Sitecore's Paige O'Neill: "Customers really expect brands to know them, as they are providing data with every form-fill or with every click. However, many brands are still delivering the same experience across users"

At a time when so much can be automated in the digital experience, it can be easy to lose sight of the human beings involved. Unless we carefully preserve empathy and respond to customer needs in meaningful ways, the experience can feel transactional.

As CMO of digital experience platform provider Sitecore, Paige O'Neill works hard to keep the human in mind in every customer engagement. While she doesn't believe empathy can be taught, she believes “What can be taught is to remember to think about it. Stop going through the same everyday motions and make sure there’s an awareness of what your customers are going through and put thought behind how you can help.”

This is where data and emotion can work together. “Data can highlight where there is friction in the journey, which is where our focus should be.”

O’Neill brings more than 20 years of senior leadership experience in PR and product marketing to Sitecore, including stints as CMO of Prysm and SDL. Throughout her experiences, O'Neill has been able to craft a uniquely personal take on messaging that comes from understanding not only the product, but also the influencer community.

Sitecore is a sponsor of CMSWire's Winter DX Summit, taking place online on Feb. 25. O'Neill will be presenting a session titled, "Moments that Make Experiences." We spoke with her about the role empathy plays in customer experience, how brands should be preparing for the future of CX and how to identify signs of success in the digital realm.

We're in the Experience Business

CMSWire: As CX leaders, we should never lose sight that emotions matter. How can your brand live up to the experience that you promise? What do you want your customers to feel?

Paige O’Neill: I completely agree that emotions matter. Being in the experience business, our customers want their buyers to step away from an engagement feeling the interaction was not purely transactional, but rather one where the brand knows them and is ready to meet their evolving needs. Much of this requires an empathetic point of view, something that will be withstanding and enable brands to connect with their customers to truly understand what they need in the long-term, not just for the immediate request. For our customers, I hope they feel a sense of relief after an engagement with Sitecore. I want them to know we stand behind them and see their vision, whether it be for a quick campaign rollout or a multi-year initiative.

CMSWire: In your opinion, what’s 'next' in digital customer experience — what should brands be thinking about now?

O’Neill: With the next wave of personalization, we will begin to see the death of default content as we know it. For the future, brands need to think about a couple of things. The first is future-proofing their tech and CX investments. With the increase in cloud spending and the continued move to SaaS, brands will also need to make sure that they are building and deploying their sites in ways that meet evolving needs and accommodate future trends.

Brands should continue to think about ensuring great customer experiences as DX is making or breaking brands now and will continue to do so. As mentioned above, brands must keep empathy in mind, as it is important to demonstrate a genuine dedication to understanding the customer, especially during volatile times. Followed by message personalization, as it has never been more important to share the right message at the right time.

CMSWire: What are the most important components of the customer experience?

O’Neill: The customer experience is continuously evolving into a moment-to-moment measure of how brands respond to their customers’ needs. As a part of this moment-to-moment approach, the most important components of the customer experience are empathy, content, and agility.

While I’ve touched on empathy briefly, understanding what customers need at any given moment is a crucial part of their overall customer experience. This genuine understanding of what customers need goes far beyond just proving you know 'who' they are based on that data you’ve collected; it’s proving that you are listening and ready to build their trust. 

Next is content. Content is the means to show the customer that you have an understanding of what they need, you can provide them with the content to achieve what that is. This doesn’t necessarily mean creating more content but creating personalized and relevant content that resonates with customers.

Lastly, brands need to be agile and able to react to anything that the customer might be facing. The pandemic is just one very recent example of how brands needed to be able to pivot their strategies and conventional approaches to help customers through.

CMSWire: What is the gap between the needs and wants of customers and what they actually experience?

O’Neill: I think that the gap is that customers really expect brands to know them, as they are providing data with every form-fill or with every click. However, many brands are still delivering the same experience across users even though they have different needs, wants, nuances, etc.

There is often a 'miss' in the personalization that is delivered, and it indicates that brands are not listening to the very clear digital cues their consumers are giving them. I also think there is a gap in how brands interact with customers throughout their customer journey. We talk about a 360-degree view and unified experience, but in reality, so many brands have disparate systems and data where consumers will see one thing online and provide information, then they will have to repeat themselves or start all over. The consistency of interaction is a gap.

'When a Customer Continues to Engage, It Means You Are Doing Something Right'

CMSWire: What is the role of empathy in winning customers’ time, attention, and loyalty? Can empathy be taught?

O’Neill: Demonstrating empathy can help brands build stronger connections with their customers and secure customer loyalty. While there can be a fine line between genuine empathy and inauthenticity, and I don’t know that true empathy can be taught, what can be taught is to remember to think about it. Stop going through the same everyday motions and make sure there’s an awareness of what your customers are going through and put thought behind how you can help. For example, how and why should they choose you and what can you do to make the process efficient and easy for them? Companies need to ensure that they have a holistic view of the consumer that enables them to develop a positive relationship with the brand. 

When it comes to being empathetic, one of our customers, Johns Hopkins Medicine, has it down. Their immediate response to the pandemic of providing accurate coronavirus information to power a COVID-19 self-checker, was just what millions of people needed when trying to navigate their healthcare during a very trying time. 

CMSWire: How can data be used to improve the team’s emotional response to customer needs?

O’Neill: Data is valuable in the sense that it tells you what is working and what is not when it comes to content, CX and findability of information. At the next level down, data can highlight where there is friction in the journey, which is where our focus should be. Understanding where an experience lacks or is not meeting customer needs can help teams prioritize those areas of friction and focus attention on improvements. For example, demonstrating empathy in the fact that they couldn’t readily find what they needed or did not get the answer they were looking for. Data can also help identify areas of interest for customers that can be used to fuel deeper, more meaningful conversations and information sharing between brands and their customers.

CMSWire: In the digital experience economy, what are the key indicators that your customer interaction strategy is working?

O’Neill: Engagement, retention and feedback. Especially now as people are consuming more digitally, they are discovering new brands and are even less loyal than before. More time is spent researching and the notion of brand loyalty is becoming more of a holy grail that is harder to attain. When a customer continues to engage it means you are doing something right. You have met a need, or you have solved a problem for them. Retention also plays into that. As mentioned before, consumers are interacting with more brands and options than ever. If you are able to retain a customer it means that you are listening to them and delivering on what they need. Last but not least — feedback. When customers go out of their way to provide positive feedback, that is a clear indicator. Also, when doing UX research, if you easily find customer volunteers to participate, you know they are invested in your brand.

Register today for the free, virtual event: 2021 Digital Experience Conference Series.