The brand message and visual representation varies across departments, sections and devices
The Brand is Consistent Across Sections and Devices
The web-copy is concise, easy to understand, and reflects the language used by the customer, not the company.
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Content is Personalized, Not Generic
Given the outsize role websites play in shaping the customer experience, brands competing in the digital age can’t afford to build sub-par web experiences. And a sub-par web experience is one that is company-first, instead of customer-first.
Most brands don’t set out to build a company-first web experience, yet they end up there by following the old norms of web design and putting business objectives before customer needs. To build a truly customer-first website, companies must transform the way they design web experiences in the following five ways.
Data scientists who can not only synthesize data from multiple sources, but have enough knowledge of front-end customer engagement strategies to deliver actionable insights
Minimal, Seamless Navigation Across Sections
Replace Jargon with Common Language
The brand message and visual representation is consistent across all pages and devices
The content is organized by department or product category
Customers don’t care which department of a brand they are interacting with. To them, there is only one brand, and they want a consistent experience whenever they engage with it. It’s important to remember that the website is not the standalone property it used to be. It is merely a single touchpoint out of many that brands use to communicate with the customer. Gone are the days when the only way to access a website was to type in a URL or search for it on Google. Now, customers can choose between email, social media, mobile apps and in-store visits when they want to engage a brand.
It’s entirely possible that each one of those channels has been developed and maintained by different parts of the organization. That’s why it’s essential that the experience across all these channels remains consistent. This includes tone of voice, branding, use of images and consistent information. A consistent experience isn’t just aesthetically pleasing. It’s essential to consumer trust. A McKinsey survey found that customers trusted banks that were in the top quartile of delivering consistent customer journeys 30% more than banks in the bottom quartile.
That’s why it’s important to look at the web experience not as a singular touchpoint, but part of a continuous, holistic experience. “You expect consistency when you talk to a company,” says Arjan Van Rooijen, Chief Evangelist at customer-experience technology company SDL. “Whether you’re in a native app on your phone, or if you go to a website, or call a call center, it should be completely consistent in terms of any type of content.” Van Rooijen added, “You should also be able to stitch different sessions across different devices, people get annoyed having to redo the same action just because you’re on your iPad and no longer on your PC.”
Site Design and Maintenance
Most website content is organized by company department. Once again, this assumes that customers navigate websites the way they way would navigate a physical store, by going to different sections to browse, purchase or get service on an item. In reality, customers want to be able to do everything online with as little navigation as possible. If they have to keep clicking on the brand’s logo in the top left corner to get back to the homepage and start their navigation over, it can be a frustrating and disruptive experience. Customer-first websites anticipate these needs and design customer interactions so that everything can be done in one place.
For example, Amazon allows you to return an item directly from your order list by clicking on a single visible link. You don’t have to first scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to look for “returns” or “support” and then follow additional steps such as entering your order number or receipt. The entire process is self contained and intuitive. And it means the customer can spend less time searching for information, and more time focusing on the value of the products and the brand.
At data storage company NetApp, improving site navigation meant optimizing movement between the company’s four different customer facing sites, which were Product, Support, Sales and Community, each of which were built and managed by different teams. The desire for this came directly from customer usability tests. “When we asked customers what they wanted in a digital experience, they said they want it to be connected, to be consistent and for the information to all be in one place,” says Zann Aeck, Digital Experience Director at NetApp. “I wanted to pull together folks and say our customers are hurting, and we’re doing a disservice to prospects who are researching us. We need to start anticipating their needs.”
As a solution, Aeck worked with the heads of all the different departments to create a universal header and footer that helped visitors move seamlessly between different functions, without relying on bookmarks. This was the simplest way they could bridge silos within the website without having to do a complete site redesign. The team also revamped all the product pages so that they applied to all stages of the customer lifecycle, not just marketing. “Seeing all of us working together for the visitor is just really gratifying,” says Aeck. “It makes you realizes that silos are not real, they’re just habit.”
Content Storage and Management
BY DIGITAL BEHAVIOR
Demographics are good but online behavioral data is even better for personalized content. Brands can serve customers different content based on how they came to the site, and the pages they visited, increasing relevance and engagement
FIGURE 4 Data Requirements for Each Level of Web Personalization
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Focus on Solutions, Not Products
KEY ELEMENTS FOR BUILDING A CUSTOMER-FIRST WEB EXPERIENCE
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Customer-First Web Experience
BY LOCAL AREA
Personalization at this level allows brands to tailor content according to local weather, events and culture. Basic geo-location data can be used to execute at this level
Insights and Analytics
A deeper store of known customer data, which can recognize actions the recognized customer takes on the website and powers real-time responses through a marketing automation tool.
FIGURE 1 Key Differences Between a Company First and A Customer-First Web Experience
CREATING A CUSTOMER-FIRST WEB EXPERIENCE
Now that we’ve identified what a customer-first website looks like, here are the essential components for building one:
A Shift in Culture to Customer-Centricity
A customer-first website can only be built by a customer-first company. That means prioritizing the customer experience across all channels, not just any one customer-facing department. This change in mindset is the first, and most crucial step towards delivering a great customer experience. And while it may originate in any part of the organization, it can only grow with the support of leadership. “Ideally executive mandate is the starting point,” says Chris Nash, Senior Business Optimization Consultant at Sitecore. “Organizations are like people; we don’t like to change, we’re happy to be stuck in our ways, and we’ll stick to business as usual unless there’s some cultural and strategic leadership.”
Along with executive support, staffing a team with the right mindset is essential for changing the culture. At the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, Senior Vice President of Digital Nathan Maehren made a conscious effort to hire multi-skilled people on the digital team. “We look for people that are entrepreneurial and have an eye for what’s possible and what’s new,” says Maehren. “They’re highly collaborative people that are comfortable in an agile process. Since we’re a small team, cross functional skills are critical for us. We can’t be that specialized.”
A Working Group of CX stakeholders
When the goal is simply to build a website, it’s usually a single department, such as IT or marketing, who owns the process. But when the goal is to optimize the customer experience, there are stakeholders from every department. The best way to align the efforts of every department that has a stake in the performance of the website is to give each of them a part to play in a data-proven customer journey.
Mapping the customer journey for every type of customer segment creates a blueprint for different departments to determine how and where they can add the most value to the customer using web content. Putting it together requires each department to share its part of the customer data puzzle, in order to create a holistic picture of the journey. Although it is becoming increasingly popular for companies to create a central CX or “Digital” team in charge of the customer journey, it isn’t necessary for it to be owned by an independent group. Some experts recommend the formation of a working group with representatives from existing customer-facing departments.
Arjen Van Den Akker, Product Marketing Director of SDL’s web-content management platform cautions against any one department driving customer journey mapping. “If you start ownership from a marketing perspective you would end up with a different journey then if you would start from an ecommerce or support perspective,” says Van Den Akker. “The only thing we’ve seen work is to bring these departments together in working groups that can define those experiences and properly build them out, joining up content, joining up context looking for opportunities to cross-sell”
Access to CX Data, not All The Data
Customers want personalization, localization and optimization of the content they receive from companies, none of which can be done without the right customer data. However, companies can get bogged down in their efforts to centralize all the customer data they have, as they try to come up with a definitive, single view of the customer. The much vaunted 360-degree view is great if you can do it. But companies can be pretty effective using only a 45 or 90 degree view of the customer as well. The key is to not try to get all the data, but to get CX data, or specifically the data that tells us the most about what impacts the customer journey.
“There is this ambitious idea of having a database that provides marketing with a single view of the customer, but the kind of data marketing needs doesn’t have to be all-encompassing” says Sitecore’s Nash. “It’s things like email-response data, data with regards to channels and decision-moment responses that drive visitors to your most valuable digital properties. Having access is tough, but there’s a lot you can do combing web, mobile, advertising and to some extent social to be able to model an interactive customer journey.”
Separate Content Management From Content Delivery
Currently, most content is created and optimized for the channel it will be delivered on. Web content resides in the CMS, with social, email and mobile all accessing content from their own individual stores. This system works well for batch-and-blast campaigns. But in a CX-oriented approach, customers dictate which content they receive depending on the unique actions they are taking across the digital channels. Content delivery needs to be real-time and personalized. In order to do that, it’s essential to decouple the digital content from the channel of its delivery.
What this means is creating and storingcontent in a separate content management system that has the capability to connect to all the delivery channels, and optimize the content for each channel in real time.“Content is like mercury that flows into all these different places that you didn’t even know exist,” says David Aponovich, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Acquia. “Everything is dynamic, everything is assembled on the fly, and less bound to a template. This "headless CMS" allows web experience creators to focus on managing content, not managing pages.
To illustrate the concept, let’s say a customer is shopping on an ecommerce site, but decides to abandon their cart. The website can recognize the customer, since they are already logged in, and it triggers the marketing automation platform to send the customer a 10% discount in order to get them to complete their purchase. Since we know the customer, the data platform already has an idea of their preferred channel. If they are more likely to respond to email, the system accesses the content store for a banner image saying “10% discount!” to send in an email. But if the preferred channel is mobile, the system takes the same content but just uses the ad copy to send a mobile notification or text, without the image.
In this way, the content has to be created and updated once, instead of updating it at every place it exists on the website. And when the next digital channel comes along, such as an Alexa or AI-powered smart device, it can simply connect to the central content store, rather than have new content created specifically for it.
The content is organized by questions the visitor is trying to answer or problems they are trying to solve
A tool that allows you to run A/B tests in real-time on the web content, as well as show personalized content to site visitors according to predefined rules.
Creating a customer-first web experience is primarily a strategic challenge, which requiresa change in how a company thinks about its website. But once that thinking is on track, it cannot be executed on without the right people and technology platforms. We’ve created a list of roles and technology below which we believe are essential for creating customer-first web experiences. And while people and technology are usually secondary to creating the right culture and strategy, in this case, we believe that all these initiatives can be pursued simultaneously.
Although personalization has its advantages, it won’t work without transparency. Consumers will tolerate their data being used to serve them personalized offers as long as the value they get in return far exceeds the value of what they give up. And, the company must explain just exactly what data they are using and how. More than 60% of consumers want to know why, what, and how websites select content personalized for them.
Figure 3 shows the levels of personalization that can be used to provide relevant experiences for web visitors.
A tool that allows multiple content creators to see what each team is working on, share assets, plan and schedule campaigns and manage approvals.
Instead of hiring “project managers” to oversee the site redevelopment, look for “product managers” who can treat the site as a product that doesn’t have a finite end but needs continuous maintenance, innovation and optimization.
FIGURE 5 Essential Roles and Technology Platforms for Creating Customer-First Web Experiences
Focused on content and positioning: The developers and creators of customer-focused content and brand messaging to be delivered through the site and other digital channels
Web Content Delivery
BY RECOGNIZED INDIVIDUAL
Once brands can unify anonymous behavior data with known individual customer data (e.g. through a login or form fill), content can be individually customized for each individual, providing a curated, unique experience on a one-to-one basis
Personalization is now based on what the customer looks like, instead of where they are. This is more granular than location but harder to base on digital data, which is much more focused on behavior rather than appearance
FIGURE 3: Burton Shows Website Visitors Different Product Images Based on Local Weather
Cross functional strategists:
People who have an eye for business but also technology. One foot in operations, and another foot in strategy. These people have an idea of where digital experience is going, understand the competitive landscape and have a working knowledge of the technology platforms.
Customers now expect to be recognized as individuals when they go to websites they’ve visited before. Personalization plays a big part in the digital customer experience. In fact, 74% of consumers will get frustrated and leave a website if they feel the content (ads, promotions, articles) are not relevant to their interests. They expect at least some level of personalized content that makes them feel like the company is catering to their specific needs. Examples of effective personalization include changing background images to more closely match the profile of the site visitor, or the website popping up personalized offers or deals depending on the products you are browsing. The simplest form of personalization is content that is specific to a geography, and in its most sophisticated form, site visitors see content based on their individual behaviors, rather than what they look like (demographic information) or where they are located.
Burton, a London-based menswear retailer adopted a strategy of showing different products on its homepage based on the local weather being experienced by the site visitor. It dedicated a single tile on the webpage to rotate between three different images, each one related to the local weather the visitor was experiencing. The images were a graphic of showing the temperature and weather conditions, an image of the recommended product, and an image of a model wearing the recommended product. For example, if the visitor’s location was experiencing snow, Burton would show peacoats or Christmas sweaters. If it was rainy, visitors would see jackets and rainboots. As a result, the company saw 11.6% uplift in conversions across all users.
Omar Akhtar is a digital analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet Company. His research focuses on building frameworks, identifying trends and recommending best practices for content strategy, digital customer experience and marketing technology. As a consultant, Omar has advised companies on their technology selection process for executing content strategy, data strategy and customer experience initiatives. Previously, Omar was a technology writer and editor for PRWeek, Direct Marketing News and Fortune magazine.
Navigation is designed to be intuitive and with minimal movement between pages and sections.
The web-copy is jargon-filled, overly promotional and not reflective of the customer
FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF A CUSTOMER-FIRST WEB EXPERIENCE
The content is generic, and not always relevant to the visitor’s specific reason for visiting
A web analytics tool to store data on visitor behavior, segments and content performance, which can power the personalized content delivery mentioned above.
ESSENTIAL ROLES AND TECHNOLOGY FOR A CUSTOMER-FIRST WEB EXPERIENCE
People who are skilled in running A/B tests and can figure out which content will work best for each audience segment.
A Process to Test, Test and Test Again
Better technology has placed web content management in the hands of the actual content creators, rather than IT or a dedicated web development team. Not only do we have the ability to deliver content in real-time, we can now test how it is performing in real-time as well. From background images to single words in a title, everything can be tested. This means we no longer have to rely simply on our creative gut to see how visitors will respond to content. Performing A/B tests on every component of a web experience is the key to figuring out the optimal combination of words, images and layout on a single page. Keep in mind that it’s not enough to run A/B tests on individual channels. To deliver on the customer experience, you essentially need to A/B test the entire customer journey.
At global electronics manufacturer Philips, no new product pages are allowed to go live without being validated by testing and analytics. This is done by a cross-functional group of stakeholders that head all digital efforts. The group includes product owners, optimization managers and analytics experts. In this way, the content creators, the data scientists, and the testing experts are all in agreement over how the page should be constructed. As a result, the Philips digital team gained valuable insights about its content. For example, it found how a single variation on its “Buy” button could increase clicks by 20%, and removing auto-play from videos increased product views by almost 25%.
FIGURE 2 The City of Boston's Redesigned Site Focuses on Themes, not Departments
In the digital age, our expectations of a brand’s website have changed. Once just a static source of company information, the website is now a dynamic tool of customer engagement. Although customers now interact with brands in a multi-channel, multi-device environment, the company website arguably has the biggest impact on the digital customer experience. Here’s why:
Search results lead to websites. While mobile apps and social media pages are increasingly popular points of brand-customer interactions, the website is far more likely to be the first point of contact. This is because the vast majority of internet navigation is people searching for answers to questions, or solutions to problems. Since search engines are built to find websites, it makes sense that they would be the first place a person interacts with a brand. By effectively being responsible for the first impression of a brand, websites have an outsized impact on customer experience.
Websites can perform all customer-facing tasks. With the exception of the mobile app, the brand website is the only digital channel where every type of customer interaction can take place. Whether it’s learning more about a product/brand, making a purchase, or getting customer support, a customer can do it all without having to leave the company’s website. That’s why sales, service and marketing departments all have a stake in providing the best possible web experience. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a customer journey that doesn’t in some way involve a visit to the company website, making it a crucial part of the customer experience.
Websites are the home of content. A great customer experience is the result of a brand being able to provide the customer with the right content, at the right time, and on the right channel. To do this, companies could give each digital channel its own set of stored content, but it’s far more efficient to have all the content in a central location (i.e. the website) to be distributed on different channels as needed. For example, a brand could separately upload a how-to video for one of its products on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, or it could simply upload it once to its website and distribute the link on different channels. In this way, not only is it easier to publish and distribute content at scale, it provides a central view of how the content is performing. Given how content can be used to optimize customer interactions at every touchpoint, the place where it is stored, i.e. the website becomes the core of the customer experience.
Customer-first websites use language that is concise, and reflects the way customers talk in everyday life. But company-first websites use language that reflects how people at the company talk. It’s filled with jargon, obscure references and overly complex terms which might be popular internally, but can leave customers scratching their heads. This happens because subject-matter experts within the company are usually tasked with writing copy relevant to their expertise. This makes sense from a practical standpoint. However, subject-matter experts are also more likely to use complex language, while expecting everyone else to understand what they’re talking about, since they’ve been involved in the subject for so long.
At the City of Boston, Lockwood employed a copywriter to simplify all the text on Boston.gov, bringing it down to an 8th or 9th grade reading level. According to Lockwood, even simple changes of phrases made a difference. “Public works wanted to use the word ‘garbage’ but research showed that people who visited the site were more likely to use the word ‘trash’” says Lockwood. Getting subject-matter experts to agree to be edited can be challenging, but as Lockwood puts it, “Data wins a lot of arguments.”
Altimeter would like to thank the following industry experts and technology vendors for contributing to this research report with their invaluable insights:
Arjan Van Rooijen, Chief Evangelist SDL
Arjen Van Den Akker, Product Marketing Director, Web Content Management SDL
Brian Chaput, Director, Offering Management, Digital Experience Software IBM
Christopher Nash, Senior Business Optimization Consultant Sitecore
Craig Paulnock Associate Vice-President of Digital Product Management and Innovation, YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities
David Aponovich, Product Marketing, Digital Experience and Drupal Acquia
David Bowen, Head of Product Management Episerver
Joey Moore, Director, Product Marketing Episerver
Kevin Lindsay, Director, Product Marketing Adobe Target
Lauren Lockwood, Chief Digital Office, City of Boston
Loni Stark, Senior Director, Strategy and Product Marketing Adobe Experience Manager
Matt Spragins, Director of Personalization, Kaiser Permanente
Nathan Maehren, Senior Vice-President of Digital, YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities
Zann Aeck, Director of Digital Experience, NetApp
For front-end and back-end custom development of the site as well as integration of the site with other platforms through custom APIs.
To create and optimize site navigation and ease of interactions.
The majority of websites today are built to showcase the company and its products/services. This makes sense from a business point of view. You want to be able to convince a site visitor that your company has the product they are looking for, or entice them to buy a product simply by displaying it in the most attractive way. However, this assumes that customers interact with websites the same way they interact with brick-and-mortar stores, which is “see product, buy product.” But in the digital world, customers aren’t always visiting a website to buy a product. They are however, always looking for a solution to a problem.
A solution-focused website anticipates the problem each visitor is trying to solve when they come to website and serves them the relevant content. By displaying their products or company information first, companies are making their customers do the extra work of finding the solution, rather than anticipating their unique needs and recommending a solution to them.
For example, when the City of Boston redesigned its homepage, it went from a layout that grouped content by departments to one that organized content by themes or problems people were trying to solve. These themes were based on questions people were trying to answer, such as “Visiting Boston,” “Trash and Recycling” and “Getting Around in Boston.” Each theme had its own page which pulled in content from different departments in a way that provided all the information in one place.
In this way, the site brought the relevant information to the people, rather than making them work to get it. “There’s a big difference between making something available, and making something accessible,” said City of Boston’s Chief Digital Officer Lauren Lockwood, who led the team that redesigned the site.“Our key was that if someone is searching for a topic, they need to land on one page that has everything they need on it, rather than go searching across the website for different bits of info.”
The content is personalized for each visitor, or category of visitor by different factors, including location, past behavior, or entry point.
A sophisticated modern content management system that is mainly used to store and deliver content for the website, but can also operate in a decoupled way. This CMS must have the capability to integrate with a data system or marketing automation system that can deliver personalized experiences to specific audiences in real-time.
Navigation is designed to be linear, not omni-directional, with too many clicks to access information.
FIGURE 5 Separating Content Creation from Delivery Enables Customization for Channels and Personas
Web Behavior tracker:
Tracking software that includes heatmaps and records of how visitors interact with different sections and elements of the website
A digital asset management system that can self-optimize content, auto-tag it for easy search and access, and integrate with different delivery channels, not just the website.
Personalizing content by country is the most basic form of personalization, and only requires basic web analytics data in order to execute. Simply translating the copy on the site to match the language of the visitor’s country can yield powerful results
Company- First Web Experience
Although customers now interact with brands across many channels and devices, the brand website arguably has the biggest impact on the overall customer experience. This is because the website, (with the exception of maybe the mobile app,) is the only digital channel that can perform all three customer-facing functions of sales, service and marketing. It is also the first place a customer might encounter a brand, either through a serendipitous Google search result, or a targeted ad campaign. As a result, any brand that is hoping to compete on the basis of customer-experience can’t afford to have a sub-standard web experience. And a sub-standard web experience is one that is company-first, instead of customer-first.
In this report, we’ve identified the five characteristics of a customer-first web experience. These defining features go beyond the usual elements of being mobile-optimized and visually appealing, which by now, should be table-stakes for modern websites. The characteristics we’ve identified meet the modern expectations of the digital customer experience. They are a product of the right people, processes and technology, and most importantly the right mindset. After all, a customer-first website can only be built by a customer-first company.
Reading this report will help you identify where your company can improve in its efforts to design customer-centric web experiences, and the specific elements you need to make it happen. By following the initiatives outlined in the report, your company will not only deliver a great web experience, it will have set itself up for delivering the optimal customer experience across all digital touchpoints.
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To create media for all digital channels.
By Omar Akhtar, Industry Analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet Company
May 11, 2017
Graphic designers and copywriters:
The actual creators of content that will be published on the site