circle with a customer in the center
PHOTO: Redd Angelo | unsplash

One of Michael Mace’s favorite quotes is, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” As the vice president of market strategy at UserTesting, Mace is fascinated by how the digital customer experience is transforming, especially once the pandemic forced companies to adapt to a new reality. The future is impossible to predict, but that doesn’t mean companies can’t be proactive. 

“The most important thing is to be flexible and respond to changes as they happen,” Mace said. “The second most important thing is to get a sense of what might happen in the future, and then find ways to bring about the scenario that you want to happen.”

UserTesting is a sponsor of the DX Summit fall event, taking place online from Oct. 28 and Oct. 29. Mace is hosting a breakout session titled “How to Perfect Every Step in Your Digital Experience Without Waiting for It to Fail First.” He’ll be sharing the best practices companies can use to validate their experiences before they go live, at every stage of the customer journey. Mace spoke with CMSWire about the impact of the pandemic on digital strategies, where AI has the biggest potential and how organizations can overhaul their customer experience strategy. 

Digital Experience Today Demands Change and Experimentation

CMSWire: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted organizations’ digital transformations and digital experience projects?

Michael Mace: The pandemic accelerated companies’ digital transformation efforts. Digital transformation has always been considered important, but for a long time it was one priority among many. 

COVID-19 interrupted the 'business as usual' way of doing things and quickly changed the way organizations interacted with customers. Overnight, digital became the only way to do business and connect with customers for many companies. Now the executive suite understands the importance of digital, and there is no going back to the old neglect of it.

CMSWire: Do you think organizations, in general, are open to experimentation in their digital strategy? Why or why not?

Mace: Most companies are open to experimentation because COVID-19 [demonstrated] that change and experimentation were mission critical. But it’s one thing to know that you have to change, and another to actually do it. Changing mindsets and habits in an old-school organization is incredibly difficult. One reason new start-ups can run circles around older, more traditional companies is because they don’t have to unlearn all the old habits that no longer make sense in an agile, digital world.

CMSWire: What enables experimentation, and what holds organizations back from experimentation?

Mace: Companies tend to get polarized in two directions. Some think that digital transformation will happen magically [and] that they just need to purchase the technology and everything will automatically transform and work out. Meanwhile, some companies try to graft newer practices on top of the older infrastructures that exist within their companies. Neither strategy works when it comes to digital transformation.

Digital transformation is a mindset; it’s not a product. It’s a set of business practices that enable companies to work differently. A company cannot achieve digital transformation in one month, one quarter or even one year. It’s a long haul process that becomes a business way of life. Only the companies that commit deeply, on a long-term basis, are likely to successfully transform.

UserTesting's Michael Mace: “When you start building a house, you have to start with a strong foundation. It’s the same for a business transformation.”

Engaging With Humans, Not Statistical Groups

CMSWire: What key trends are you most excited for, in terms of customer experience technology or strategy? Why these trends?

Mace: The ability to engage directly with customers as regular human beings is what has me most excited. Back in the heyday of television in the '60s and '70s, TV targeted the lowest common denominator. You got slapstick shows like Gilligan’s Island because shows had to appeal to the largest group of people possible. With less than a dozen channels, you couldn’t afford to target narrowly. 

Using the more advanced digital technologies available today, companies can refine their targeting to engage individuals rather than large, generic targets. We can engage with humans, not statistical groups. That’s what gets me excited.

CMSWire: How do you make a customer survey that people actually want to fill out? What is engaging in a customer survey?

Mace: Most people want to talk about themselves and share their ideas. If you show them that you are willing to listen and make it safe for them to speak up, they will tell you what they want. The other thing you should do is pay them for their time. Even if it’s just a few dollars, if you respect the value of their time, they’ll be much more willing to engage with you.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations who want to overhaul their digital experience as part of a digital transformation initiative, but aren’t sure where to begin? How should they measure progress/success?

Mace: The most important thing is, don’t try to boil the ocean. Start simple and small, build on your successes, [and] adjust and adapt as you go. What do your customers like, and what don’t they like? Conduct your transformation systematically, working through the details as they arise. When you start building a house, you have to start with a strong foundation. It’s the same for a business transformation.

One step is to set up a strong product management function, staff it with people who know how to do that role, and empower them. You can’t just relabel some program managers and expect them to succeed in the new role. It’s very different.

CMSWire: Concerning the customer digital experience, what trends do you see having a big impact in current times/the near future? And what predictions do you have for the future further out? 

Mace: Artificial intelligence is very important, even though it’s horribly overhyped at the moment. AI’s not about building superhumans, it’s about combining big databases with pattern matching. If you think of it that way, it’s easier to figure out ways to apply it. 

Another important area is mobile. That one is less hyped today, but we’re still working out what we can do with mobile and how that changes current businesses. We have more surprises ahead of us.

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