Screenshot of Charlene Li giving her virtual keynote presentation at DX Summit 2021.
Charlene Li giving her virtual keynote presentation at DX Summit 2021. PHOTO: CMSWIRE

Marketers and customer experience professionals remain laser-focused on creating strong digital customer experiences. The challenges persist on the path to execution, however.

CMSWire’s State of Digital Customer Experience Report 2021 found organizational and data silos, rigid bureaucracies, immature infrastructure, scarce resources, outdated thinking, immature measurement and difficulties in understanding customers as some of the common and persistent hurdles.

“Defining customer experience ROI still remains challenging,” said Rich Hein, editor in chief of Simpler Media Group’s CMSWire.com, during his morning keynote at the CMSWire DX Summit 2021 virtual summer edition Thursday, July 29. “Are we measuring the right things? Are we aligning the right KPIs with our business objectives? … Yes, there are a lot of challenges, but don't let this discourage you. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's time again to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Here are some other takeaways from the DX Summit. The virtual conference series now has three virtual shows in the books for 2021 and will have one more this Fall — Oct. 28 — to close out 2021.

Disruption Means Opportunity for Change

Charlene Li, founder and senior fellow for Altimeter, discussed how the past 18 months have disrupted the customer experience landscape. However, this is an opportunity for change, she added. Brands have been charged with adapting and focusing on what’s important, recognizing that business formation is on the rise and paying close attention to the fight for equity and fairness on a global scale.

“When you create change, it's really hard,” Li said. “And we know that change is going to happen. It's a reality of our lives. And so we can look at it as something that is going to just happen to us, and we have to deal with it, or it's something that we can actually create change and disruption. It can be an incredibly positive force in our lives as well.”

Customer experience professionals have to recognize how the world has fundamentally changed, she shared, and must recognize the expectations around those experiences have also been changing. “If you are not focused on customer experience,” Li said, “you are working on the wrong thing.” Li suggested CX professionals must truly see the future, create movements and build what she calls a “flux culture.”

How do you think about seeing the future? Skate to where the puck will be, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky said. As for creating movement, leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to create change and those inspired to follow them, Li said. One good way to build great culture is to remember who you are and why you are doing what you do. Li cited LinkedIn chairman Jeff Weiner, who starts every meeting by reinforcing the company’s mission statement.

Related Article: 7 Takeaways From CMSWire's DX Summit 2021 Spring Edition

Finding the Personalization Sweet Spot

The DX Summit included a panel discussion extolling the virtues of a MACH-based approach to creating digital customer experiences. MACH stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless.

Three companies combined for a personalization experiment: Contentstack (represented by Peter Fogelsanger, global head of partnerships), Uniform (represented by Lars Birkholm Petersen, co-founder) and EPAM (represented by Neal Prescott, vice president of digital technology).

“I've been a huge advocate for personalization, but am often disappointed by the broken dreams, and like many of you I've seen failed attempts at personalization,” Fogelsanger said. “I've also met a lot of leaders who are afraid to try personalization because they just don't know where to start. And in my experience this really often stems from two very different viewpoints about personalization.”

Boiling the ocean, he said, like Amazon and Netflix does (personalizing everything) is too ambitious and complex. Fogelsanger also said a segmentation focus is too conversion-focused and not really contextual. “I'd argue that the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle,” Fogelsanger said. “Personalization that helps customers stay engaged with a brand and progress toward an objective, but at the same time, helps the brand meet their goals and KPIs. We call that pragmatic personalization.”

In order to do personalization, you have to build the right foundation, have to have a lot of specialized skills and leverage a MACH approach, according to Peterson. “We leverage MACH architecture approach to enable us to have a much more composable approach for how we can build up the different technologies and use them in combination to deliver personalized omnichannel experiences,” Petersen said.

Related Article: 7 Takeaways from CMSWire's DX Summit 2021 Winter Edition

Can't Have AI Without IA

Tara Duke, executive director of business transformation at Verizon, talked about the potential pitfalls of implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) into customer experience processes.

“A lot of times people want to put in AI into broken processes and all of a sudden, that automatically makes them better,” Duke said. “We have to make sure our data is clean, make sure our processes actually work, and then we can automate those.”

You can’t automate a mess, according to Seth Earley, founder and CEO of Earley Information Science. Clean data is the price of admission when it comes to successful AI implementations, he added.

CX professionals need to have a clear understanding, Earley said, of where gaps and friction points exist. “Look at what you can measure and then impact that process,” he said. “... There is not Artificial Intelligence without information architecture. It's all about classification. Machine learning is about classification. When you think about speech recognition, you're trying to take signals and classify them as words and attempt to understand and separate those signals from the noise.”

New Martech Systems Helping Build Omnichannel Journeys

Mike Berry, head of marketing technology at Stitch Fix, discussed building an omnichannel customer journey. His teams are at the beginning stages but are advancing thanks to the progression of a two-system launch: a Customer Data Platform (CDP) and an Email Service Provider (ESP).

“We had to restructure our data on our end to be able to utilize all the capabilities within that CDP,” Berry said. “We're really chomping at the bit to have an integration network setup so we can be sort of snapping on additional channels.”

Being able to run multichannel testing and exploring new channels is important to see what's working and what's not, Berry added. “So I would say that overall we're getting there,” Berry said. “We're not quite the fast walker, but I think we are walking. I think we're past a crawl.”

What led to the need for new systems? Berry said his martech teams had to cope with vendors inside their martech ecosystem not getting along. “Anytime we would find an issue or a problem they would point fingers at each other,” Berry said. “And so we'd have to get them all in a room and say hey we've got a problem, who owns this problem, who solves it. And it was kind of like we became our own customer service manager, managing two other companies.”

Another one was that martech teams had trouble getting new data into its CDP; the turnaround time for it was a couple of weeks. "And usually marketing doesn't have a couple of weeks to find out about a new campaign that's happening," Berry said. "We usually have less time than that. And so we wanted to have something that can react very quickly that we can pipe new data in fast, and we found that."

Developing Your Gut Instinct

Laura Huang, associate professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, discussed how intuition plays a role in making business decisions. “There are many executives that pride themselves on their intuition honed through years of experience, but others are sort of ambivalent about relying on their intuition to make important choices, concerned that their gut reaction might be inherently biased or emotional.”

How should we be making decisions? How should leaders be making decisions? Should it be based on their gut feel? Should it be based on formal analyses and models?

Huang asked these questions during her closing keynote at DX Summit. "The main premise of what we understand about gut feel is not actually correct," Huang said. "Gut feel is not a separate piece of information. It's not a subjective type of quick, impulsive, emotional sort of reaction that we have, but instead it draws from both objective and subjective information.”

It is something that's very cultivated and nuanced. We can actually hone our ability to have a stronger and more effective gut feel, Huang added. "What I found is that for a lot of leaders, and a lot of times in our roles, what we don't do, what we don't understand about the value of intuition, is the type of problems that we're solving, and how intuition should be tailored to the types of problems."

Take the decision to divest a business, she said. You'll likely look at models and figures and predictions. And you might think that this is a decision that you can make based on analytical information. "But," Huang added, "there's going to be huge uncertainties and lots of factors that are going to be unknowable. So with divestitures and divesting businesses, there is a huge part of these decisions that actually are most effective when we use our intuition."