Bjorn Hildahl of Quadient DX Leaders quote: "We tend to gravitate to what’s known and here today, but we have to address what’s unknown and coming.”

What Bjorn Hildahl finds endlessly fascinating about digital customer experience and technology in general is the never-ending potential to both problem solve and to keep learning.

“It’s not just a technology problem or an answer, you need to look at your processes and at your organization as a whole in terms of your key objective and drivers,” he said. “It always comes back to wanting to put your customer at the center.”

Hildahl is currently the head of the digital experience business unit at customer interaction vendor Quadient. He came to Quadient in July, after leading product management and development at companies including Assurance, Kony, MaintenanceNet and mFoundry.

Learning From the Professor

Technology became a passion for Hildahl while studying economics and accountancy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A college assignment to develop a business plan led to him to study R Studio as a way to present data. He then landed a role as lead developer on a “really fun project” to create a CD-ROM and website for physicist Professor Stephen Hawking’s Life in the Universe lecture.

“We were tasked with finding ways to help anyone from a second grader to a college-level student get more details on the lecture, which we tried to do through visual, video and auditory cues,” Hildahl said. The project was a “great learning experience,” including finding out the hard way, which led to scrapping of a lot of content where the team had “missed the mark.” Hildahl and his colleagues had the idea to use speech-to-text for the lecture which would have used new voices rather than Professor Hawking’s signature voice. “He told us in no uncertain way to go and fix it,” Hildahl recalled.

Along the way, Hildahl has worked to develop other digital experiences including building out a mobile payment app for Starbucks involving its gift cards while at mFoundry.

Quadient is a sponsor of CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 12 to Nov. 14 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Hildahl will present a session at the conference titled “Become a ‘Digital First’ Organization” on Nov. 14.

We spoke with Hildahl to hear his take on current gaps in digital experiences, the promise of emerging technologies and his advice for how organizations can approach digital transformation projects.

Move Beyond ‘Silos of Excellence’ to a Single Digital Experience Platform

CMSWire: Where do you see the primary gaps today in the kinds of digital experiences that companies are delivering to their customers and the kinds of digital experiences those customers are expecting?

Hildahl: Now the power is in the consumer’s hands. They can choose to engage with you via whatever channels they want and they can jump between channels. Their expectation is that their experiences across channels should be connected.

Organizations have created silos of excellence — such as mobile, online, IVR and a local banking branch. The consumer expects that you will know the same amount of information about them all the way through their engagement.

What we’re really trying to do at Quadient is to help highly regulated organizations become nimbler, more creative and agile so they can move their business at the faster pace that consumers want.

What a true digital experience platform (DXP) can bring you is not only the ability to learn from metrics and analytics, but then to be able to grow and react to that knowledge within the constraints that are your regulatory environment and business to better engage with customers.

CMSWire: How should companies measure their progress in improving customer digital experiences?

Hildahl: A lot of organizations are faced with the challenge of how to judge the health of their business. They want to determine what is the value of a new or current customer to my business, ideally measuring both the current and future value.

It’s then about how to absorb and capture that information and how to make it actionable so that you can improve on your digital customer experience touchpoints.

CMSWire: What’s your take on the likely impact of AI, machine learning, IoT and chatbots on digital customer experiences as these technologies mature?

Hildahl: We are all suffering from information overload — from email, news, the phone, WhatsApp, SMS and the television all at the same time.

The question is: Can I use technology to help me sift through to determine priority and what are the things in my life that I need to take action on? IoT, AI and machine learning can help with that sifting to make sense of information and to create something meaningful.

Ultimately we can drive a better customer experience, for instance, so you don’t have to enter the same information every time you visit the same ecommerce site.

CMSWire: What types of digital experiences will then become possible?

Hildahl: I don’t know if we’ve found the right chatbot yet, but the goal will be to combine conversational user interfaces with AI. We can handle structured conversations if we can design data workflow, but it’s also about dealing with unstructured conversations where we have lots of issues with understanding nuance and context since the same phrase may have different meanings.

It’s about understanding what the product is and how the digital experiences fit. For instance, think about repackaging mortgage information so that a buyer can gain real-time understanding of whether they qualify and the likely payments as they view each open house. You could also create different experiences for first-time home buyers versus those looking to buy a second home.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations who are embarking on digital transformation or looking to refine their existing strategy?

Hildahl: The foundation of your digital transformation is that you try to inspire the ability for your organization to be creative. In order to do that, you have to understand everything that’s working and not working. Those are the fundamental building blocks.

We tend to gravitate to what’s known and here today, but we have to address what’s unknown and coming. By time you’ve built and rolled something out, you’re where the puck was, rather than where it’s going to be.

You need to embrace inflection points in the market — some of them are in your control, others are not. It’s how you set up and address the fundamental shift in the ways you have to run your business without creating a cumbersome process which will hold you back. For instance, Apple’s iPhone had the iTunes service which then became the primary channel of mobile apps.

CMSWire: How should companies think about reimagining their digital customer experiences within the context of a broader digital transformation initiative?

Hildahl: What I find right now is that a lot of organizations recognize the need to make a digital transformation, the problem is that they’re applying old metrics to the changes. So, your group may be set up for transformation, but you still have to make your numbers now.

Organizations may also try to fully transform everything, but that boil the ocean approach opens up so many risks and points of failure that it may be very difficult to achieve any of the goals you had in the beginning.

Look at the key areas of your business and choose what you need to focus on first, for instance, having a single view of the customer across your organization. Try to break the problem down into digestible pieces so that you can achieve measurable success again and again.

CMSWire: What is your opinion of fictional representations of extraterrestrial intelligent life forms? How long might be before a real ‘first contact’ meeting?

Hildahl: It’s always interesting to me that, in many fictional representations, humans always try to personalize intelligent life so it’s similar to us and give them attributes that we as humans have. In fiction, it’s almost always a conflict of us versus them and we as the human race are mostly triumphant in the end.

In working with Professor Hawking, he was adamant that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe — we’re not just one anomaly. He’d raise that life forms might have evolved with a different mindset and set of priorities so that, should they choose to engage with us, it might not be what we’re expecting.

I’d hope that first contact could occur in the next 50 to 100 years, if not sooner. We’ve been sending broadcasts out into the galaxy for years, which may be what intelligent life receives as our first message. I’m hoping that first contact can be meaningful and very beneficial for both sides.

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here.