch points along the customer journey. Without it, CX innovation is next to impossible, experts said.
Once an organization’s content production strategy is up and running, it’s time to consider distribution. That can be tricky given the average U.S. consumer owns 7.2 internet-connected devices, according to the latest analysis from Adobe Digital Insights (ADI). To that point, Adobe’s Stark talked about the importance of content working across all channels and devices as a way of enabling more “fluid” consumer experiences.
Case in point: Netflix. Imagine you’re watching “How To Get Away With Murder,” season two, on your mobile device, and just as you are about to find out who killed one of the main characters (Wes), your phone dies. Horrific, right? Maybe not so much, because when you get home later and open Netflix on your connected TV, you’re able to watch the episode right where you’ve left off.
According to Stark, this fluidity mimics real human interaction. “You and I may be at a party and we talk about a particular topic and then part ways,” Stark explained. “But then we’ll pick up where we left off the next time we speak, right? Whether it is over the phone or via IM, it doesn’t matter. That’s the nature of human interactions.”
Finally, a company’s digital journey and ability to innovate is as much about psychology, anthropology, and sociology as it is about technology, according to ThoughtWorks’ Gorsline. It’s about unleashing people to experiment, think differently, try new things, and fail fast. This is probably the single hardest change for a heritage business whose history is steeped in hierarchy and approval processes.
“Customer experience innovation isn’t possible without a change in culture, embedding principles of innovation into the culture, and rewiring the skill sets of individuals,” Gorsline said. “It’s about approaching product development, marketing, UX, etc., in different ways than in the past, when execution was deterministic. In this world of digital transformation, it needs to be iterative. It needs to be learnings-based.”
In fact, the entire company—not just the marketing department—has to rethink execution. Take, for example, the old waterfall method of software development: define requirements, build, test, and then deploy. It’s a very linear approach, which doesn’t stand up to today’s pace of market changes.
“By the time a company gets through defining all of its requirements in the waterfall method, the world has changed and you have to start all over,” Gorsline said. “Today you’ve got to be more agile and more iterative. It means rewiring the way that your internal organization approaches execution and the delivery mechanisms of digital innovation and design.”
Companies are also reluctant to make customer experience a top-down, companywide initiative, Epsilon’s Madaffari said. Many in the C-suite still, incorrectly, believe that if they build it, people will come. For true CX innovation, all of the various business units in an organization must pull in the same direction to drive efficiency and maximize investments. Not doing so could result in additional fragmentation across an already siloed organization.
All Together Now
The ability to deliver great customer experiences is no longer just a nice-to-have—it’s a competitive requirement. It’s also a massive undertaking that won’t get far without a solid digital foundation, data-informed content strategy, and cultural alignment. Followed thoughtfully, this framework will serve as the precursor to unleashing the power of CX innovation.
"Before an organization can start thinking about customer experience, it needs to work through many aspects of what it means to be truly digital. Being digital rests on technology, of course, " said ThoughtWorks’ Gorsline. "But you also have to have a culture that embraces technical excellence, that desires to build winning products and services, and has content for every step of the customer journey."