How Mercer, Gartner harness digital experiences for the future

Analyst firm and financial services giant share their lessons in customer experience success at Dreamforce 2018

Harnessing digital platforms and AI for customer experience, breaking down situational thinking and embracing journey-based thinking, and finding a north star for engagement are just some of the ways Mercer and Gartner see organisations building better customer experiences.

Gartner VP and distinguished analyst, Gene Phifer, and Mercer global chief marketing officer, Jeannie Mullen,talked about their own experience with digital experience platforms and offered advice to those looking at reinventing their own digital experiences during this week's Salesforce Dreamforce in San Francisco.

As Phifer pointed out, digital experiences (DX) support customer experiences (CX). The challenge is organisations are dealing with lots of bright and shiny digital things out there.

"New channels, new devices, new modalities - how do you know where to invest your time and money?” he said. “It’s important to remember we’re doing DX to support our CX initiatives. To deliver the next best DX, I have to understand the context of the user and understand the individual, with things like voice of the customer. I have to pull together the right content and services and deliver that best next action."

Phifer said artificial intelligence (AI) can help in delivering the next best action, but humanity also needs to be involved because AI is not yet at the point where it can interpret emotions effectively. 

There are also inherent issues when shifting an organisation to be one focused on the customer journey.

“There are silos of customer engagement. Customer service, digital commerce, marketing, sales, all those silos are visible to the customer and they kill the CX. You have to bridge these silos and that’s a key part to delivering holistic CX experiences to customers,” Phifer said. “Bridging these can be hard because the people in the silos have been incentivised for years to optimise their silo-centric thinking, and not undertake journey-centric thinking.

“Technology, data and digital is also expanding at an exponential rate, that makes it hard to get in front of. We must recognise the customer lifecycle is comprised of a series of customer journeys, which span those silos.”

For Phifer, the DX of the future will require a multi-device, multi-channel, multi-modality strategy, and feature agile, flexible infrastructure. It also needs to be pluggable, so you can put new technologies/channels/devices in without having to start again. 

“The digital experience platform [DXP] needs to be architected for now, but also the future. It needs to include all digital channels, as well as analogue channels of engagement, not just content but all touch points and experiences. Your centre of gravity needs to include experiences, data and processes,” he explained. 

“CX is not new. But the future of DX is personalised, contextualised, immersive, pervasive, transparent, connected, and is expected/demanded. The future of DX is bright, but you have to be ready for it.

“The boundaries between real and virtual are going to get really blurry.” 

Lying at the heart of your organisation’s CX of course is understanding your customers. Phiper advised understanding the realm of the possible and "skating ahead of the puck" by understanding where your competition is and staying ahead of them.

When Mullen started at Mercer, the organisation needed to break its ‘situational thinking’. “We were challenged in how to translate our expertise into the digital world and to customers. The question we needed to answer was: How do we bring something with 84 years of knowledge into a world that is now totally digital and accessible?” she said. 

Mullen said this required breaking down "situational thinking". "People’s situational approach is very different. For the better customer journey, we had to eliminate our situational bias," she said. "No longer could we be thinking about the online experience being about a product. We had to think about the journey of the person coming to our sites. 

“We asked ourselves, what is the situation bringing them to us? How do we engage with them about it?” 

Mercer tried out a new approach on its premier site, and started to build a conversation not around products and services, but around topics, like the future of work. 

“We invited our clients to share their stories to help each other to be stronger,” Mullen explained. “We invited them to share those learnings and best practices, within privacy guidelines. Of course, your most important customer is your employees. So we started to build employee conversational topics and employees started engaging and asking for a conversational platform as well."

All this was CX powered by a DXP. 

“Sharing content, getting rid of situational bias, looking at chatter across groups, cutting down silos is all effective, but it also has to be agile and impactful," Mullen said.

To achieve this, Mercer put three principles in place: Connecting people, enabling them to learn, and enabling them to work in an agile environment. "Now, we have expanded this across our entire Mercer clientele, and we’re all working collaboratively. And we’re just getting started,”  she said.

To implement this kind of DX/CX/DXP strategy, Mullen recommended companies ask themselves what the ultimate mission of the company is first.

“What is your north star? From there, build your customer journey. Then, look at the tools you need," she said. 

“Your customer should not know they you’re giving them this personalised journey. They shouldn’t see that it is served up; it should feel organic and natural. Also, DXP and CX is important, but you also need to offer that old-school way of connecting with people as well. It all needs to be seamless, easy and intuitive.” 

Vanessa Mitchell travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.

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