Connecting the dots across the entire customer journey

Note: This entry originally appeared on our partner IBM's SmarterCommerce blog. We are reposting it here for your reading convenience. Enjoy.

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 commerce 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.

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 dots that need to be connected in order to give your customer the smoothest journey possible.

Every journey needs a vehicle with a strong engine that can run effortlessly and reliably. In the case of the customer journey, a useful concept is what we like to call the Customer Experience Engine. This isn’t an actual engine, but a way for companies to visualize the many moving parts that must come together to power the customer journey including people, processes and content.

At the core of it all is in fact content, the glue the helps the customer see your company in a different light from your competitors. A simple term like content, however, masks a wealth of complexity. The content intended for potential customers is much different than the content intended for happy customers you hope will share experiences with their friends. Yet the brand promises, product messaging and look and feel need be consistent throughout the entire journey. Complicating matters are the large and growing number of dimensions that must be addressed including channels, devices, media and delivery models, timing of delivery, location, and task, to name a few.

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 Web content management system (CMS) cohesively integrated with applications such as IBM WebSphere Commerce or IBM Tealeaf Customer Experience Management among many others.

In this role, the CMS generates critical synergy effects by allowing teams to reuse content for different output channels and formats and to consolidate heterogeneous system environments with one central solution for multi-language or multi-project websites. It also makes it easy to maintain consistency across Web channels and projects by automatically providing a consistent look and feel that follows corporate design criteria.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Create and use a road map that defines the timing and sequence of technology starting with the CMS. Since the CMS is the hub from which other engine components will be connected, a CMS that fits with your strategy (and not the other way around) should be selected with care.
  6. 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 a core element of the Customer Experience Engine, CMS selection is critical. A CMS that easily integrates with other 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 and sales campaigns for effectively attracting and serving customers.