The Three Ingredients of an Engaging Online Customer Experience

5 minute read
Christie Flanagan avatar

There’s no getting around it. The web is critical to the success of any organization today.  

Over the last several years, we've watched as the online channel has become a primary one for conducting business and even managing our own lives. As the web continues to grow in prominence, the amount of information available online is exploding in a variety of digital formats; new online channels have emerged such as social and mobile; and new ways of social interaction have become part of our everyday lives.

As the online channel has evolved, the customer journey has become more complex, and we've seen customers exert increasing power and influence over their relationships with brands. Just think about the experience of buying a new car and how it has forever changed because of the web.

Ten or fifteen years ago, if you were in the market for a new car you had to rely on auto dealers for information and they held the upper hand when it came time to negotiate and cut a deal.Today, consumers turn to the web first to learn about makes and models, to get accurate and up-to-date pricing information, and to read reviews and get recommendations from their peers regarding the best brands and dealers with whom to work.

Today, it is the customer who has greater control of the purchase process and brand relationship.

While this customer experience revolution has been great for consumers, it poses many challenges for businesses when it comes to creating an online customer experience that drives sales and loyalty. In order to successfully use the online channel that does this, organizations must focus on engaging customers.

The benefits of investing in engagement are many.Engaged customers are more likely to purchase your products and services and they are more likely to remain loyal to your brand. Engaged customers are also more likely to serve as advocates for your brand by recommending your products and services to others. So how do brands drive engagement using the online channel?

Know Your Customer

First, realize that it’s no longer acceptable to deliver a one-size-fits-all online customer experience. Instead, you must demonstrate that you know your customers by providing them with a relevant and personalized online experience that takes their preferences, behavior and past history with your brand into account.

A more engaging online experience can be achieved by employing segmentation and targeting to deliver more relevant content and offers to your customers.This approach not only helps drive engagement, but has also been proven to boost the effectiveness of online marketing initiatives in the form of higher conversion rates and greater sales.

Localization is another way in which an organization can demonstrate how well they know their customer. Whether you are a large multinational company with a global online presence or a regional organization that serves a constituency with multilingual requirements, it’s critical to create an online experience that can be delivered to customers in their preferred language.

Get Social and Interactive

Second, understand that social networks like Facebook and Twitter have raised customers’ expectation levels for online interaction both on and off of social networking sites. To fulfill these expectations, provide your customers with an online experience that makes it easy for them to interact socially with your brand by incorporating user-generated content capabilities such as ratings, reviews or comments into your web presence.

User-generated content can even be used to dynamically drive the content of your site -- for example, the most highly rated products, articles or other popular content can automatically be featured to make the experience on your site more engaging.

Learning Opportunities

Another key component of creating a more engaging online customer experience is integration between your web presence and third party social networks. By bringing these two elements closer together, you’ll foster a broader and more engaged community around your brand.

Start by removing barriers to social interaction by enabling your customers to log in to your site and begin contributing content using their familiar social networking credentials.Then make it easy for customers to share content they like with their extended social networks; you’ll both extend the reach of your brand and leverage the power of your customers’ endorsement through social sharing.

Anytime, Anywhere

With the widespread use of mobile phones and tablets, the online experience is no longer restricted to the traditional web presence accessed on desktops and laptops. Instead, today’s customers are taking the online experience with them wherever they go in the form of a mobile phones and tablets.

And while mobile devices have clearly become one of the most critical means for communication today, many organizations still struggle to meet customer expectations for anytime, anywhere engagement via mobile devices.  

To meet the needs of on the go customers, organizations must mobile-enable their personalized and interactive web presence, ideally reusing their existing web content and sites, reformatted and optimized for delivery to thousands of different mobile device types.

Also keep in mind that customers are spending more time on social networking sites than on your corporate website.Companies should consider social networks like Facebook and Twitter as integral components of their overall online customer experience.

Not only does your presence on social networking sites need to be consistent with your brand, but it must also focus on cultivating conversations in order to truly engage your customers.

Today’s customers expect an experience that is both relevant and interactive across web, mobile and social channels.By focusing on creating an experience that demonstrates how well you know your customer, that promotes social interactivity and that allows for an anytime, anywhere access,you can successfully drive customer engagement using the online channel, and unlock the door to greater sales and loyalty for your business.

About the author

Christie Flanagan

Christie Flanagan is Director of Product Marketing for Oracle WebCenter Sites.Christie joined Oracle as part of its acquisition of FatWire Software, where she directed marketing and analyst relations efforts for the enterprise web experience management software company.