Last month I attended the Gilbane Content and Digital Experience conference in Boston. I’ve written before about my appreciation of smaller, specialized conferences. At these smaller events, you really feel a connection to the other exhibitors and attendees. Everyone’s there out of specialized interest, and you leave feeling that you’ve had a chance to have conversations with some of the most innovative thought leaders in the field. And if J.Boye in Aarhus takes the cake as my favorite conference in Europe last year, Gilbane was its American counterpart.

The two day conference took place at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, and for a two day conference did a great job of providing an all-encompassing picture of the Digital Experience space, with tracks including Content, Marketing and the Customer Experience; Content, Collaboration and Employee Engagement; Re-imagining the Future: Technology and the Postdigital Experience; and Digital Strategies for Publishing and Media.

It’s a sign of a good event when attendees leave in lively debate on the topics explored by speakers -- something that Gilbane inspires with its panel-discussion format. While other attendees will have their own opinions on takeaways, the question that came up time and again for me -- across panels and tracks -- was “who owns the customer experience?”

Who Owns the Customer Experience?

IDC’s Program VP of Content and Digital Media Technologies, Melissa Webster posed the question first while moderating the opening keynote. While the entire panel -- Frank Gilbane, founder, Bluebill Advisors and the Gilbane Conference, Tony Byrne, founder of the Real Story Group, Scott Liewehr, partner and principal analyst at Digital Clarity Group and Matt Mullen, senior analyst, Social Business at 451 Research -- agreed that customer experience was too important to be owned solely by marketing, opinions differed on who should inherit ownership.

Liewehr pointed to the challenge posed by a “vacuum of initiative” within the enterprise and emphasized the need to “develop a roadmap that goes beyond the CMO.” As a CMO myself, I can appreciate the strategic importance for having buy-in for developing an agile customer experience across departments. Mullen emphasized the interconnectedness of the goal of customer experience, and advised breaking CX down into its logical parts. He also underscored being realistic about desire versus capability in terms of assigning ownership of the CX project.

Webster added that no one uniform answer to CX ownership exists -- advising organizations to look to which department brings revenue. In a B2B company it might be e-commerce, while in a financial institution it might be customer relations. The department which generates the revenue will have strong insights and opinions on customer experience. Byrne summed it up: there is still no clear institutional ownership over customer experience -- the creation of the CDO is a testament to the many dimensions of the challenge.

Which Technology Owns the Customer Experience?

Agile customer experience is a shared goal -- shared by departments, but equally importantly, shared by technology. In the keynote, "What it Takes to Build a Modern Customer Experience," Meg Walsh, senior director, Digital Data Strategy and Distribution for Marriott International discussed Marriott's process for investigating and ultimately postponing the selection of a web CMS. Web CMS selection -- and the building of an online customer experience more generally -- requires tough choices and difficult prioritization. Because those choices can change with circumstances and business needs, it’s important that “technology enable and not dictate” the customer experience. Walsh argued that there’s a difference between a content management system and CMS, the software:

A content management system is a front to end system,” she said, while “a CMS is a piece of software that has a role in a broader ecosystem.”

While a web CMS, as a piece of software, serves as a solid base for any enterprise’s customer experience strategy, the other building blocks of that ecosystem can vary based on specific business needs, and evolve over time. 

Agility and Integrations Power the Customer Experience

When no one piece of software owns CX -- you need a selection of best of breed solutions alongside the web CMS, working together to create a cohesive customer experience. Walsh pointed to the importance of a decoupled system, APIs and need for integration as central to a web CMS. With the rise of content-as-a-service for enterprises, a flexible and decoupled system becomes even more important.

Business agility powered by a selection of best of breed solutions was another recurring theme at the event. Not everyone had the same opinion on what these terms mean, but the importance of open standards, integrations and flexibility in creating an appropriate and human digital customer experience is becoming acknowledged across the industry.

The different definitions of “best of breed” were particularly noticeable during the vendor panel discussion "Building Next Generation Web Content Management & Delivery Digital Experiences." A few takeaways from this panel:

  • To optimize web content management/digital experience platform, go incrementally. Open architecture is key.
  • The suite versus best of breed conversation comes down to successfully rolling out a digital experience platform. This requires agility.
  • Open source and open standards provide a competitive advantage for future-proofing your web content management system and strategy.
  • Data integration is a crucial aspect of personalized customer experience, and will continue to be more important over time.
  • For digital platforms, integration is key in bringing customer journey silos together.

A Shared Goal

To be successful in creating holistic, branded digital experiences that truly serve customers online, enterprises will have to meaningfully collaborate internally across departments and leverage the best solutions out there through strong integrations.

I look forward to hearing more at next year’s Gilbane event.