birds of a feather
Forrester urged agencies in the growing DX service provider area to work a little harder at differentiating their services PHOTO: Ridham Nagralawala

The pressure on brands to deliver cutting-edge digital experiences increases with every new app, channel and device that hits the consumer market. 

And that pressure may explain why 90 percent of companies turn to digital agencies, consultancies and technology implementers to design, build and manage their digital customer experiences.

Last week Forrester unveiled its "Vendor Landscape: Digital Experience Service Providers, 2017" (fee charged) to dive into this growing area. Authors Ted Schadler, Danielle Geoffroy, Brigitte Majewski, Anjali Yakkundi, Amy Horman and Kara Hartig parsed the differences between 57 providers in the area. 

Where Digital Experience Service Providers Fit

Forrester defined digital experience service providers as:

“[A digital experience service provider is a company that] helps companies design, build and manage digital customer experiences in the context of their digital business transformation.”

The report focuses only on digital experience service providers alone, leaving out the creative or media services of a marketing agency and the technology capabilities of a systems integrator.

Forrester Vendor Landscape Digital Experience Service Providers
PHOTO: Forrester: Vendor Landscape: Digital Experience Service Providers, 2017

The report outlined five core services offered by top digital experience service providers:

  1. Customer Experience Strategy Services: Journey mapping, ethnographic research and design thinking.
  2. Experience Design Services: This includes acquiring, developing, and retaining the best designers for products, interfaces and interactions.
  3. Data and Analytics services: Seen as an increasingly important cog in the experience delivery and personalization machine.
  4. Digital Experience Technology Services: Agencies seek to architect digital experience platforms using software from Adobe, Oracle, Sitecore and other vendors.
  5. Program management and global operations services: Many agencies consult brands on how to manage their digital strategies across multiple world regions.

Drowning in a Sea of Generic Language

Choosing a digital experience service provider is confusing, and that confusion has started to reach the providers themselves, according to Forrester's report:

"One prominent digital service provider told us: 'Whenever we go into an RFP, we’re going up against a different group of providers. I don’t even know who our competitors are anymore.'"

Because digital experience covers such a broad area, differentiating between provider's capabilities poses a challenge, especially in light of what the report's authors note is often generic and vague marketing language. 

Forrester shed more light on this issue of obscurity:

“While these vendors might offer common capabilities such as customer strategy or website building, they are often fundamentally different at their core,” the authors noted.

Assessing Digital Experience Service Provider's Priorities

Beyond outlining the five generic services of the average digital experience service provider, Forrester asked three questions related to: plan and design capabilities, build capabilities and software partnerships.

  1. What plan and design capabilities go into a typical digital experience engagement?
  2. What build capabilities go into a typical digital experience engagement?
  3. What are your top five strategic software partners?

The providers answers illustrate their priorities and the demands of the market.

For example, while many agencies confirmed they had built chatbots and voice applications within the last 12 months, only three out of 57 actually identified such services as “important.”

Unsurprisingly, most providers listed helping clients undergo a digital transformation, helping develop a digital experience strategy and designing web experiences as high priorities.

Building digital platforms and architectures, websites and commerce experiences, also scored highly.

When it came to software partnerships, Adobe was way out in front, with 38 providers identifying them as a strategic partner. Sitecore was second with 27, while Salesforce and SAP Hybris had 17 and 16 votes each.

Mobify, Contentful, InRiver, Optimizely and Adam were least popular software vendors, with only two providers actively working with them.

While these insights are useful, the report, and in turn its readers, would have benefited from showcasing the answers of each digital experience service provider — as those answers would have provided more context for a brand trying to decide between a batch of providers.

'No One-Size-Fits-All'

The authors' key takeaway basically came down to this: do your homework.

“There is no one-size-fits-all service provider. You may wish to work with a boutique firm with deep expertise in your scenario that can devote senior leadership and expertise to your project ... or a global giant for the breadth and scale of its service lines,” the authors wrote.

In other words, any brand out shopping for a DX service provider needs to dive deeply into the history and position of each potential provider to ascertain alignment with your mission, particularly with the narrow focus of many of the agencies. The authors also recommend a co-creation process, involving stakeholders on both sides, to help offset risk.