a person rock climbing
Leading a successful digital experience initiative requires cross-organizational collaboration. PHOTO: Tommy Lisbin

By now, you know the imperative to master digital customer experience. 

Analysts and leaders in the space agree: customer experience is the key battleground. 

But if the commitment is purely a "marketing thing," or an "IT initiative," that's where organizations will most likely be left behind. Your organization needs top-down leadership. Technology matters. Process matters. Strategy matters. 

None of it matters if they're disparate functions. True digital customer leadership happens when all departments that touch the customer lifecycle have a say.

Who Should Champion Digital Customer Experiences?

To dig a little deeper we asked six practitioners who they thought should champion digital customer experiences within the business, why some business efforts were still lagging and what needs to change to deliver successful digital customer experiences.

(Editor's Note: Learn more about DX champions, strategies and goals at the DX Summit, taking place Nov. 13 to 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua in Chicago.)

6 DX Experts Speak

Sheryl Kingstone, Director, Customer Experience & Commerce, 451 Research

Sheryl Kingstone
Sheryl Kingstone

Sheryl Kingstone leads New York City-based 451 Research’s coverage for customer experience and commerce, which covers the many aspects of how customer experience is a catalyst for digital transformation. She oversees the company’s coverage of a variety of customer experience software markets spanning: AdTech, marketing, sales, commerce and service. Kingstone will be leading a session titled, "Capitalize on the Wave of Digital Innovation in Commerce Experiences" Wednesday, Nov. 15 at the CMSWire DX Summit 2017Tweet to Kingstone.

Championship for the digital customer experience within many organizations today is still extremely fragmented and getting worst. We now see a multitude of influencers including the chief digital officer, chief marketing officer and chief customer officer. 

For example, in the retail industry decisions are made in silos across departments including marketing, ecommerce, retail store, contact center, etc. With the lines between digital and physical worlds blurring (i.e. Amazon-Whole Foods and Alibaba-Suning Commerce Group), it’s extremely important to embrace a strategy that is cohesive across channels of interactions.  

The industry must rethink customer experience and leverage new, innovative technologies to address the "digital divide" between digital and physical experiences before, during and after a purchase. Stores need to adapt to the emergence of alternative distribution channels and leverage ecommerce improvements, supply chain efficiencies and data-driven marketing promotions. 

Shoppers abandon purchases frequently due to inefficient checkout lines or difficult online transactions. Likewise, sales will suffer if store staff are unable to check item pricing or inventory for a shopper without leaving the sales floor. The ability to check out customers in the aisles also gives retail staff more opportunity to make product recommendations, employ up-sell strategies and generally provide more personalized customer service.

Additionally, the desire to capture and analyze new forms of data plays a powerful role in improving digital innovation through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Since the universe of what is "knowable" is expanding, new machine-learning technologies help us to see further and deeper to create contextually relevant customer experiences. Connected devices and sensors give retailers a more complete picture of consumers’ in-store behavior to optimize marketing, merchandising and operations such as tracking customer traffic, optimizing staffing levels and measuring the interest in a store’s window displays. 

The retail industry has already been through numerous transformations — some voluntary, some involuntary — and has had to adapt quickly to the effects of technological change perhaps more than any other vertical. But in a world that talks increasingly of contextual experience, we need to begin to deliver on the future. 

Rob Harles, Social Media and Collaboration Lead, Accenture Interactive

Headshot of Rob Harles, who discussed digital customer experience leadership.
Rob Harles

Rob Harles is global lead for Social Media and Collaboration for Accenture Interactive responsible for developing and managing Accenture’s social media practice and initiatives around the world. Accenture Interactive is a part of Accenture Digital, a subsidiary of global professional services company Accenture. Harles joined Accenture from Bloomberg where he was global head of social media responsible for building and managing Bloomberg’s social presence across its businesses and media properties. Harles will be leading a workshop titled, "Best Bot Wins! Design an AI Chatbot Via Small Working Groups" at the CMSWire DX Summit 2017 Monday, Nov. 13. Tweet to Harles.

When companies think about creating an effective digital experience, they must start with setting guiding principles. As unsurprising as this may sound, the biggest challenge organizations face today is thinking in siloes — focusing only on the tactical end state — rather than first identifying guiding principles and goals as a starting point. 

To ensure a successful digital experience, these principles must first be identified so that companies may then tackle the technology, content and processes needed to make this happen. It’s important to note that the change management piece is also critical, as every interaction with the customer is an opportunity to learn more and adapt the experience as needed. This is often forgotten.

From a culture perspective, leadership needs to instill a mindset that every employee should think like a marketer, an innovator, a salesperson, as each touch point with your target audience is an opportunity to meet their needs. It is essential to build experiences (digital or human) that are genuine and transparent. Employees are the face and voice of a brand, and each interaction has a lasting impact on customer perception. 

Lastly, a majority of organizations think about analytics and measurement as a separate discipline. In reality, it should be woven into every discipline and action within a company. Leaders need to drive analytics into the DNA of their organization to better understand the impact each interaction and activity has on their brand. In today’s digital world, data is part and parcel of building impactful customer experiences whether by ensuring relevancy through personalization, improved care interactions, or a more accurate next best action. Together such experiences can make the difference between transient and long-term profitable relationships. 

Diane Magers, CEO, Customer Experience Professionals Association 

Headshot of Diane Magers, who discussed digital customer experience leadership.
Diane Magers

Diane Magers has more than 20 years of building and growing CX focus, evident as her position as board chair for the Customer Experience Professionals Association. Most recently at AT&T, she built and executed programs to drive change in their culture, systematically embed CX and strategically drive CX innovation. Magers will be leading the session titled, "Simple. Smart. Driven. Build & Execute a CX Strategy in an ROI-driven World" Wednesday, Nov. 15 at the CMSWire DX Summit 2017. Tweet to Magers.

Whether it is digital, mobile, data, persona, physical — all those pieces must come together to meet the customer where they want to be and how they want to interact. You know, it is ironic we talk about experiences as a thing. We all have experiences, with all of our feelings, our thoughts, our subconscious and our emotions playing a part in how we interact with everything every day. 

So even the term digital journey or digital channels is misleading. Separating digital interactions from non-digital ones and then only paying attention to the digital ones clearly doesn’t meet the customer’s needs. But, unfortunately, this approach is all too common, and is at the core of the confusion over "digital journeys."

All customer interactions, every touchpoint and phase of interaction with the customer is a part of the overall customer experience. CX is an ongoing process, growing and evolving every time the customer interacts with our organizations. A customer experience is the cumulative impact of many touch points, and they all must be orchestrated to fulfill how we want our brands to be experienced: how customer will feel, react, what they remember, what they achieve by interacting with our brand.

To meet and exceed today’s expectations, you need to prepare yourself to fully utilize the data provided by digital environments. You will also need to offer personalized content and provide an all-around great and seamless experience. You will need to focus on the human experience, enabled by digital transformation.

While customer experience has many different aspects, there is seemingly a singularly most important aspect of the whole equation. Regardless of the touch point and interaction, digital customer experience is an emerging concern. The digital ecosystem continues to evolve and at the rate in which technologies are developing and being adopted, more and more touchpoints will happen digitally. But we can’t forget the human element of what motivates us and what can create engaging and valuable experiences for our brands. 

Screenshot from 2016 Digital Customer Experience survey that demonstrates how people view digital customer experience in their organizations.
CMSWire 2016 Digital Customer Experience Survey PHOTO: CMSWire

Michael Kanazawa, Americas Innovation Realized Leader, EY

headshot of Michael Kanazawa, who discussed digital customer experience
Michael Kanazawa

Kanazawa leads a team of strategy, design and digital practitioners who work collaboratively with clients on strategic growth, experience innovation, new product and business model innovation, disruptive technology innovation and related topics. He has worked with many global corporations and market leaders, with a specific focus on technology-driven consumer and B2B companies as well as retail. He is co-author of Big Ideas to Big Results (FT Press/Pearson Hall), a leader’s guide to accelerating corporate transformation. Tweet to Kanazawa.

Today digital experiences have become a prerequisite to survive, where both consumers and business customers drive high expectations. It used to be that digital customer experiences meant building websites, mobile apps and digital marketing campaigns. A CMO or chief digital officer might have been solely responsible for those channels. 

Digital now defines new generations of products, services and entire business models such as smart cars, connected healthcare, precision farming and smart cities. In this transformative age, digital experiences are now championed at a strategic level across the full organization touching product, service design, IT, operations and functional enablement teams.  

The strategic corporate-wide nature of digital transformation today requires new levels of collaboration and integrated development to achieve. New operating models for software and data services are embedded into next generation smart and connected products and services and IT has become a strategic customer-facing function. As these changes are significant and transformational, they are hard to adopt and scale.

Addressing digital transformation as something that is redefining the value a company provides customers, partners and employees with is the place to start. The ability to shift the strategic digital mindset and operating approach of the organization will be what separates the leaders from laggards in the transformative age. 

Mary Ellen Dugan, CMO, WP Engine

Headshot of Mary Ellen Dugan, who discussed digital customer experience leadership.
Mary Ellen Dugan

Mary Ellen Dugan leads all WP Engine global marketing activities ranging from product marketing, partner enablement and demand generation, brand building, advertising and integrated marketing. She has held a number of senior executive roles at multinational companies including: vice president global marketing at Indeed.com; executive director of global brand & consumer advertising at Dell; and various executive roles at agencies such as Landor Associates and Daymon Worldwide. Tweet to Dugan.

When it comes to creating your customer's digital experience, it truly takes a village. It has to be a concerted, cross-organizational effort, from sales and marketing to customer experience. And it has to be a priority, from the C-Suite to those on the front lines providing customer service, which means investments across those areas.

Like all concerted efforts, it starts with a clear vision for what a customer’s digital experience should be from a technology perspective. And when a one-second load delay can result in a 7 percent loss in sales, the technology’s performance in terms of site speed and availability are crucial to filling demand and driving engagement. Ultimately, all technology investments in digital experiences must also translate to business value.

In addition to ensuring you have the right alignment internally and technology behind your digital customer experience, a secret weapon in the challenge is developing a culture that is customer inspired. With thousands of customers worldwide, we are focused on delighting them with our service, expertise and transparency. This takes an hourly, if not minute-by-minute commitment from the entire company. 

Change is a constant, the competition is always fierce, and innovation is critical to maintaining your online leadership. If your culture isn’t consistent with the digital experience you want to provide, the delta will quickly become evident.  

Without strong vision, organizational alignment, financial commitment and the right culture to support it, a company’s digital experience will come across as lackluster or worse. Those four pillars are key to providing a stellar digital experience. If marketing is responsible for the digital experience yet customer feedback isn’t coming from the CX team, the overall digital experience suffers and ultimately it impacts the bottom line.

As technology increasingly dictates the overall success or failure of a company, most companies find themselves transforming into a technology company. Because the new storefront is a company's digital customer experience, marketers are increasingly being tasked with managing these digital transformations. They must learn to harness the power of the entire organization and bring that to bear to create the next generation of digital customer experiences.  

Tim Burke, EVP, Ness Digital Engineering

Headshot of Tim Burke, who discussed digital customer experience leadership.
Tim Burke

Tim Burke is executive vice president and general manager, Central-Eastern US at Ness Digital Engineering. With more than 20 years of experience in the global business services industry, he has helped many companies transform their software product strategy to enhance top line results and drive market expansion in the digital economy. Tweet to Burke.

Focusing on the customer experience (digital or otherwise) has always been fundamental to business; it’s never something we should stop thinking about. The difference with “digital” customer experience is that it requires unprecedented alignment between the business strategy that shapes the customer experience and the technologies that enable it.

Digital has forced the “org” to adopt new operating models that knock down functional siloes and drive collaboration. Some may not be used to the degree of cross-functional interaction and transparency that digital requires.  

Although the underlying technology can be complicated and requires expertise to employ, it’s 1s and 0s without feelings. People are the champions of the digital customer experience. Some combination of business and technology leadership — whether it’s the chief marketing officer, chief digital officer, line of business head, chief technology officer, chief information officer, VP of product development, or others — will need to find common purpose in orchestrating a customer journey that differentiates their company from the competition. Alignment between business and technology is required to evolve and enhance a customer experience that is responsive and adaptive.

Digital also sets a faster pace with less certainty in the potential outcomes. Customers have more control — to switch to other competitors whose customer experiences they like better or to control their own experience with your brand. Sometimes you have to pull the trigger and take calculated bets, even though the company is unsure of the potential results. With digital customer experience, there is no getting around the experimentation element, but being indecisive is surely a path to failure.

To break through, companies can start with a customer experience audit, and pick one or two areas to work on that can help them generate insight and momentum without biting off more than they can chew. This will give the company an opportunity to assess the “digital readiness” of the organizational culture, processes and appetite for change management.  

From a technology perspective, firms can also asses technology platform readiness, data credibility, and data sharing and monetization opportunities internally and with partners. Digital customer experience is another path on a longer customer journey, and companies just need to pick somewhere to start.