Alan Porter

Delivering excellent digital customer experiences should be a win-win — for the customer as well as for the business.

As senior product marketing manager for the OpenText Customer Experience Suite, Alan Porter believes that done properly, the digital experience creates a virtuous cycle (or in his words "an infinite loop") where increased customer knowledge informs business decisions which in turn improves the customer's interactions with the brand, which in turn increases customer retention and loyalty, which in turn increases the company's investment in the customer — you get the idea.

At the heart of delivering these experiences is having an understanding of what problem your customer is trying to solve. Businesses provide value by demonstrating an understanding of those problems and providing information when the customer needs it on how to solve them.

A Firm Grounding in Customer Experience

After receiving degrees in engineering, Porter got his start as a technical writer in the aerospace industry. He believes his background working with airlines and regulatory authorities on a regular basis gave him a firm grounding in customer experience requirements. Porter moved from manufacturing roles to software and back again, but one thing remained constant: 

"No matter where I’ve worked I’ve tried to promote the value of the good customer experience and the strategic value of content in making that happen," Porter told CMSWire.

Porter balances both tactical and strategic knowledge and a gift for storytelling in the white papers, articles and blog posts he writes.

As well as being a regular contributor to CMSWire, Porter is the author of "The Content Pool: Leveraging Your Company's Largest Hidden Asset" and an in-demand speaker for conferences. He was also recently named one of MindTouch's Top 25 Content Strategist Influencers. 

Porter will be sharing his perspective on the customer journey at CMSWire's DX Summit this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. His session, "Redefine the Customer Journey" will take place at 2:30 pm CT, Wednesday, Nov. 16. Learn more about the agenda here.

We caught up with Porter to learn a little more of his thoughts on digital experience, the customer journey and where content fits in all of this.

The Customer Relationship Starts When the Sale Closes

Fagan: How do you define digital experience?

Porter: In its broadest sense, digital experience is any interaction that takes place via a digital environment. 

Currently we tend to think of the digital experience just in terms of a customer’s interaction with a web based application, or its mobile equivalent, but with the growth of emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, plus the growth of connected machines and appliances on the so-called “Internet of Things” the boundaries between the digital and physical experience are disappearing. 

We need to start thinking in terms of the overall experience.

Fagan: Who does the digital experience benefit more: customers or businesses?

Porter: When businesses do it right and take a customer-focused approach, then both benefit equally. 

From a  customer perspective, good digital experiences are delivering a whole new level of accessibility, information and the ability to get things done quickly and efficiently. 

From a business perspective, a well-defined and executed customer focused strategy brings benefit in knowing your customers better, engaging with them, gaining insight and working with them on every step of the journey. 

Delivering on a continuous connected customer journey increases the customer’s lifecycle value for the business and provides a frictionless experience for the customer. It should be a win-win situation.

Fagan: It's said that over 70 percent of the buyer's journey is over before they reach out to sales — what can businesses do to influence or support the journey before direct contact is made?

Porter: In short, provide value. 

Know what problems your customers are trying to solve when they want your product or service, and provide them with the information to help solve those problems. If you take the old axiom that a customer isn’t in the market to buy a drill-bit, they actually are solving a need to make a hole in a wall — think about why they may need to be making the hole in the first place and provide information on hanging pictures, or putting up shelves, etc. 

Fagan: What strategies would you recommend businesses take for the post-sale customer experience? 

Porter: The first step is to actually realize that the customer relationship doesn’t stop with the sale, in fact it’s just starting. 

Develop a strategy that delivers a continuous partnership with your customer through owning/operating your product, to support, loyalty programs, regular communication and valued content. When I worked in manufacturing we knew that a good ongoing relationship with a customer could generate 10 times the revenue of the initial sale and the probability of the customer buying new or replacement products was much higher (and at a lower cost of sale).

Think about how you like to be treated as a consumer. What are your favorite brand experiences? Think about how you can deliver that (or better) to your customers.

But make sure you take a customer focused approach, don’t let your existing internal processes define the customer journey, make sure that it’s the customer’s need that redefines your processes.

Fagan: With the push for "every brand to be a publisher" in the last few years, the market is filled with a glut of content. How do you think businesses can make their voices heard in the midst of this flood?

Porter: My content strategy mantra has always been that you should provide timely, engaging, relevant content that provides value.

  • Timely: Understand what’s going on in the places, be it geographies, industries, communities, etc. where your customers live and do their work. Instead of producing a glut of content around your next product release, focus your creative efforts around the next big event that your customers actually care about
  • Engaging: Capture people’s attention quickly and in a way that makes them react and want to know more. We are hard-wired to engage and respond to visuals more than text, so use good graphical design, video, animation and more. As a side note, if you are leading with text on the web, research has shown you have about 67 words to capture someone’s attention before they click through. Can you get your message across in 67 words or less?
  • Relevant: Your content should not only be relevant to your product but to your customers too. Does it address their industry, is it culturally and geographically appropriate? Is it in the right language? Is it adaptable for the different ways that your customers need the information: Web, Mobile, SMS message, print or even fax?
  • Value: I’ve mentioned this a couple of times above, but the best thing you can do is provide content that helps the customer solve their problem. If you make life easier through good content, good design and an understanding of your customer’s needs, then you will stand out.

Fagan: Who's your favorite fictional character and why?

Porter: It’s pretty much a three-way tie between Batman, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. All three have been a big influence on my life and fired my imagination from an early age. 

I believe that they all exemplify the “one person can make a difference,” approach, but in different ways. 

The appeal of Batman (at least the versions I like — I’m not a fan of the more recent incarnations) was that he was a man who trained himself to be the ultimate he could be, both as a detective, a strategist and as a fighter. He is a mortal man who stands shoulder to shoulder with gods.  

With Bond, although he’s a man doing an unpleasant job, he does it with style, panache, a touch of dark humor, and he gets to play with some great toys along the way. 

As for Holmes, he is the ultimate "smartest person in the room." I’ve always liked the idea of his observational skills. Holmes taught me to look at the world around me and look beyond the surface to find the stories we all have. 

I’ve been lucky enough to write some non-fiction books and essays on Batman and Bond, and privileged to write some new Sherlock Holmes mysteries in the last few years, and it’s always fun to hang out with all three of them.