An optimised customer experience is going to be marketers’ ‘killer app’ in 2016, according to Adobe’s Digital Trends 2016 report in association with Econsultancy.
The survey of 7,000 global marketing, digital and ecommerce professionals found that more than one-fifth (22%) cite experience as their priority, while compelling content and data-driven marketing are also recognised as significant components in solving the customer experience puzzle; 16% name both.
This is not surprising because customer experience is the sum of all interactions people have with a company. The two elements are key drivers. However, when you are talking about the sum of experiences, separating out and focusing on just one or two elements is not the way to create balance. Optimising experience means approaching it holistically.
EMEA product and industry marketing for Adobe Jamie Brighton says: “Customers need a compelling, personalised and relevant experience that is useful and helps them achieve what they are trying to do. Increasingly, we need to do this everywhere. It’s no good having great experience on one channel while forgetting about mobile or desktop.”
This is going to prove to be a significant challenge for brands in 2016, not least because of the sheer volume of content and channels competing for customer attention. To rise to the top, brands will need to deliver a valuable and relevant experience – more often than not in real time.
Sean Donnelly, senior research analyst with Econsultancy, explains how even notoriously customer-hostile Ryanair eventually recognised the value of customer experience. “A year and a half ago, the company launched ‘Always Getting Better’. The airline recognised that customer experience went far beyond user experience. It spent time focusing on customer service, using social media as a service channel and two new websites with an account function. Until very recently, all Ryanair purchases were effectively anonymous.”
Brighton adds: “Ryanair’s impact of giving better customer experience isn’t just in profit forecasts but the sheer number of passengers. With 103 milion passengers expected in 2016, the company is also operating close to 95% capacity. Ryanair has set itself apart from the competition by putting the customer at the centre.”
It makes sense that the top digital tasks for executives in 2016 are increasing targeting and personalisation (31%) and multichannel campaign management (24%), according to Adobe’s report. Content optimisation remains important, though this is unchanged since 2015. It is interesting to note that this year will be a continuation of a journey many marketers have already embarked upon as the year-on-year change in attitudes to customer experience has grown only by one or two percentage points.
To make significant progress in delivering on customer experience, companies will need to prioritise cross-functional capabilities. Marketing automation is revealed as being the most under-valued capability for delivering excellence, recognising the speed with which content and communication needs to be delivered for the brand to stay relevant.
Nick Turner, international executive creative director at design agency Razorfish, explains the potential for technology to change experience: “How can we create experiences where people can be interested in buying a car without test driving it? Now, nothing is impossible. I can go to work and say ‘what if’ but the challenge is ‘who are we designing for?’.”
Brands recognise that getting the right technology and the data to feed it is a challenge. Access to skilled analysts and understanding the complex software provider ecosystem are areas of focus. “Design is about everyone’s input. Coders sit next to strategists, user experience sits next to the client and the client sits next to the customer. It’s a new way of working,” Turner adds. Donnelly points out that in the Ryanair case study, the marketing department is “now working with the digital department; two years ago, the latter didn’t even exist”.
Thomas Barker, senior analytics manager at Royal Bank of Scotland says he has worked with internal teams to integrate data and content to improve experience: “Our aim is to become a customer-focused, data-driven slice of awesomeness. It’s about the feedback and the personalisation. To do this, we empowered the front line, the journey managers. There are 70 of them looking after all the digital touchpoints and we gave them the power to change the content themselves,” he says.
“When you bring content and data together you can begin to engage in real time,” Brighton adds. “You need to listen to the signals people are giving but it’s also about social graph and CRM. We’re increasingly seeing third-party data that can give a much more granular view of who we are engaging with and then we can predict the best experience.”
But if machines are going to deliver the experience, respondents agree that it is people and culture that will be a key source of competitive advantage. “When you scale up a lot of content, the challenge is finding what else is there beyond the data. We travelled to UK contact centres and asked the front-line staff what the issues are daily. We got 230 different ideas and the telephony staff implemented things themselves. These were ideas we might not have got just from staring at the data. We improved more than one million customer journeys as a result. Get out of the office more,” Thomas insists.
“We like to think that by empowering the front line we have cracked the ‘testing and analysis optimisation versus resources’ dilemma. By scaling it out across all the journey managers we could do it quickly and in volume,” he adds.
It is instructive to note that adapting to change in the digital environment, for example in the transfer to mobile, it is agencies that are often able to take the lead. Culturally, they are more used to having to keep pace with change. For brands looking to embrace these changes collaboration with skilled and agile agencies is going to be an advantage.
Adobe’s Brighton suggests: “According to Nielsen, consumers are five times more dependent on content than they were five years ago and Google reckons you need 11 different pieces of content to get someone to be a customer. It puts a lot of pressure on teams and agencies to produce the volume needed for those different experiences. You need to streamline the creative workflow and understand the interactions that content generates.”
The results of Adobe’s Digital Trends survey reveal that marketing, ultimately, has a new remit. Customers are seeking meaningful engagements that are based on the right data, in the right place and at the right time.
It is moving away from campaign and interface-based interactions towards a focus on understanding customer lifetime value and lasting relationships, built by meeting consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions.
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