As people carry out more of their daily activities online, they have also come to expect brands to deliver a seamless experience across all digital platforms. The windows for catching and keeping their attention can be small, while the slightest imperfections in the customer’s experience can be enough to drive them away.
More than 40 per cent of UK online businesses cannot track repeat buying and browsing on their website, according to Barclays’ Online Business Outlook survey 2013. This is having an impact on loyalty as companies put so much emphasis on attracting new customers that they fail to monitor the experience users are having on digital platforms effectively.
Discerning consumers think nothing of taking their custom elsewhere or whinging on social media – and this has now made managing the customer experience one of the biggest priorities for marketers.
UK-based sportswear website Zaggora generates about 50 per cent of its sales from the US, so the user experience must work for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. The company, which runs regular user surveys and uses net promoter scores, has sold more than 500,000 units in 110 countries and received recognition for the best ecommerce strategy of the year at the 2012 National Business Awards.
Yet Zaggora can’t afford to be complacent, according to chief executive Malcolm Bell. The Zaggora website was relaunched on 3 May after taking into account the findings of months of measurement.
“We are less than two years old but have grown rapidly despite using an off-the-shelf ecommerce system,” says Bell. “But our basic infrastructure was starting to cause problems regarding the user experience. Research revealed that the checkout time was too long at about two minutes 40 seconds – it should have been less than one minute.”
Zaggora also discovered that between November 2012 and April 2013, the percentage of visitor traffic coming via mobile and tablet rose from 20 per cent to 50 per cent. “Our mobile experience was shocking, with conversion rates at just 1 per cent compared with about 6 per cent on desktop,” says Bell. “We had to address this urgently.”
The new website, which is accessible across various digital platforms, is built around a bespoke ecommerce system that has been designed to make the site more social. Zaggora is also trying to promote the idea of ‘social fitness’ where women who usually exercise alone can share ideas. The brand already has almost 400,000 Facebook fans.
As Zaggora has learned, brands not only need to have a presence across a variety of digital platforms, they also need to be able to measure their customers’ experiences online so they know when and how people are becoming frustrated. Only then can they start to put things right and to encourage loyalty.
“Measurement across digital platforms must be ongoing,” says Bell. “We do a daily analytics run to assess how long people are spending on the site because, ultimately, it is all about traffic and conversion,” he adds.
A host of measurement methods such as survey responses, net promoter scores, web analytics and usability testing are all being combined by marketers. News media brand Metro has discovered that taking a blended approach to analysing the customer experience on digital platforms can also push forward product innovation, and inform those responsible for devising and designing the individual ways that customers will interact.
Metro links the results from web analytics and various quantitative and qualitative research to get a true sense of someone’s emotional reaction to its digital products. Nowhere are consumers’ attention spans as short as in the world of daily news publishing, and Metro product development director Jamie Walters says that emotion significantly affects how someone interacts with the brand across different platforms.
Metro uses the Omniture web analytics tool as well as Google Analytics. “Obviously, you need to be clear about what exactly you want to find out,” says Walters. “We have fortnightly product performance meetings where analytics are reviewed in-depth but our content experts also contribute,” he explains.
This intense data analysis has enabled Metro to make some important product development decisions to improve customer experience. For instance, when the company first published its tablet edition in 2011, research revealed that 70 per cent of readers who got past page 4 read the entire paper. It seemed the convenience of the ‘swipe’ motion on the tablet encouraged readers to keep moving onto the next page.
The next challenge was how to recreate the intuitive nature of the swipe on a desktop computer, and the Metro website has now been relaunched around responsive design principles.
“The desktop site has constant content reminders and prompts with arrow images to help people navigate,” says Walters.
Another brand adopting a variety of measurement tools is motorbike insurer Bennetts. It uses Google Analytics, enhanced asset tracking, survey recording, web stats, multivariate testing, net promoter score and social media monitoring from Brandwatch, among other methods.
To test and optimise the appearance and user experience on its website, Bennetts tries different page designs, button colours and image sizes to get an understanding of what consumers respond to. By including consumer reviews on the website, conversion rates also increase while a ‘quote retrieval’ feature minimises the effort for returning customers.
Hannah Squirrell, Bennetts marketing and ecommerce director, says: “Website data also gives us a host of useful metrics including customer dwell time, which highlights the popularity of content; the top pages viewed; key traffic generation sources and the volume of returning visits. These insights show us what is not working on the Bennetts customer journey, allowing us to continuously tweak and tailor the user experience.”
For traditional brands that have made their name on the high street, it can be difficult adjusting to an ecommerce world and replicating the offline customer experience on digital platforms.
Travel agent Thomas Cook has 1,500 shops but has struggled to keep customers engaged throughout the online purchasing cycle. It has invested in Dell’s Foglight software, which monitors customers’ experiences in the hope that the company can capture sales that were being lost because website visitors became frustrated.
“You need a monitoring tool to discover what isn’t working, because when customers contact your offline call centre to complain that they could not book a holiday online, they don’t want to be interrogated,” says Thomas Cook’s service delivery manager Andy Dean. “We previously had no information on the error messages customers were seeing or any accurate insight into the speed of the booking process.”
The Foglight real-time monitoring dashboard has enabled the brand’s digital team to follow and replicate a customer’s personal journey and to discover at which point a problem occurred. One change has been to move the terms and conditions box so that people are not annoyed at the end of the booking process when they are reminded that they have forgotten to tick it.
Thomas Cook is now alerted to potential problems quickly and it can follow up on abandoned bookings via email. “We are generating about £130,000 of additional revenue every month from previously abandoned bookings,” says Dean.
Being able to recoup what were once lost sales requires a level of personalisation in the online customer experience that most brands are only now implementing. Others, such as search engines, have been doing it much longer.
“Yahoo! has done personalisation at scale for years,” says Piers North, the company’s strategy director. Yahoo! has its own technology, the Content Optimisation Relevance Engine (CORE), which ensures that the stories featured on the home page that an individual user sees are those most likely to be of interest to that person. CORE measures which users click on which stories and how often, and every few minutes Yahoo! processes gigabytes of feedback to learn how a user’s behaviour and interests influence the likelihood that he or she will choose a specific article.
“Since we implemented CORE in 2008 we have seen a 300 per cent increase in the click-through rate,” North claims.
Careful measurement and management of the customer experience can generate loyalty as well as just clicks and one-off sales.
Online and mobile game producer We R Interactive uses data analysis and also works with other brands – including Gillette, Nike and Red Bull – to ensure consumers come back repeatedly.
For example, its game I Am Playr lets the user play through a virtual football career. All the different game experiences are delivered to players via We R Interactive’s own proprietary platform, called Muse, which measures and tracks more than 20,000 data points every day. Insight gained from this information is used to enhance each player’s experience so they keep returning.
Game time has increased from 30 minutes a day 18 months ago to one hour. When it was launched in 2011, I Am Playr had 100,000 users; today it has 9 million globally.
Partner brands now also use the game to research and promote their own products and services, says We R Interactive global commercial director Paul Whitehead.
When it comes to interacting with consumers across digital platforms, brands must be aware of users’ high expectations. The aim must be to create a seamless, personalised and engaging experience that keeps them coming back for more.
19% of companies have a framework for analysing customer journeys that cross online and offline.
Source: Econsultancy Online Measurement and Strategy Report 2012
54% of organisations are carrying out some kind of sales attribution.
26% of companies now use more than just the ‘last click’ as the basis for attributing a sale.
Source: Econsultancy Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing – Making Sense of Marketing Attribution
47% say that IT roadblocks are ‘major barriers’ to personalising the customer experience.
44% say lack of budget and lack of staff prevent them from investing in, or improving, their personalisation.
Source: Econsultancy Realities of Online Personalisation Report 2013
All reports available to download from Econsultancy.com
Customer experience management is going to be the most important area for marketers to differentiate their brands, by providing an inspiring, engaging experience for customers and non-customers at every single touchpoint, whether this is online or offline.
Digital marketing systems can listen and respond to the needs of customers across online and offline channels, to ensure a single, consistent customer conversation. Whatever your customers have told you before, they expect you to know and act on it. If a customer has just bought a TV, they will not want you to market another TV to them.
Many brands are using different forms of personalisation – be it implicit, such as through a customer’s search engine terms or location; or explicit, where the customers themselves provide information.
A great digital customer experience is similar to a great customer experience, it is where the brand goes the extra mile to surprise, delight or simply astonish the customer. Customers want all digital channels they use to integrate seamlessly together: if they use a smartphone they want their digital journey to continue on their laptop.
Brands need to start to measuring engagement with a website – whether this is downloading some content, booking a test drive or making a sale. Digital marketing systems can measure engagement across different digital channels and start to see an individual customer journey, and these journeys can be scattered across different channels. The key is to start to orchestrate these customer journeys, be ready with the next step, pick up on the customer’s cues. Give values to the digital goals that you want your customer to achieve, and this will focus your measurement.
With such a wealth of data, it is hard to decide what to measure. If your visitor or customer is using your digital channels but not doing anything that’s meaningful for your brand, you need to be able to analyse why. Digital marketing systems let you try out new approaches, and if something is working you can scale out quickly.
It is also crucial that your data can integrate across a range of different business systems such as CRM, ecommerce, ERP and call-centre systems, so that when a visitor or a customer interacts with a brand’s digital channels, all of the latest information can be utilised. This is essential to deliver this single customer view, so if a customer has ordered online, it is available in-store, or if a conversation has taken place with a customer, the result of the conversation is reflected in the digital channels.
You can start to deliver an entirely planned customer experience.
Customer experience management has moved to the centre of the digital stage in recent months, as companies realise that the quality of engagement across a range of channels and devices will increasingly define their brand.
For many companies, the digital experience is the product, and often just as important for building brand equity and customer loyalty as the goods, services or content they are selling.
Of course, technology is not a panacea for companies which have a broken offline customer experience or a poor product, whether you are a restaurant chain with a failing menu or an airline with unhelpful and unfriendly staff. But the digital experience, built on a bedrock of sound technology and joined-up customer data, can nonetheless play a vital role in attracting customers and keeping them loyal.
Data, customer experience and technology are all key pillars of the Modern Marketing Manifesto published by Econsultancy and Marketing Week last month (find it at mwlinks.co.uk/manifestosignup). Another related constituent of the manifesto is personalisation, which is becoming a key weapon in the marketer’s armoury. As our manifesto notes: “We are in an era where we have exciting and powerful new data points to power personalisation.”
The growing interest in personalisation has been underlined by a recent report by Econsultancy, entitled The Realities of Online Personalisation and based on a survey of more than 1,000 digital and ecommerce professionals.
The research found that the majority of responding companies agree that “personalisation of the web experience is critical to current and future success”, with more than half (61 per cent) saying this is “definitely” true.
The research also found that for two-thirds of brands surveyed, improved business performance and customer experience are the main drivers for personalising the website experience.
Despite the opportunities afforded by technology, the research also shows that the use of personalisation techniques by businesses is still low. Most marketers understand that the end goal needs to be a customer experience built around the customer, but the realities of working for a large brand mean that this is often easier said than done.