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How to create a strong customer experience engine

How to create a strong customer experience engine Oliver Jaeger

With so many different ways to communicate with customers, companies have to work harder and smarter to build and maintain strong relationships. And that engagement must span not just the buying phase, but the entire customer journey -- from awareness to purchase to implementation and support -- to create an outstanding customer experience at all touch points and channels.

Ideally, that journey continues to the ultimate destination -- when your customer becomes an advocate for your company, products and services through social media and other channels. To make this vision a reality, your company's marketing, sales, and support managers need to be able to give your visitors the relevant content they need to make their journey smooth and hassle-free.

Every journey needs a vehicle with a strong engine that can run effortlessly and reliably. In the case of the customer journey, your company needs what we like to call a customer experience engine to seamlessly link together all the many potential customer touch points. Like any engine, the customer experience engine has many moving parts that must all come together to power the customer journey. To be clear, the customer experience engine isn't a product you can buy. Instead it is an operating concept based on using best-of-breed technology integration to connect the dots between people, processes, and content across the customer journey and touch points.

Unfortunately, in many companies, the engine doesn't run very smoothly. This is because the various customer touch points are being handled by different applications under the supervision of different departments. In addition, the content you often see on a website is created by different departments within the company which means the themes and promotions might not be in sync. If the customer content is locked up in different applications and silos, it can virtually ensure that what the customer sees and hears from your company will vary dramatically from touch point to touch point severely undermining the customer experience.
Far from the old days of mailing lists and e-mail campaigns, the creation of personalized digital experiences requires knowledge of a customer's buying history, demographics, website behaviors, contacts with support centers, social media habits, and e-commerce and financial systems used to complete a purchase. That covers a lot of applications that need to be integrated in order to give your customer the smoothest journey possible. More often than not, context is lost as people transition from prospect to lead to customer.

So what can be done to solve this fundamental business problem? Let's start with the basics. At the heart of a fully functional customer experience engine is a best-of-breed web content management system (CMS) that can tie all the various marketing, sales, and support components together into a cohesive whole. In a digital world, the experience that customers have when they arrive at a touch point (whether through a browser or a mobile device) is content driven, thus placing the primary burden for the customer's journey on the CMS.

One question we often hear is why can't a CMS suite fulfill these requirements? Simply put, there are too many systems with specialized functionality unique to your organization and your customers that need to be connected. One size does not fit all as CMS suites suggest. Without tight integration across departments, the CMS suite ends up becoming yet another silo while leading to a costly rip-and-replace cycle. On the other hand, a best-of-breed approach means you can continue to use the tools that best meet your needs while allowing you to easily and cost-efficiently add new tools and solutions as needs change or new applications emerge.

While the design and implementation of a customer experience engine may seem daunting, the complexity can and should be managed by first having a big picture view of what needs to be done, and second, a step-by-step approach to implementation based on a well-designed road map.

Here are six tips for creating a customer experience engine that's strong and reliable for the long haul.

Crystalize business goals
What do you want to achieve with respect to customer experiences? Hint: An enjoyable online experience for your visitors should be top of mind.

Never forget that content is king
Make sure your content is engaging, creates emotions and satisfies your customers' needs for information. It is not advertising!

Identify and document all customer touch points, both online and offline
Test the touch points -- focusing on response times, consistency of answers and information, quality of interactions, and follow through. Your customer experience engine should run smoothly at all touch points.

Create "architectures" for the customer experience engine
Architectures are documents that describe all of the component parts, their organization, and interactions. This includes technology solutions as well as the people, organizations, content, and processes that help provide the customer experiences.

Create and use a road map
This map should define the timing and sequence of technology starting with the CMS. Since the CMS is the hub from which most if not all other engine components will be connected, a CMS that fits with your strategy (and not the other way around) should be selected with care.

Have a formal process for evaluating the CMS and other technologies
Use the business goals and architecture documents to communicate with vendors and remember that the more the vendor knows about you and your needs, the better they can respond.

As the core element of the customer experience engine, CMS selection is critical. A CMS that easily integrates with the best-of-breed solutions enables companies to have freedom in selecting just the right tool for a given job from the vast variety of tools and systems available, including those they already own. Those tools go far beyond sales and marketing automation to include e-commerce, analytics, social media, community management, and many others that fuel marketing campaigns for effectively attracting and serving customers.

If you are considering a CMS to drive your own customer experience engine, you too are embarking on a customer journey. Don't be afraid to kick the tires to see how well the vendors you look at understand and can support the creation of a superior and effective customer journey with best-of-breed tool integration to make the road smooth and successful all the way along.

Oliver Jaeger is vice president, global marketing and communications for e-Spirit Inc.

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