Brice Dunwoodie, Simpler Media Group/CMSWire CEO and founder, on stage at the DX Summit 2019.
Brice Dunwoodie, Simpler Media Group/CMSWire CEO and founder, on stage at the DX Summit 2019. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

Digital customer experience professionals still struggle with siloed systems, fragmented customer data and collaboration across departments, according to findings from the 2020 State of Digital Customer Experience Report. Simpler Media Group (SMG), which runs CMSWire, released the report last week at its fifth annual DX Summit conference at the Marriott Marquis in Chicago. 

Data Silos, Collaboration Remain Challenges

When asked their organization’s top three digital customer experience challenges, 47% of respondents said “siloed systems and/or fragmented customer data” while 42% cited “limited cross-department alignment/collaboration.” 

“What we see year after year is that these are the two biggest things that everyone faces,” Brice Dunwoodie, founder and CEO of SMG/CMSWire, told the audience during his keynote Tuesday, Nov. 5. “The systems and data are disconnected, and they get in the way. The people are disconnected, and they get in each other's way.”

The report findings were among the key takeaways at the conference, held yearly in November in Chicago since 2015. Here are some other noteworthy findings and commentary during the three-day conference.

Related Article: DX Summit 2019 Attendees Share Customer Experience, Marketing Challenges

Data Protection Becoming ‘Extremely Important’

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the digital customer experience industry report, Dunwoodie noted. For the first time in the fifth annual survey, the majority of respondents (31%) said they find data protection extremely important. Specifically, they want to be a leader in data protection and give our customers control over how their personal data is used.” 

“My takeaway here,” Dunwoodie said, “is that how you care for your customer data is becoming a strategic advantage. And people are starting to think of it that way.”

For the record, organizations are also deploying data protection programs because they are required to do so by data protection laws. Another 31% said data protection is “required by applicable laws so we get it done.”

Usability Testing, Listening Makes Difference

Francisca Hawkins, vice president of digital products for Philz Coffee, discussed her team’s journey creating a mobile app where customers can order ahead. She’s also leading the digital transformation strategy for the company. 

Hawkins cited data analysis and ongoing optimization efforts as two key elements in delivering a solid mobile digital customer experience for coffee customers. “We all use multiple screens in the course of a day,” she said. “So for me, optimization really comes into the form factor: iPad, desktop, watch. ... We have to continue to think about the human element, and what they're doing for that day in order to meet their experience and their needs.” 

It’s about usability testing and listening, she said. “That was probably the greatest learning curve I've ever had — which is listening to your baristas and listening to your customers,” Hawkins added. “You should also listen to your employees, making them a part of the product, and iterate, iterate, iterate. But listen to what they're saying because you can then pull them into the product development cycle, and you pull them into actually having ownership of making your product better.”

Related Article: How VW and Others Are Connecting Customer and Employee Experience

Create a Culture of Curiosity, Questions

Sometimes, digital customer experience teams can benefit from stepping back and just allowing for more team curiosity. That was the general message from Stephanie Moritz, chief communications and marketing officer at the American Dental Association (ADA). “When you think about kids, they ask 300 questions a day,” Moritz said, adding later, “Why then as adults, especially working adults in the working world, do we stop asking those questions? Is it because we think we know all the answers? Because of our past experiences? Because of our assumptions? Is it because it's always been done this way so why bother questioning?”

Moritz encouraged organizations and digital teams to be more curious. Start meetings with one question. Don’t answer the question, but have a discussion. Encourage innovation. Encourage curiosity. Don’t judge. “What if we considered innovation as the result of thoughtfulness?” Moritz asked. “Innovation is actually about curiosity and the power of what if. Questions are a key driver of effective leadership. … The best leaders are curious. They challenge their teams and want to hear their perspectives. They want to hear their point of view.”

Acknowledging the Power of Word of Mouth

Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told DX Summit attendees to empower their customers and make them the biggest and best salesforce. Instead of delivering marketing and messages that say how great a brand is, enable your customers to do it for you, Berger said.

“Get more word of mouth is something most of us have never considered,” Berger said. “We have dozens if not over hundreds of conversations every day about products, about services, about ideas, and those conversations have a huge impact on what other people do.”

Too often, brands spend time, money and energy in word of mouth around social media and viral marketing. That’s often the wrong place to invest, Berger said, adding brands need to spend energies on designing experiences that not only engage customers but make them want to talk about it and share. Find out what’s remarkable about your product or service and enable your customers to be your best advocates.

He cited an example of a promo he received from Uber encouraging him to share a free ride with guests at a future holiday party. Instead of Uber doing the marketing, they empowered Berger to do it for them, he said.  “Digital's made targeting easier,” Berger added, “but it's still not perfect. … What if we could find someone that knows our customers better than we do?” 

Related Article: Turning Your Customers into Ambassadors

Question for Continuous Improvement

Speaking of poor collaboration and silos as cited in the State of Digital Customer Experience Report, some organizations are making a concerted effort to break down such barriers.

Katrina Schiedemeyer, senior engineer of supplier development at Oshkosh Corporation, leads Voice of the Customer (VoC) and continuous improvement efforts at her company in order to improve the manufacturing process and customer experience. The goal? Streamline VoC efforts and infuse that into continuous improvement loops between marketing, customer experience, engineering, sales and everyone else involved with improving customer experience. The same people who collect feedback are also responsible for making that feedback actionable. "So the synergies are really great," she said, "and it also reduces a lot of waste in the process and helps break down some of those silos.” 

Just saying “customer experience is everyone’s task” is not good enough, Schiedemeyer said, because oftentimes if that’s the case no one actually owns it. To avoid this, the team at Oshkosh created an Ambassador Program, a group of individuals who have professional development experience to work on customer experience in their daily work. 

Influencing Your Customers' Brainpower

Neuroscientist Carmen Simon, founder of Memzy, discussed standing out in a crowded digital customer experience and content battlefield from the perspective of stimulating peoples' brains. Speaking about differentiating from customers, “It's up to you to find something that deviates so that the brain has enough to notice that distinction.”

Simon showed a slide that had marketing messages from vendors that were so similar, even the vendors themselves could not point out their own message accurately. One way to break away from overused messaging? “Once you have allowed the brain to see patterns, then you insert something where the brain deviates,” Simon said. We enable the brain to deviate from a pattern that we have learned to expect, Simon added. 

Your audience has brains that are constantly evolving, she told the crowd of customer experience professionals. “The brain that creates that communication is different than the brain that receives the communication,” she said. “They find something rewarding today, but not tomorrow.”

Related Article: 9 Takeaways from the DX Summit 2018

Make User Experience Flexible

Sean Ginevan, head of global strategy and market enablement at Google, spoke about choosing web or native as part of a digital strategy. He cited Twitter’s responsive grids and breakpoints that change how the layout of the site works depending on the screen size of its users. “They actually are uncovering different types of content and different features of the site as that real estate expands,” Ginevan said. “... And so as you're building out your site, you want to be thinking about the fact that screen real estate is going to be increasingly dynamic, even on physical devices.”

Focus on the user and all else will follow, Ginevan said, citing a “saying at Google.” “If we can delight that user, everything else goes in line. And so often I tell folks when you're thinking about designing out for the web, you really want to be starting with making sure that your experience is dynamic. And the way we do that is to actually think about the user experience of that site as one that is very flexible.”