What's Next For Digital Customer Experience Tools?

Many enterprises we’ve spoken with have discovered that great digital customer experiences matter to their customers and ultimately have tangible bottom-line benefits. If you’re involved in delivering and executing great digital customer experiences, you’ll want to access Forrester’s new TechRadar report that digs into the diverse, rapidly evolving technology ecosystem that supports this strategic business imperative. My colleague David Aponovich recently wrote about the importance of these technologies. When sourcing these technologies, keep some of these key findings in mind:

  • Delivering contextual experiences is the holy grail for most organizations. This deeper level of personalization something organizations continue to strive for in order to deliver more relevant, adaptive, and predictive experiences to the customer. Technologies supporting contextualization dominate this TechRadar’s Growth phase.
  • Organizations need technologies that create business value out of a glut of data. The reality is that good content strategies rely on data to provide customer insights. Companies that effectively harness customer data, product data, social media data, and other information to create and deliver contextual cross-channel experiences will experience brand differentiation, customer loyalty, improved online metrics, and cross-channel revenue growth.
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Ask These Four Questions When Buying Site Search

“Search is often your last chance to keep a customer on your website before they go elsewhere to find the same product or content.” I love this quote (courtesy of the president of a digital agency). It shows us exactly why we should think of site search beyond its status as an IT-funded afterthought. Your customers need search in order to find a named item or piece of content. Or they rely on search because they can’t find what they need through the site’s menu structure. When looking to source site search solutions, organizations are faced with many options from mostly niche players and a few large vendors. How do you make sense of this? I recommend you begin narrowing the site search field by asking yourself these four key questions:

  1. Do your existing tools have sufficient bundled search capabilities? Many web content management and eCommerce vendors have embedded open source search capabilities into their core product (e.g., IBM, Intershop, hybris, Ektron, Sitecore) and some have innovated search experiences based on the open source framework. This makes it potentially unnecessary to buy a standalone search solutions. But be careful. For some solutions, embedded search only indexes and processes customer queries. It doesn’t allow for more advanced search features like merchandiser consoles or business user support for different ranking models. 
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What Did We Hear At This Year’s Customer Experience Forum? An AD&D Perspective

This year’s Customer Experience Forum just wrapped up, and two days and 20 client meetings later I’m back at Forrester’s headquarters. I’ve had a moment to think about the questions clients asked me, and as an application development and delivery (AD&D) analyst, it was great to see that attendees were interested in bridging the customer experience strategy with their technology strategy and decision-making process.

When thinking about those issues, the top three questions I was asked during the forum included:

  • What vendor can help us support personal experiences? I got this question a lot, and each time I found myself repeating that moving to deeply contextual experiences isn’t solved by just one technology or one vendor. Many technologies (including those you may already have in place) support a contextual strategy, and they each work together to deliver a deeply contextual experience. These include (among others) tools like AB/multivariate testing; web content management; eCommerce platforms; recommendations engines; customer analytics; and site search. And when it comes to mobile apps, it’s not always a sourcing story as you’ll likely need to build applications that take contextual inputs into account (e.g. location).
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How Well Are Your IT Groups Supporting Digital Experiences?

Your customers have been dazzled by the customer experiences they see from firms like Google or Apple. How are you going to keep up? Do you have the right IT culture and people in place to deliver on this new imperative? Are your IT objectives based on deep customer understanding? Do you have strategic scenarios to achieve your goals that are cross-business and take into account important strategic elements like governance and change management? Do you have the right provisioning policies and technology tools in place?

Most firms we speak with still have application development and delivery (AD&D) pros focused on keeping systems stable and secure. That’s no longer enough. In our recently published Digital Experience Delivery Maturity Assessment, we outline more than 100 essential practices for organizations looking to act on their digital transformation strategies. Keep in mind this is an emerging space so no one has figured everything out, but our assessment outlines four major areas to begin with:

  • People.  IT’s culture, leadership practices, collaboration methods, and skills and staffing are important factors that affect the delivery of digital customer experiences. Organizations strive to have IT groups with an agile, customer-first culture; collaborative organizational structures and metrics that foster collaboration between marketing, lines of business, and IT; and the appropriate skills and staffing that support both back-end development (e.g., mobile application developers, data-literate architects) and solution management (e.g., web content management specialists, digital asset managers).
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How Are Organizations Supporting Digital Customer Experience Delivery?

This post originally appeared on destinationCRM.

Forrester recently surveyed 233 digital customer experience professionals with decision-making roles in digital experience (DX) technologies, asking them about priorities, sourcing decisions, and strategic direction. In this survey, we debunked a few widely held exaggerations: that IT is declining, marketing is the new king, and mobile applications have completely replaced the Web. Instead, we found a much more muddled picture, where many different stakeholders are balancing many different priorities. Here’s what we uncovered:

  • Organizations prioritize the Web. Mobile applications are still very important (44% of respondents said they were prioritizing tablet apps and 42% said they were prioritizing mobile apps for phones and other mobile devices), but this doesn’t mean that Web concerns are disappearing — quite the opposite. When we asked respondents to cite the top three prioritized channels for digital experience delivery, Web initiatives remain a top priority. 80% of respondents said that traditional (e.g., desktop) Web initiatives were a top priority, while 59% said mobile Web for tablet and 56% said mobile Web (excluding tablets) were a priority.
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The Who, What, Where, And Why Of Marketing Technology Groups

This post originally appeared on destinationCRM.

We’ve heard a lot in the past year about the future role of marketing technologists as solvers of the “IT/marketing clash of the titans” (as one Forrester client put it to me recently). These technologists are more than just your basic webmasters. Instead, they are professionals with deep knowledge of how technology can deliver on marketing strategies in order to bring about better digital customer experiences. At Forrester, we’ve started to see an emerging trend of shared services groups whose goal is to bridge the marketing technology divide. Our latest research found that organizations have turned to this model — which we call the marketing technology group — to foster tighter integration between IT and marketing and between strategy/design professionals and technologists. Defining characteristics include:

  • Who? These groups tend to be made up of a diverse lot of professionals, but in general are staffed by a combination of marketing strategists, creative design professionals, and technologists with design and business savvy. We found some of the most sought-after technologists were mobile- and data-literate developers and higher-ranking IT leaders, like enterprise architects, who can coordinate an ever-growing number of digital experience technologies (e.g. CRM, Web content management, commerce platforms, analytics, etc.). The key is to give these groups direct tie-in to C-level executives. As a vice president of strategy at a digital agency told us, “The problem with shared services is that too often it’s staffed by only powerless workers.”
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Where Have All The Site Search Vendors Gone?

A lot of our clients tell us that search on websites is an understaffed, IT-funded afterthought. But watch for the status quo to change, because search hasn’t lived up to its potential yet. As site search continues to evolve, it will evolve beyond just helping people find information. Instead, it will help organizations, for example, link search to things like promotions/ads and landing pages.Our last site search survey showed that two-thirds of decision-makers were looking to expand website search deployments. But who are the vendors out there? The past few years have seen some transitions in the site search market, with many independent vendors getting acquired, some shifting focus, and some stalwarts still remaining in the marketplace:

  • The number of independent vendors is shrinking. Larger vendors continue to refine their digital customer experience appeal by acquiring other products, and many of these include independent site search vendors. This includes Oracle (acquired Endeca in 2011); SDL (acquired Dutch search vendor Fredhopper in 2010); IBM (acquired search and discover vendor Vivisimo in 2012); Microsoft (acquired FAST in 2008 and bundled it with SharePoint); and Adobe (acquired Omniture in 2009, bringing with it the old Mercado search product). This slew of acquisitions doesn’t mean that independent vendors are out of the game. Many still offer site search solutions (Coveo, Elicit, Fabasoft, and Attivio, among others) but their numbers are shrinking.
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Separate Agency Hype From Reality: Evaluate Service Providers' Technical Competencies

“Often, my IT group isn’t even aware of what application development and implementation is being outsourced. Eventually, this creates a big problem for us ...We have to clean up a lot of messes.” (North American manufacturing organization)

“Our marketing group paid an agency $250,000 to launch an app and didn’t tell IT. There was no QA done, the agency had no idea how to measure satisfaction, and the app was unstable. The app had just a 2.5 star rating in the iOS app store, and eventually marketing had to kill the app because it just wasn’t working.” (Fortune 500 company)  

Do any of these anecdotes sound familiar? More often than not, we talk with organizations where the business uses agency partners to work around IT. But IT pros need to be marketing’s eyes and ears when it comes to evaluating a service provider’s technology expertise. We recommend asking some of the following questions:

  • What’s your mix of offerings? Vendors come in all shapes and sizes: marketing/ad agencies, creative design agencies, SIs, and consultants. When it comes to digital experience, these vendors are converging. It’s not about which vendor is “best,” but rather which service provider has the right mix of skills for your initiative. Are you looking to launch an innovative campaign to strengthen your brand messaging? You probably want a marketing/ad agency with strong creative skills. Are you looking to implement a killer mobile app? You want an agency strong in technical and design skills. Do you need a thought leader to help you revamp your omnichannel experience, helping create an overall strategy and implement a new website and mobile app? You need a partner strong in consulting, design, and technical skills. 
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What's Your Digital Experience X Factor?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in Mike Gualtieri’s Technopolitics podcast. We discussed why digitally enabled customer experiences are no longer a nicety; they’re an obligation. But the problem is that IT and business don’t always work well together because:

  • Business relegates IT to a uncreative computing utility.
  • IT chuckles at business’s technology naïveté.

I think the gulf between business and IT is closing — I don’t see that the clash is quite as big as it used to be, and the IT pros I speak with already have been working on getting closer to the business. But often, they’re not going fast enough. Why? You cannot separate technology from customers’ digital experience and you cannot separate business from technology.

My solution: You need to hire IT pros who have the digital experience X factor. This is going to be increasingly important as the emerging role of “marketing technologists” and tech-savy customer experience professionals continues to evolve. I discuss in the podcast what I think the X factor is, but some of its major components are:  

  1. Customer-oriented, customer-centric values (even if they’re not customer-facing or customer service agents)
  2. A marketing and business mindset
  3. Creative and design thinking (not just technology-minded)
  4. Strength in strategic and design skills
  5. A “digital first” mindset
  6. Competancies in a  breadth rather than depth of skill sets (e.g., developers with knowledge of multiple programming languages instead of just deep knowledge of Java)
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2013 Digital Customer Experience Survey

Our application development and delivery (AD&D) team has recently launched our survey on digital customer experience initiatives, and we’re looking for information on your digital customer experience strategy and technology investments. Some of the questions we’d like to get answers to include:

  • What projects (if any) you have planned for this year.
  • Details about what those projects look like (e.g. budgets, staffing, and primary decision-makers).
  • What investments you plan to make in technology.
  • How you will use third parties (e.g. agencies, consultants, SIs) to help with your digital customer experience projects.
Not planning anything for the coming year? That’s okay — we still want to hear your thoughts! It should only take you 10 to 15 minutes to complete the survey. The information you provide will help shape an upcoming report. What’s in it for you? To thank you for your time, we’ll send you a free copy of that report when we publish it.
 
Here’s the survey again, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.