Blending Personalization and the Personal Touch 5 Minutes with Scott Liewehr

Raising the level of customer experience on the web and mobile is, perhaps, the  greatest challenge facing marketers today.

Scott Liewehr got his start back in the late '90s leading the team which built Starwood Hotels' large-scale intranet. Since then, he's helped 100 of the Fortune 1000 with their ECM, WCM and portal needs.

After serving as lead WCM analyst for the Gilbane Group, Liewehr  founded the Digital Clarity Group where he is president and principal analyst. The firm's latest research, the Guide to Service Providers for Web Content and Customer Experience Management provides a detailed analysis of 45 marketing service providers in Europe. It's one of four DCG reports published in April alone.

We spoke with Liewehr about changes in customer service levels, from the brick and mortar era to today's cutting-edge customer experience management technology.

Murphy: Companies have established marketing partners, but the skill sets required are changing as marketing evolves. Should companies reevaluate their partners when they shop for consumer experience technology? Or should they rely on their partners to choose the technology they use?

Liewehr: I think the nature of the question indicates progress on its face, that we are, in fact, thinking about both. We're thinking about the service providers and the technology in context with each other. As for which comes first, I'm always one who really heavily values the trust that an organization gains by working with a  service provider over time. There's an awful lot of insight that a service provider is going to have about the organization, how they work, what works well or does not work well, their strategies and how to enable them, and certainly their technology landscape. I highly value that and I would look to my trusted partner first to help me with technology.

That said, not every service provider is necessarily trusted or has the skills. Therefore, if you're entering new ground or questioning your relationship, then certainly you should be looking at a new partner in the context of the technology you want to use.

Murphy: The customer experience on the web seems to be a bit ahead of mobile and brick and mortar. Is  the online experience driving changes in the other channels?

Liewehr: I disagree with the premise because you combined mobile and brick and mortar. I agree that mobile is not very advanced, but I think brick and mortar is very advanced. I think we're trying to replicate brick and mortar -- or rather human experiences, analog experiences -- with mobile and digital web experiences. And we're finding that extremely difficult to do, because it's hard to size someone up the way you do when they come into your suit store, it's hard to remember that face when they're on the web. So I think we're able to have much better customer experiences in person.

Murphy: I was thinking more of an Amazon-like experience where they have a lot of information about you versus a brick-and-mortar store where someone walks in off the street and you don't know have that kind of information at your fingertips. Do you think brick and mortar is changing in relation to that?

Liewehr: I think the idea of personalization is not necessarily the best customer experience. It's relevant. The Amazon thing, to me, is an attempt to say "Because  I can't remember you, I don't know a lot about you and I can't be nice in person, these are the ways I can compensate for that." I think there's a combination of the two, and we need to figure out how to put that power of personalization and history and experience together with a personal touch.

Murphy: Most marketers talk about the age of customers but run campaigns based on promoting the brand. How do you think that approach needs to change?

Liewehr: The pendulum needs to fall somewhere in the middle and not shift from extreme to extreme. We talk about inside-out to outside-in, but at some level, it's still a two-way piece of glass and you can look both ways. I think the goal of marketers is, in fact, to represent their company and its brand, and nobody doubts that. I think that's powerful in the same way that I think campaigns should still be run.

Campaigns have not, in my mind, died. Campaigns are relevant. You still want to pursue putting out new products and offerings. But certainly we also have new tools now where we can know more about our customers and those we are selling to. By putting them at the center of those strategies, even in the midst of a campaign, you'll be able to tell a better story to an individual based on their likes and needs. But I think it falls somewhere in the middle. I don't think we need to shift from extreme to extreme.

Murphy: Your group recently published  a study of 45 service providers in Europe. Are there any striking differences between what you found in the US market and the EU?

Liewehr: I think there are a number of differences. First of all, in terms of the nature of the wants and needs of the organizations that are shopping for service providers, they do tend to be looking for more tactical relationships than strategic. In other words, they tend to have a roadmap already in their mind and they want to fulfill some part of that, and they want someone to help them with that. So they might be looking more for someone to help them implement their content management system rather than help them with their customer experience challenges more broadly. So I think they tend to be more tactical in that way.

They also tend to work with a number of them. So they don't have as deep a relationship with any one service provider. They tend to use a number of them -- maybe smaller, maybe more specialized, maybe not -- to fulfill needs across their organization rather than having a digital agency of record. That's far less common there than in the US.