COVID-19 has affected organizations in many different ways when it comes to providing digital customer experience. Some saw no change in strategy. Others grappled with ineffective customer experience technologies. And some made complete pivots in how they market to customers.

Those were some of the findings in CMSWire’s The State of Digital Customer Experience - 2021 report released this month. Siobhan Fagan, managing editor of CMSWire, and Sarah Kimmel, research director, shared those findings in CMSWire’s Digital Experience Summit 2020 held virtually Oct. 21. (Editor's note: free on-demand version of the conference is available on the conference site). 

“While the impacts were felt to varying degrees by every organization,” Fagan said, “the report does offer some strong indications of what digital experience leaders did and continue to do differently that prepare them better to weather this year.”

Here are five other takeaways from the DX Summit 2020:

For Some, CX Business as Usual

Digital customer experience practitioners who say their tools are working well are more likely to have a complete marketing technology (martech) stack, according to the report. “They're also more likely to say they've had no change in their strategy because of the pandemic,” Kimmel said. “They’re more likely to have a better understanding of their customers' digital behavior.”

Money was tight for some, who saw changes in their digital customer experience and marketing strategy. "Budget cuts hit our department, so we've had to get scrappy,” one respondent said.

That organization wasn't alone, Fagan noted. Others spoke of ditching expensive marketing plans which were immediately made obsolete in the face of the pandemic. “Some rethought their product offerings,” Fagan said, “and still others discussed how they were trying to recreate the sense of community that comes from in-person events to online forums.”

Related Article: 8 Takeaways from the DX Summit 2019

Drastic Change in VoC Game Plan

Then there’s case studies like HubSpot’s, a marketing automation and CX software provider which saw a dramatic change in digital customer experience and marketing strategy. Amanda Whyte, director of the voice of the customer at HubSpot, said in the report her CX team took phone calls early in the pandemic from customers who “had experienced major loss of business overnight and were going through the panic and desperation that comes with that.”

So what did they do? The marketing team immediately paused all campaigns that focused on a new product launch and instead concentrated on creating content to help their customers go completely online, according to Fagan. “If you were never convinced of the need for a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, the pandemic offers some compelling arguments for starting one,” Fagan said. “In the case of HubSpot they supplemented their existing processes to enable even faster insights and feedback to share across the team. They did set up a central Slack channel, so that they could share all of the different feedback coming from customers flooding in from all the different channels."

The goal? Gauge if their responses and their actions were enough. Were they helping their customers? "The resiliency and the flexibility of businesses," Fagan said, "really stood out in the findings of this report.”

Who Is Your CX Dream Team?

Building out digital customer experiences doesn’t just come with technology. Organizations need to structure the right teams and foster cross-functional collaboration.

The most important functions for CX? It’s a combination of product, marketing, growth, engineering, design, research and data, according to Ajay Sampat, senior engineering manager at Instacart. “You're building them in a horizontal fashion,” Sampat said, “which are truly cross functional. And they're lean, they're highly mission-driven. And they're sort of fast-moving.”

Sampat shared an example of how you can, together across functions, define a team charter:

  • Mission: Our mission is to create a world where everyone has access to the food they love and more time to enjoy it together.
  • Scope: Specific product experiences, platforms & growth levers.
  • Metrics: Growth, Margins, LTV.
  • Communication: Kickoff Meetings, Slack channels, demos.
  • Process: Scrum vs. Kanban.
  • Artifacts: Frameworks, Product & Tech templates, Dashboards.

“Every team has different communication styles,” Sampat said. “... Really hone down on what are the most effective communication channels. … So it's really important to put a good general workflow and software development process in place. And it could be Scrum, it could be Kanban. It could be something even more leaner. But it's super important to define that with the team, discuss the pros and cons and get everybody's feedback when you come up with your team process.”

The charter team also should get a good grasp of the marketing and customer experience technology stack across key pillars such as advertising, content and experience, social and relationships, commerce and sales, customer intelligence and management, according to Sampat.

Sampat also shared some ways to promote experimentation, stressing the “RICE” score, or reach times impact, times confidence, divided by effort:

Screenshot from the presentation of Ajay Sampat during the DX Summit 2020.

Learning Opportunities

Marrying Data and CX with Digital Content for Merchandising

Shawn Weems, vice president and head of global digital content for merchandising, localization and assets for Hyatt Hotels Corp., discussed how his business is transforming to embrace the art of engagement over the science of traditional data models. And at the core is digital content and merchandising where DX practitioners really need to "be able to read between the lines and marry the data to the customer experience.”

At the heart of Weems’ role? Leveraging the data to understand what content goes where at the right time, at the right price and to the right customer. It’s about using data to really understand what product to serve up to the customer, and when to do that. What price should it be? What’s the frequency? Are you looking at the customer's previous purchase behaviors? Do customers fall into similar cohorts or segments? How do their purchase behaviors start to develop this pattern with which you can take action?

“We're responsible for influencing customer behavior,” Weems said. “Traditionally merchants … started out as buyers. We were buying in the traditional retail space for brick and mortar. From a brick and mortar standpoint, a merchant is really focused on the costs, the pricing, the promotional management, and there's also an inventory management piece of it. And then there's also the traditional visual merchandising, whether it be in store, whether that be online.”

Screenshot of Shawn Weems' preso at DX Summit 2020 showing impact of COVID-19 on digital merchandising and content

From a digital merchandising perspective, merchants are still responsible for developing business strategy, and it's across multiple channels. “So whether that be across a website, or mobile app, or across digital screens… the merchant is really responsible for what is that strategy to drive incremental behavior,” Weems said. “Digital merchandising is more than just moving a cash register transaction into a website or to a mobile app. The benefit of being able to leverage digital strategy is that you should be able to influence incremental behavior. And that's where the teams that I've been able to build over the years really been focused on, and how we use data and analytics to optimize that business strategy. But the most important piece to that is driving incrementality.”

The past year has proven to force Weems and others to reimagine content and merchandising.

“And I've encouraged folks across all different industries to really think through the content merchandising that you're servicing to the customer,” Weems said. “And that's going to be your images and the copy and the tone of voice that you use. And also, the instruction or the call to action that you actually give customers. Because it's not always 'purchase' now."

Related Article: 9 Key Takeaways from the DX Summit 2018

New World for Customers

Benedict Evans, global technology analyst, drove home what marketers and customer experience professionals are grappling with when looking at digital technology world trends. The first realization is that we’ve connected almost everybody after about 30 to 40 years of talking about it, Evans said. There is close to 6 billion people on Earth, and 5 billion have a mobile phone, including 4.5 billion who have a smartphone.“Not all of these people are connected, but we've mostly finished that story,” Evans said. “We're well on the way to connecting everybody.”

Internet models of 10 or 20 years ago no longer work, and consumer behavior has changed. CX professionals are also operating in a world of ecommerce explosion, with Amazon doing a quarter of a trillion in revenue and still growing at 20%. Shopify is valued at $124 billion.

“And it's worth just pausing and looking (at) Shopify which has gone from nowhere to doing over $60 billion” sold on its platform, according to Evans. “Consumers,” Evans added, “expect to be able to do anything online. … And we have a whole layer of platforms that change and accelerate what's possible how you can build a company.”

Further, the consumer world has seen a complete repricing and reconceptualization of advertising of retail and communication. This, Evans said, impacts how you might reach a customer. He cited Google Search trends for the word “best” versus word “cheap” in the UK.

“So what you see here is to begin with, people used Google to find things that are cheap, because they already know what they want,” Evans said. “They've had a recommendation somewhere else and they go to Google for price comparison. But then over time you see a shift towards the search for 'best.' And I think what that's showing you is the internet is moving up the funnel. The internet is becoming part of the purchasing decision, rather than just a way of finding the right product at the right price.”