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In 2015, businesses made strides toward the goal of consistent customer experience (CX) across multiple channels. Marketers who understand the necessity of using data to provide deep personalization, for example, were especially successful, according to John Zimmer.

But while the vision was strong, the execution often remained weak — and the quest to deliver optimal is still largely an unmet goal.

“We're saying the right things, but we aren't doing the right things,” Jeff Cram, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Boston and Portland, Ore. digital agency ISITE Design, said at the MarTech Conference in San Francisco in April.

Companies still operate in silos, integration of technologies is a problem and personalization is the “phase two that never comes,” he added.

Theory More Than Practice

For all the chatter about improving CX and the onslaught of technologies to help deliver it, too many marketers still fail to see CX as the priority.

According to Gartner’s 2015-2016 Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Spend Survey, more marketers rank social marketing, digital commerce and marketing analytics ahead of CX. The survey included responses from marketing business leaders in 339 companies in North America and the UK.

“Where does marketing begin and end any more within the notion of customer experience?” said 451 Research's Matt Mullen, senior analyst for social business.

“We’ve seen a gentle uptick in buying intent within our survey data, but still 58 percent of organizations are yet to begin to utilize any digital marketing technology, so we’re still in the ‘early adopter’ phase in most industries.”

The International Data Corporation (IDC) reported in March that most businesses have yet to adopt a full commitment to CX. Many corners of the organization understand and believe in the customer imperative, but these departments often do not come together to collaborate on customer experience initiatives, the IDC found.

Most organizations are only in the early stages of improved customer experiences, it noted.

Addressing the Problem

Certainly, the right tools can put a business on the road to better CX.

Gartner research indicated CMOs need advanced analytical tools and techniques to understand digital experience, how prospects and customers behave and ultimately how to optimize marketing and advertising campaigns. They need to understand strategic objectives, analyze processes and adopt the technology to support those processes to keep pace with channel-hopping prospects and customers.

As evidence of its enthusiasm for analytics, Gartner issued its first Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Analytics.

But analytics, while critical, are just part of the solution. Your customer experience is only as good as your integrations — the foundation of seamless, cross-channel success.

As David Hillis wrote this month, organizations are challenged less by implementing a specific application than "trying to integrate applications to share customer data and content."

"Unfortunately, this challenge can’t be avoided. Maybe you can’t tie every application together, but there are groups of applications that, when integrated, enable a seamless customer experience," he wrote.

The integration imperative has thrust APIs into the spotlight again. Customer experience is by far the biggest change driver today, thrusting the rise of APIs in the spotlight as a technical approach to integration, Mike Gilpin wrote in November.

Of course, it’s never easy. Enterprises must manage hundreds or even thousands of both internal and external APIs along with a much larger and more complex landscape of data that these APIs convey, Gilpin added.

Better Alignment Sought

According to the 2015 CMSWire Digital Customer Experience survey, businesses are facing a number of challenges. These include:

  • A lack of cross-functional alignment
  • Disparate customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation and customer service platforms
  • Questions relating to the ethical use of customer data

Respondents identified integration and alignment as the key factors to success. An organization’s departments must align around the customer journey, and their tech platforms must integrate around customer data, the majority who responded indicated.

Time to Innovate

Nikos Acuña, director of business strategy at Redwood City, Calif.-based Rocket Fuel, told CMSWire that it's time to start thinking a lot more deeply about customer experiences.

"Obviously personalizing the experience is very important.

"So I look at it in two ways. The front end of brand innovation, which is the actual experience, is how a customer engages with a device or reaches what's called an optimal experience. And then the back end of innovation is essentially data capture.

"What kind of data can you essentially capture from those interactive experiences to make that experience more meaningful, so that you can personalize that experience for more people down the line.

"Understand the investment opportunity.

"Understand essentially what tradeoffs need to happen, what individuals can shift roles and shift the scope of those roles in order to make the right kind of investments.

"And then from there, start to build a product and explore what I call kind of the white space in order to design these new strategies.

"You incubate, you aggregate these different ideas from different perspectives and different paradigms and then ultimately you create a prototype in market. The market reacts to that prototype and then from there analyze and discover the process all over again."

Title image by Liu Jiao