What is an experience-driven ecosystem for customers worth to your company? Maybe even more than you think. Today’s consumers have high expectations created by interactions with disruptor companies that get digital commerce right—and they bring those expectations with them whether they’re visiting a website, opening a mobile app, calling a customer service rep, or walking into a store. They need interactions that are consistent and engaging, with a brand that knows and cares about their specific concerns.
Very good things happen when you meet those needs. In 2018, the Qualtrics XM Institute (formerly the Temkin Group) analyzed feedback from 10,000 consumers about 318 major consumer companies across 20 industries. The participants, weighted to represent the US population as a whole, answered simple questions about whether they’d successfully completed a transaction or interaction, how easy or difficult it was to do so, and how they felt about the company in question.
Researchers found a “very high” correlation between companies’ scores and customers’ willingness to buy more from them. That willingness translated directly into money, with XM Institute estimating that companies with $1 billion in revenues could expect to see those revenues increase by an average of $775 million over three years after even a moderate improvement in their scores on those questions.
“We know for sure in 2019 that if you’re not focused on experience-driven commerce, you’re in a danger zone,” says Todd Shimizu, a managing director in Grant Thornton’s business consulting practice. “Now there’s data showing that even among S&P 500 companies, laggers in this area will fall behind the leaders. They’ll also fall below the midline.”
In today’s world, brands no longer define themselves. Instead, they’re defined by consumers’ own perceptions, along with the opinions of their friends, influencers, and social media contacts. “Consumers have not only taken control of brand, but they’ve taken control of shopping, and it’s everywhere, all the time, on their own terms,” says Sean Dunn, head of digital engagement at Astound Commerce. Companies that don’t keep up with those requirements, he says, “will be out of the game by the end of the decade.”
But keeping up with customer expectations is no simple matter. It requires not only deploying new technologies but also making profound changes to how people do their jobs.
Using a Layered Approach
Creating an experience-driven digital commerce ecosystem requires a layered approach, Dunn says. The first layer is customer acquisition, engaging with potential customers based on their behaviors and interests. “Technology allows us not to be everything to everybody, but something to somebody,” he says.
Once you’ve engaged with a customer, the next technology layer is about behavior and customer experience (CX). CX provides personalization of content and product selection and unique and meaningful user journeys that enhance the customer-brand relationship, as well as ratings, reviews, user-generated content, testimonials, contextual learning, and sharing. That’s something consumers expect, especially if they also interact with companies such as Amazon and Netflix.
The third technology layer is the enablement of complex and powerful platforms that make it all work smoothly. “You need open APIs to connect commerce to service, sales, and marketing automation; third-party integrations; and all of your data layers—and to create one technological core that powers a single, unified view of customers across every touchpoint,” says David Murack, vice president of technical services at Astound.
This all sounds straightforward enough, but organizational norms can make it anything but. Projects that seek to improve digital commerce without addressing the people and processes involved, warns Shimizu, often can be spectacular failures.
Name, Number, or Email Address?
Often, these failures come about because digital commerce is made up of direct or indirect interactions with many different areas of an organization, each of which may have its own silo of customer data. And each silo, in turn, may have its own way of identifying individual customers.
“A customer ID might be an account number in one system, an email address in another, and a phone number in yet another,” Murack says. “Let’s say my ID is an email address, and I update it on one of your brand sites. How will that record proliferate across the system when I swipe my credit card at one of your stores? For most companies, it won’t align across the different channels.” This is why choosing one platform as the single source of truth about customers is often the first and most important task for improving digital commerce.
In some cases, a company’s own structures and incentives make matters worse. “In a lot of our client situations, people in the retail sales organization do not want to align their data with online sales because they only get credit for sales in stores,” Dunn says.
Untangling all this is rarely easy. “The shift toward experience-driven commerce can be difficult for teams across the organization,” says Mike Rowland, a director in West Monroe Partners’ Customer Experience practice. “It represents a cultural shift in how work is viewed. At a most basic level, the realignment asks employees to think customer-first, versus just completing the task in front of them.”
Who Owns Digital Commerce? It’s Complicated.
To add to the complexity, there usually isn’t a single executive or department with oversight over experience-driven digital commerce. “A Gartner analyst told us that there are as many as 8 to 10 people making digital commerce decisions in most organizations,” says Dunn, “and it’s pretty evenly divided among the technology team, the marketing team, and business decision-makers such as finance or the C-suite.”
The very fact that digital commerce is spread over so many different function areas has forced many executives to make a tough choice: collaborate or die. “These teams are having to work together rather than pointing the finger for failure,” Dunn says. “You are starting to see alliances across technology and marketing.”
Those alliances, supported by the right technology, can make all the difference in today’s customer-driven world. “A customer-centric business means aligning great customer experience and ever-evolving technology to drive meaningful customer engagement, before and after purchase,” Dunn says. “Do that for today’s socially connected, mobile consumer and you will earn sustained loyalty.”