Not All Customer Experiences Are Created Equal

By Katrina Gosek, info@endeca.com

As a consumer, I have pretty lofty expectations for retailers today. I expect that when I go into a store looking for a new grill, I can find that exact same grill on my iPhone without herculean effort. I also expect to be able to read peer reviews, view grill specs (I’m a foodie, so my deliciousness quotient is high, but I don’t have a lot of space), and see photos and watch videos of how the grill looks in various areas – all from my iPhone while standing in the aisle. I even expect to be able to order the grill from my phone while I’m in the store (because I want to buy it now using the 20% off coupon I received via email, and because I know the grill I want isn’t going to fit in the trunk of my car).

Maybe I’m just too type-A. Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I’m jaded because I know what is possible in the retail world and expect it everywhere and every time. But I really don’t think I’m the only consumer out there who desires this connected experience.

Reports from major analyst firms like Forrester and Gartner, news articles in major retail industry publications, and presentations from leading retail gurus at industry events have all pointed to the same revolution in retail over the last few years: Digital channels – .com, mobile and social – have become the dominant medium for influencing decision-making and building a stronger relationship between brands and customers. Retailers, consumers, analysts and industry leaders have known for quite some time that it’s no longer just about a great in-store experience. It’s about the anywhere and everywhere optimized experiences that are just right and uniquely created for me. To deliver this, product information − from images and specs to reviews and promotions − has to be consistent and customized across every consumer channel and touchpoint. Every device, every channel, every call to customer service must be personalized in order to successfully convert browsers into buyers.

Providing intuitive experiences everywhere, every time to each consumer seems like it should be a no-brainer for retailers – especially since as of late, the personalized experience has transformed from an option to the standard. But it’s not as easy as it looks. If you step back for a moment and look at what is required behind the scenes from a technology perspective to deliver a consistent experience across all channels, you’ll encounter quite a challenge. The seemingly simple customer experience now touches the entire retail technology ecosystem. For example, relevant inventory and pricing information comes from the ERP system, relevant promotions are found within the commerce platform, product specs and technical information is pulled from the product information system, and images and videos pull from the Web content management and digital asset management systems. The list of data and content coming from diverse systems seems never ending.

This creates an extremely large technology challenge for retailers. At bottom, the ability for retailers to predict when, where and on what device a consumer will want to access a product and accompanying information has vanished. For large- and medium-sized retailers, there are just too many potential customers, too many devices and too much data to allow for the predictability of the past. An August 2011 independent Forrester Research report, The Emergence of Customer Experience Management Solutions,  surveys the changing Customer Experience Management (CXM) technology landscape and notes that “as experiences have become more complex and fragmented, it has become increasingly clear that businesses can’t sustain the current manually intensive processes over the long haul.” The key concept here is that customer experiences need to scale to the diversity of customers and adapt to the unpredictable nature of today’s consumer interactions. Retailers can no longer think about building these types of customer experiences by hand – but rather, delivering them dynamically from among a mountain of diverse content and data.

At the core of what we’re seeing is a fundamental shift in how customer experiences need to be built, managed and optimized to support new consumer expectations. Advances in CXM technologies play a big role in this, and have opened up a world of possibilities to dynamically assemble relevant, personalized and optimized experiences within and across channels.  The ability to integrate rich and diverse information assets spanning customer intelligence, social network information and rich media – and to dynamically assemble that information based on the user’s context – can be extremely powerful.

Though this may seem simple on the surface, this is a very important concept to understand. A very large shift is occurring in the market – a disruptive one, some would argue. Quite a bit goes into this shift, with implications on mobile, social, analytics, Web content management, faceted search and navigation, merchandising, and so much more. Today and in the near future, not all customer experiences are created equal. But retailers that satisfy and retain customers most successfully will be those that can leverage the mass of offers, products and content from across the organization to deliver optimized, consistent customer experiences no matter where, when or how customers are encountering them.

Katrina Gosek is director of product marketing at Endeca (endeca.com), where she is responsible for the company’s InFront customer experience management platform. In addition to developing online marketing best practice strategies, she also assists customers with outlining and analyzing Endeca’s impact pre- and post-implementation Gosek can be reached at info@endeca.com.

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