5 must-have digital customer experience tools in the age of the customer

David Aponovich

David Aponovich is senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he covers digital experience technology and strategies. Twitter: @daponovich

What falls under digital customer experience technology? These are the systems that enable the management and delivery of dynamic, targeted, and consistent content, offers, products, and service interactions across digitally enabled consumer touchpoints.

That might sound like a mouthful, but in essence it addresses the need for great customer experiences. As we progress through the age of the customer -- a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers -- this has become imperative. The most successful companies embrace this reality and retool their organisations, strategies, and technologies to respond to this opportunity. This is no small issue. Our research has found the following:

  • Digital touchpoints foster greater engagement. Digital interactions fit into the lives and expectations of consumers today and push organisations to be ready to connect with these people when and how they want.
  • Digital experiences are richer and pack more punch. Media-rich ‘immersive’ touchpoints enable experiences that bridge the gap between awareness and conversion.
  • Mobile makes digital pervasive. Smartphones and tablets — and the networks that support them — are ubiquitous and omnipresent. The potential for a consumer to be connected is no longer limited based on time, location, or device.
  • Digital competitors threaten. Web competitors now permeate virtually every industry, driving down costs, driving up product flexibility, offering compelling experiences, and making it imperative for most companies to compete on this level and combat these digital disruptors.

Digital experience tools must enable the business

Digital experience tools have evolved to enable marketers and other business stakeholders to take an active role in digital experience efforts, and they've reduced the hands-on management role required of technology teams.

We’ve witnessed the rise of point solutions with business-friendly interfaces for quick adoption and productive use. At the same time, large platform vendors like Adobe, IBM and Oracle have bought or built many of the parts necessary to support broad digital experience needs. Additionally, these platform vendors are, in many cases, working with third-party software firms to integrate capabilities they don't directly own — such as Web content management software providers integrating their offerings with ecommerce.

5 key digital experience capabilities that are foundational to success

It’s unlikely every enterprise will want or need to source all 14 digital experience capabilities to support their ‘owned’ experiences. And, further, it’s unlike any marketer will source such diverse software from a single vendor, despite vendors’ push to build large portfolios.

However, we do see focus on ‘foundational’ components that suit enterprises regardless of size or vertical. These foundations are primary discussion topics when marketers and technology pros meet to plan and execute new ways to win with a better digital customer experience focus.

When considering an increase in digital experience capabilities, it’s likely you’ll examine many or each of these five capabilities:

  • Web content management tools: WCM software helps the business create and manage online experiences across website, mobile and social channels (onsite and third party social content). More than just managing content, these tools often have capabilities that enable marketers to drive personalisation strategies, to connect the right content with the right customer or prospect, and manage mobile experience delivery.
  • ecommerce tools: Not every company requires ecommerce functionality, but, like WCM, ecommerce is a foundational capability that provides depth and breadth of tools to users. ecommerce solutions provide B2B and B2C firms and their e-business professionals the capabilities to connect with, market to, sell to, and serve customers across many digital touchpoints.
  • Web and mobile analytics tools: These tools support the efforts of Web analysts, digital marketers, and other digital experience pros to collect usage data in the Web and mobile channels, and measure and analyse the data to support ongoing optimisation and improvement efforts for digital experiences.
  • A/B and multivariate testing (MVT) tools: This software enables marketers and other digital experience pros to test different components of a digital experience such as site design, site usability, campaign pages, content, and eCommerce pages, and elements on those pages, to produce better results.
  • Site search: Don’t take site search for granted. Some of the most successful websites, including online retailers and ecommerce sites, as well as content-rich sites, prioritise site search as part of a compelling digital experience strategy. Site search tools connect to and index content from diverse systems in order to capture and support digital queries across web and mobile experiences.

Prepare for integration work, but expect a big payoff

Marketers and technology pros should remember that different organisations will chart different paths to achieve success in digital experience delivery. However, the following recommendations can help AD&D pros focus their efforts to have the most impact:

  • Put the build versus buy debate to bed. Don't spend the money or time by tasking tech management with recreating the wheel. Most, if not all, of what you need is available in the commercial or open source world. Save their efforts for the integration work, and strongly consider how the user interfaces for marketing and business users need to be architected to maximise efficient software usage.
  • Take advantage of what tools you have today. Organisations have heavily invested in digital experience software. Few have the budget for a major technology replacement. Exploit your current investments in digital experience technology and obtain quick wins. Supplement where possible (or sensible) by exploring adjacent offerings from incumbent vendors, but be mindful of how well they've integrated digital experience capabilities.
  • Invest in people and processes in parallel. Help your CxO and line-of-business leaders understand that any transformation of technology for digital experience requires a parallel effort in changes around people and process. Guide discussions in areas that will have an impact and ease the transition to a digital experience-centric organization. What's your digital experience strategy? How will your people support it? What skills will be necessary? Are teams and responsibilities aligned with digital experience goals and processes?

Keep in mind: The technology can carry you only so far; people and processes are equally important.

Tags: customer experience management, marketing technology

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