Three steps to a coherent digital customer strategy

CIOs and their application teams need to help their businesses develop a coherent digital customer strategy. Forrester Research's Stephen Powers and Mark Grannan outline the tools required to manage, engage and measure digital customer experiences.

We live in a world where digital has changed our products, insights, employees, business operations and customer service. Good customer experiences -- the perception people have of their interactions with your company -- keep them coming back and are often differentiators. And yet, delivering a coherent digital customer experience eludes many organizations. A broad focus on digital customer experiences carries risks for companies: too...

much experimentation for not enough return, too much duplication and waste, and too little use of data to drive and measure business results.

CIOs and their application leaders of front-office, Web, mobile and digital development must step up to support their companies' initiatives by partnering with marketing and business leaders to sharpen digital strategies and mitigate risks.

Value proposition for honing digital capabilities

To start, CIOs must encourage their delivery teams to focus on why digital experiences matter through a customer and business value lens. Here are four key points:

Digital touchpoints facilitate greater engagement: Back when there were only storefronts and call centers, interacting with companies could be difficult or inconvenient. But an expanding digital ecosystem of websites, mobile apps and social communities has enabled more timely and convenient interactions that fit nicely into the lives of today's consumers, and set ever-increasing expectations for how firms communicate.

Digital competitors are threatening: Competitors that were "born on the Web" now permeate virtually every industry, driving down costs, driving up product flexibility, and offering compelling experiences. All firms -- from retailers fighting Amazon.com to established transportation markets battling Uber -- must respond with their own digital experiences to stay on par with -- and even differentiate from -- competitors.

Digital experiences are richer and pack more punch: Media-rich "immersive" touchpoints enable experiences that bridge the gap from awareness to conversion. For example, hailing a car via Uber or Lyft allows the customer to learn about their driver, follow his/her progress en route to pickup, and easily pay and rate the driver's service. Organizations can mine data from digital touchpoints to produce tangible information about the interaction for immediate analysis. Lastly, digital channels and touchpoints can produce huge returns from relatively small investments.

Mobile makes digital pervasive: By 2017, 74% of the U.S. adult online population will own smartphones, and 46% will own tablets. Outside the U.S., the fastest adoption of mobile lies in the Asia Pacific, but around the globe, mobile adoption is a paradigm shift, which is giving your customers, your potential customers and your employees unprecedented access to computing power and information. This access comes with the expectation that all information is available, on any device, in context, at a person's moment of need.

Three-step process for developing digital capabilities

While many organizations have made significant investments in technologies to support digital experience initiatives, they generally don't have all of the technologies needed to support unified, cross-touchpoint digital experiences.

Forrester advocates using a simplified three-step view of digital capabilities, which allows organizations to:

1. Manage the process of creating an experience: Technologies that enable business users to create and manage digital experiences and/or content associated with those experiences, include content-authoring tools; basic content services such as check-in/checkout, versioning and permissions; and workflow and approval.

2. Engage customers, partners and prospects: This set of technologies supports the customer interactions themselves, transforming content based on contextual factors such as demographics, browsing behavior, language, locale and device. They also support commercial transactions and social interactions.

Stephen Powers, research director, Forrester ResearchStephen Powers,
research director,
Forrester Research
Mark Grannan, analyst, Forrester Research Mark Grannan,
analyst,
Forrester Research

3. Measure the reaction to an experience: Analytics gives marketers data that reveals what users do within a touchpoint and how they react to what they experience. A/B and multivariate testing tools enable organizations to try variations of a design on specific audience segments before rolling them out to a larger group. Increasingly, these technologies are integrated into management and process tools -- so content is available as marketers and information workers create it -- and are integrated into engagement technologies (which enables automatic contextualization).

About the authors:
Stephen Powers is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research. Mark Grannan is an analyst at Forrester. Both serve application development and delivery professionals.

This was first published in August 2014

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