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PHOTO: Justin Kauffman

It’s amazing to think that the term “omnichannel” has been around for 15 years.

It was first coined by US retailer Best Buy to describe the customer-centric strategy it had adopted to better compete with Walmart. Best Buy created an approach that focused on the customer, both in-store and online, and included post-sales support. While the concept hasn’t changed much (except now there are hundreds of online channels), can we honestly say that brands have mastered their ability to engage with customers across every channel?

While there are some fantastic examples of brands that deliver a sleek, consistent omnichannel experience, it’s safe to say the vast majority of businesses still struggle. And most know it.

Only about one-third of brands feel they provide customers with a continuous customer journey in their own language, across every digital touchpoint, according to a report titled “Today’s Content Supply Chains Prevent Continuous Customer Journeys,” which is based on research that Forrester Consulting conducted on behalf of my company, SDL. If brands know they need to provide a consistent experience — across every channel — then why aren’t they?

Since the majority of customer experiences happen online today, providing a great experience involves content. Lots of it. In fact, most companies already need more content than they can create today — everything from marketing content to product and financial information. And they need it in multiple languages. The problem is that most companies create that content in multiple organizational silos, with little or no orchestration between them. Because of that internal fragmentation, the customer experience from the outside is also fragmented.

The answer? Companies need to embrace a global content operating model, which is a framework that aligns people, processes and technology in such a way that content production starts to mimic a traditional supply chain.

Manufacturing knows how to produce goods, and decades of experience have gone into building optimized and automated supply chains. Why not adopt a similar approach when it comes to producing content and, over time, move from manual to autonomous content creation, translation and delivery? According to our study, that is where companies should be heading.

Forrester developed six recommendations to help companies move toward a model where content is created and delivered around the clock, to anyone and in any language.

Related Article: Creating and Future-Proofing Your Customer Journey Map

Take Back Control of Your Content Supply Chain

The volume of content that brands produce, and velocity at which they produce it, is out of control, and the content production process is only going to become more complex. In Forrester’s research, 93 percent of the 200 business leaders interviewed said that their organizations will produce more content in the next two years. Half estimated that the volume of content will increase by more than 30 percent, and one-third estimated that it would increase by more than 40 percent.

For an efficient content supply chain, companies need to streamline hand-offs across the content supply chain, from content creation to translation and on to delivery. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will help automate and organize content while also offering the ability to quickly translate that content when needed, giving stakeholders freedom and greater control at every point across the content supply chain.

Rethink How Content Is Constructed

Video, chatbots, virtual assistants and other emerging channels are growing in popularity. Brands expect use of those channels to significantly grow over the next two years, yet only 29 percent of the businesspeople Forrester surveyed for our study said that they are very satisfied with the ability of their tools to engage with customers across channels and deliver a continuous experience. Brands need to rethink how content is constructed and shared across teams so that it can be adapted for these new delivery models with minimal rework and maximum impact. This will help brands deliver content faster across different channels, languages and audiences.

Related Article: Customer Journey Mapping: Navigating a Course to Better Customer Relations

Explore Intelligent Content Platforms

Since only 30 percent of brands believe they provide customers with a continuous customer experience, brands looking to deliver meaningful and consistent customer experiences across multiple channels and languages will need vast amounts of content — more than it’s possible for marketing teams to create. An autonomous content supply chain dramatically changes human involvement while simultaneously moving toward digital optimization and the experience humans crave and expect. Rethinking how content is created and adapted for these new channels will be essential to meeting customer expectations and creating that seamless experience.

Be Ready to Adapt Content for Any Channel

Customers want content, across multiple channels, at any time of day. How do brands create enough content to meet that demand? The study revealed that just 51 percent of organizations have a centralized and standardized tool set for the creation of content across regions and languages, while just 54 percent have similar tools for translation of content and 56 percent have them for the delivery of content.

The digital experience of the future will be driven by always-relevant content. Linguistic AI, capable of localizing large volumes of content, will make it easy to identify the intent of the people seeking information and connect those individuals with appropriate content for more significant impact than ever before. It can also help provide empathetic, anticipatory, intelligent, respectful and real digital experiences — based on information and content across your business.

Related Article: Breathe New Life Into Your Omnichannel Strategies

Realize That Customers Want Product Information

Buyers and users want the details about products and services not just after the deal is done, but during the buying cycle to understand what they are about to spend their money on and make more informed decisions. Brands understand this trend — 77 percent of the people Forrester interviewed acknowledged that keeping product information relevant and up to date is critical to a good customer experience. They also agreed that improving access to product information would have the single greatest positive impact on customer experience — more so than any other type of content.

Brands need to be ready to deliver high-quality content in everything from production manuals, videos and spec sheets to customers — in their own languages.

Leadership Should Drive Change

According to the Forrester study, 82 percent of companies agree that content is critical to their success in achieving top business objectives. Nonetheless, 80 percent of the interviewees said that current content supply chain challenges impede their ability to fulfill top business objectives. Vice presidents and C-level executives should be the driving force behind digital change. They have the advantage of seeing cross-departmental global activities, and they may be in a better position to spot broken or redundant processes.

Many organizations approach content in an ad hoc way, spending an inordinate amount of time generating content without knowing whether the content has already been created elsewhere, whether it aligns with messages conveyed by other departments and whether it will resonate with recipients. While companies strive to deliver relevant and personalized messages, for the most part, many can only hope the right content attracts the right person on the right channel in the right language at the right moment.

However, the future is not constrained by what is possible today, and current shortcomings should not dissuade organizations from preparing for the inevitability of a well-managed supply of content that may become nearly autonomous at some point in the future. Brands’ current concerns about the volume of content, in-the-moment personalization and fragmentation provide opportunities for early adopters of a modernized content supply chain, presenting a wealth of opportunities that will ultimately differentiate and define success.