According to James Norwood, digital transformation is now mainstream for organizations of all sizes as they work to become digital businesses. However, the drivers for such reinvention may vary from delivering seamless customer experiences to introducing new business models or disrupting existing models.

“That’s at the macro level, but digital transformation is also fueling investments in technology to elevate the customer experience to attract, retain and engage customers, partners and employees, as enterprises are turning to rich and omnichannel digital experiences,” he said.

Norwood is currently executive vice president of strategy and CMO at digital experience vendor Episerver. He joined Episerver at the start of 2015 after a career spent selling and marketing ERP at Epicor and later customer service software at KANA.

The Move to Adopt Digital Optimization, AI and More

Over the past year, he’s also seen more organizations invest in digital optimization to equip their business practitioners with easy-to-use tools so that they can develop and deliver highly optimized experiences to customers.

“Then, there’s the move toward headless delivery — or more realistically hybrid content delivery,” Norwood said. “As engagement channels and Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices grow, API approaches that separate content delivery from content repository are required.”

Organizations are also investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and personalization with the aim of delivering mass individualization at scale, he said.

“Last, but not least, in the CMS and commerce markets, which unlike the overall CRM sector have been fairly laggard in the move to the cloud, we’re seeing substantial innovation in the areas of full multitenant cloud and microservices architecture, assisting with size, scale, flexibility and agility,” Norwood added.

Episerver is one of the sponsors of CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 12 to 14 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

We chatted with Norwood about “irresistible” digital customer experiences, the progress organizations are making on their personalization endeavors and how companies can take advantage of emerging technologies.

Think Holistically about the Entire Customer Journey

CMSWire: When we last spoke in September, you talked generally about how many companies are doing well with their personalization strategies, but how they may need to improve the seamlessness of their customer digital experiences. What has been the progress in both of these areas since then?

Norwood: I’m pleased to say that both areas continue to improve from our perspective, but, it’s also a case of buyer beware. Just because a technology vendor affixes a “cool” name ahead of its product, whether that’s “Watson,” “Einstein” or “Sensei” or whomever, it’s essential not to fall for the hype. Instead, look for value-added business use cases with clear ROI. There are plenty of such examples.

We work hard to show firms how they can elevate the customer experience by increasing their digital business’ maturity through the adoption of carefully targeted personalization technology. The good news is more businesses are now thinking holistically about the entire customer journey and how to create bonds of trust through frictionless digital engagement.

CMSWire: Where do you see the primary gaps today in the digital experiences companies are delivering to customers and the digital experiences those customers are expecting? How should companies work to close those gaps?

Norwood: There’s still too many one-size-fits-all sites out there. We’re all so attuned to immersive, even irresistible, experiences that now we won’t accept anything less.

Irresistible is the next stage for the digital experience and that takes a lot of work. It requires you to understand the customer and their journey at a level that a human alone simply can’t do (at scale).

Content is, as you would expect, at the heart of the matter. Rich contextual content is how you engage irresistibly. Although not a gap, it remains an incomplete area for many organizations.

Today, there’s emerging technology that can automatically apply meta data (tags) to digital content assets and then work out how to sequence and surface that content at scale.

Episerver has invested particularly heavily in this area, because while product recommendations are somewhat easy — for example, people who purchased this, also purchased that — content recommendations and more importantly content sequencing is really difficult. But if you can get it right, it delivers on the promise of irresistible digital experiences, where the ROI across the entire customer lifecycle is actually far higher.      

CMSWire: Where do customers struggle the most in reinventing or refining customer digital experiences? Are those struggles technology-based or do they also involve organizational issues and even a lack of corporate imagination?

Norwood: It’s always a combination of all three. Lots of people like to talk about how technology is not the answer, but in many cases, it is. It’s just that many organizations’ digital maturity is not where it needs to be to exploit the technology fully.

Learning Opportunities

It can often seem like a very steep hill to climb, but not every organization is starting from the bottom or needs to reach the top. It’s more about understanding where your organization is today and how it can deliver incremental benefits in customer experience.

CMSWire: How do you see the transition to experience-based commerce occurring through the use of increased personalization, virtual voice assistants, AI, IoT, AR and VR?

Norwood: I think there’s more to it than that although, for sure, the IoT and AI-based personalization is taking “experience-driven commerce” to the next level.

As digital experiences become more complex, providing content and commerce together has become mission-critical. It’s that digital imperative that’s really driving businesses like ours forward.

Sometimes I feel like there are the Amazons, Jets and Alibabas of the world, who are all about price, choice and availability and then there’s everyone else. For the rest, it’s not just about surviving in the shadow of Amazon, it’s about thriving in it. That means embracing digital transformation for all it’s worth and using rich contextual content to differentiate themselves.

CMSWire: How should organizations prepare to take advantage of emerging technologies and what types of digital experiences will they be able to deliver to customers?

Norwood: Technology firms like Episerver are increasingly investing in artificial intelligence, microservices architecture and REST-based APIs so that our customers can connect with the IoT easily at the most granular level.

Organizations investing in digital commerce should seek out technology suppliers who are cloud and mobile first, who offer headless and microservices architectures, and support single page and progress web applications as standard.

This will ensure the agility and flexibility to engage with customers digitally through all manner of emerging channels and devices.     

CMSWire: In your Twitter profile, you describe yourself as a “cycling junkie.” How did you first get interested in cycling and what do you enjoy so much about it? What have been your most memorable rides?

Norwood: I started riding bikes at age 5 and have never looked back. I’m not quite the junkie I would like to be these days, as work is all-consuming, but I still do my best thinking when on my bicycle. It’s mentally and physically recuperative.

I like climbing, and the tougher the mountain, the better. My favorite climb is Mount Figueroa in California’s Central Coast, an “hors catégorie” monster I’ve crested more than 10 times. “Hors catégorie” is the most difficult climb in a cycling race, literally meaning “beyond categorization.”

I’ve also added many of the great climbs like Alpe d’Huez, the Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux to my cycling palmarès (list of achievements) as well. There’s really no positive suffering quite like it!  

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