Over the course of his career, Jean-Marc Bellaiche has witnessed dramatic shifts in what is considered convenient or desirable in customer experience, while the lines between offline and online experiences have continued to blur.

"The possibilities of digital have radically transformed customer expectations and redefined the value of experience for brands," he said. "Customers today expect to be understood, and they want this understanding to translate into better services, better products, and better experiences."

Bellaiche is currently chief strategy officer at experience analytics platform solution provider Contentsquare. Prior to joining Contentsquare in June 2018, he was senior vice president, strategy and business development, at luxury goods and jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co., after 22 years spent at the Boston Consulting Group where he was leading the luxury, fashion, beauty sector globally.

Shrinking the Experience Gap

While working at Tiffany, Bellaiche observed the increasing sophistication of solutions which collect and process customer intelligence.

"I really got interested in the idea of shrinking the experience gap - of unlocking the greatest potential and opportunity from our understanding of consumer behavior," he said.

Moving from the retail to the technology sector felt like "the natural next step" for Bellaiche, since it allowed him to expand his understanding of how brands can please their customers, and drive business through further engagement and retention.

Tiffany was an existing Contentsquare customer and so Bellaiche had observed first-hand the value of the experience analytics platform in terms of understanding customer online behavior and then turning that information into actions designed to grow revenue.

He also noted the "democratization" impact of insightful data on helping to break apart departmental silos within companies, uniting teams from ecommerce, marketing and branding, product and merchandizing, and even design groups.

Contentsquare is a sponsor of CMSWire's DX Summit taking place Nov. 4 through 6 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago.

We chatted with Bellaiche for his thoughts on which companies are providing optimal digital customer experiences; the impact of AI and other emerging technologies on customer experience; and his take on digital transformation.

Team Empowerment Is the Main Challenge of Digital Transformation

CMSWire: What are companies doing well today in providing optimal digital experiences to their customers? Where are companies struggling to offer optimal customer digital experiences? How can they address these gaps?

Bellaiche: The companies that are thriving in this new era of experience are the ones which have understood that there are no real best practices, there is no cookie-cutter solution to the experience challenge.

Sure, there are some fairly universal standards of convenience, but at the end of the day, every brand is unique. Every brand has a unique audience with unique needs and a unique way of engaging with the brand experience. And, even where we see UX trends and widely-adopted features, the pace of innovation is so fast that banking on these areas alone is not enough.

Brands that understand (and succeed at) experience are the ones which listen to their customers, that analyze all user interactions to predict and remove obstacles along the customer journey.

Digitally native brands, for example, speak to small audiences, but know these audiences intimately. They have understood that data is the greatest tool in their toolkit and, as a result, they have put this data in everyone's hands. They know that basing personalization on actual behavior and interactions is far more sophisticated and effective than basic demographic personalization, such as receiving a coupon on your birthday.

CMSWire: How do you see today's digital customer experience evolving as technologies like AI, AR, and VR become more sophisticated? In your opinion, what kinds of digital customer experiences will become possible? How will such experiences benefit both organizations and their customers?

Bellaiche: Technology today is driving more sophisticated, more innovative, and more convenient experiences. The ability to monitor and understand consumer engagement at a granular level is in turn pushing the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to building experiences.

Consumers today want more personalization and, at the same time, more privacy. The beauty of behavioral data is that it delivers on both these demands. By aggregating the behavior of specific customer segments, digital teams today are able to tailor journeys around context and intent - unlocking a much deeper and truer type of personalization than that made possible by demographic data.

By replacing the 'what we think our customers want' strategy with a 'what our customers indicate they want' strategy, experience makers are able to shrink the distance between the brand and its customers.

AI will further enhance personalization capabilities. For every customer interaction, signals can be leveraged to automatically modify and improve in real time the digital experience delivered to customers. As a result, customers will become true stakeholders in the brand and its experience, allowing for a much deeper connection which can outlive market trends and drive healthier retention.

Learning Opportunities

CMSWire: What excites you about the changes underway in today's retail industry around digital customer experience? In terms of digital customer experience, what can other industry sectors learn from retail and vice versa?

Bellaiche: Every sector has its own unique perspective on experience, and its own set of challenges when it comes to digital transformation. Retail has a head start because of its legacy of customer-centricity.

Many retail brands experimented with adapting the physical customer experience for the digital space, but they soon understood that digital experience speaks its own language. Today, we see that the line between in-store and online is completely blurred - what matters is a sustained connection to the brand which remains relevant and seamless regardless of the touchpoint.

An industry like finance, for example, represents an interesting paradox. On the one hand, you have the tradition of in-branch banking and face-to-face money management. On top of which, you have security concerns and the fact that, traditionally, opening an account requires signatures, presenting IDs, etc. All of these things create challenges when imagining the digital experience for financial institutions like banks. On the other hand, finance is a space where we've seen some of the greatest disruptions, with virtual wallets, digital lenders, etc.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations as they start rethinking digital customer experience as part of a larger digital transformation initiative? How should companies encourage employees used to relying on a 'gut feeling' to adopt a data-driven approach towards refining digital customer experience?

Bellaiche: I think the main challenge of digital transformation, for many brands, is team empowerment. For an experience strategy to be impactful, it needs to be owned by everyone who has a stake in the experience, and everyone working on making it great.

It doesn't make any sense to have exhaustive customer knowledge without the agility to enact it. It makes no sense to have tons of insights if those insights then need to be crunched by analysts, translated into recommendations, and passed on to relevant teams.

Experience is a living, breathing thing, and it won't wait for your team to catch up.

CMSWire: As a keen photographer, which subjects do you most like to photograph and why? Do you see any parallels between the processes required to achieve a near-perfect image and those needed to provide customers with an optimal digital experience?

Bellaiche: When I was younger, I used to paint, and I was irresistibly attracted to hyperrealist work. Realism, photorealism, surrealism, and romanticism were some movements that I admire. When I started to do photographic work, I was attracted by the opposite: finding abstractions in our reality.

New York City and, in particular, its architecture is a wonderful playing ground: the contrast between modern and pre-war buildings, the size and perspectives of those constructions, the light and reflection of the sun, are all elements that can generate beautiful abstract pictures.

There is a parallel between creating the perfect picture and the perfect digital experience. In both cases, you need to apply some rules but also break others. You need to mix art and science, logic and magic. And, you also need to forget any of your preconceptions or even tastes as a consumer to offer an experience that will surprise and exceed expectations.

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