CX Express – 3 steps to understanding and improving CX

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE? WHAT’S THAT?

You may have heard it explained as another form of UX…

… the remit of customer service…

…or yet another hard-to-define KPI.

Whatever your level of knowledge is about CX, there is no doubt that your company is currently creating it and your users are experiencing it whenever they encounter your brand.

Customer experience, defined as ‘how users perceive of their interactions with your brand’ (Forrester, 2017), is becoming an ever more pressing focus for businesses in the Internet age. As business models have switched from linear, one-time purchases to subscription-led, cloud-based services and competition has increased due to the low-startup costs of the web, brands have an urgent imperative to differentiate positively in this area. From my perspective, CX provides a modern and comprehensive solution to encourage positive, repeated interactions between your user and your brand, linking to long-term ROI as well as short-term optimization gains.

So how to begin thinking like a CX specialist? And what steps can you take to start implementing CX awareness and practice within your company?

STEP 1 : ADJUST YOUR MINDSET TO ALIGN WITH THE USER’S PERSPECTIVE

It may be relatively new as a concept, but Customer Experience is not a new need for users, who have been navigating brands’ multi-channel customer journeys for some time. For all the relative maturity of the online market, the CX for some big brands can be very underwhelming, and it links to a lack of awareness from business decision makers about what it is that the customer actually wants.

Whilst in the past, traditional brands have been able to use their market dominance to avoid addressing the user’s desires head on, the increasingly competitive market within many industries has led to a huge incentive for businesses to connect and answer those desires.

There are a number of ways to start thinking like the customer, including the strategic (such as mapping the value proposition framework between user and brand, as developed by Alexander Osterwalder) and the tactical (increasing the lines of communication between you and your users). Once this is done you must make sure that this information climbs to the very top of the decision-making process in your company.

Introducing feedback loops, creating value proposition from the customer’s point of view and working these into your business models have provided a successful evolution in CX for a number of competitive and high-profile industries – take for example, the modern aviation market.

Things have come a long way from British Airways dominating the UK industry and providing a traditional, fifties-style airline experience thirty years ago. The modern market has evolved to become crowded, saturated and pan-European, with airlines competing across many factors and using customer experience to try and differentiate themselves. As a result, we have seen the rise of omnipresent customer service and mood rating feedback software in every airport for users to confirm their details or voice their concerns about the service received. We have also witnessed a huge shift in airline business models, where the convenience of apps and websites replaces the airport as the main platform for users to progress through the stages of their user journeys (when was the last time you checked in at an airport desk?)

If you can create that two-way feedback loop and work the results into your business plan, your company can start to make a digital strategy that is truly reflective of your user’s needs rather than just what businesspeople imagine they want.

STEP 2 : SORT OUT YOUR TRACKING AND MEASURING ACROSS THE ENTIRE USER JOURNEY

Peter Drucker once said that ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’. As with the rest of marketing, in CX this adage is equally true.

The challenge of good measurement starts with implementing a system that works for each channel. You can assess relative strengths and weaknesses by installing best-practice systems such as Google Analytics or Firebase on your various touchpoints. This will allow ROI to be judged on a by-channel basis, and is vital for answering questions around paid media planning and spend. But how to go one step further, and consider multiple touchpoints in the mix?

There are a number of solutions that take multi-channel marketing into account. One is customer journey mapping, which combines multiple types of qualitative research and product flows to produce examples of a user’s journey across your touchpoints. More recently at Salmon we have been going one step further, combining the qualitative info and product flows with key KPI data available within each channel, to create a 360 degree view of our client’s users, where they go and what they want.

On a more quantitative level, attribution modelling has come into its own as a response to the need to track CX across multiple channels. This practice allows a marketing team to track where in their user journey a key action (for example a sale) was made and establish trends around weaker and stronger areas of performance. Whilst previously the industry has focused on last click attribution (a model in which 100% of the credit for the KPI has rested on one channel), we are now moving into more sophisticated ways of mapping customer mindsets. Time decay attribution, for example, attributes those channels closest to the KPI action with the highest percentage of credit. Position-based attribution gives 20% credit each to the first and last channels used by the visitor during the user journey.

Whilst there is no doubt that each business has unique requirements in tracking their user journeys, we would always recommend using varied recording methods to gain a rich and collaborative picture of your user base. This allows greater knowledge but also the ability to compare and corroborate information through linked yet distinctive methods. Overall this will allow you to start making serious inroads to seeing the areas of strength and weakness within your user journey and allowing some big picture visualization about your brand to take place.

STEP 3 : START TO PLAN INTELLIGENT MARKETING CAMPAIGNS ACROSS MULTIPLE TOUCHPOINTS

Once you have sorted out your marketing perspective and your data and tracking, you can truly begin to plan enlightened, end-to-end marketing campaigns and optimizations designed to improve your customer’s experience and your company’s ROI. This for me is where the really exciting part of CX comes in, the part that demonstrates the value and creates those happy users as well as big headline results for your business or client.

A recent example of a campaign that I undertook that really made a difference to CX involved optimizing the paid search user experience, all the way from Google Search Result to Thank You page. We decided to start at the beginning, identifying visitor’s needs through mapping a user-centric value proposition. Crucially, the strategy for this exercise was centered around an analysis of the actual keyword search terms users typed in on Google. Taking their own input as our source material, we used these keywords to determine the level of knowledge about our product, the desires and concerns those users had, and the ways that they understood what we had to offer.

Moving from this value proposition mapping, we did some research showing the common frustrations within the paid online user journey. It showed that visitors didn’t have enough information to choose between the available products on the homepage and product pages, and that the content on these pages didn’t reflect the promises made in the Google ads.

We decided to change the user journey through creating custom-made landing pages, including the answers to top product questions, clear comparative info, and superior UX for the user journey. This gave users the options to purchase or to find out more information.

As a result of this, we experienced a huge uplift in customer satisfaction, with our experience score moving up three points. We also saw a 24% uplift in sales, through listening to the customer and anticipating their needs and questions.

IN CONCLUSION

Whether you are exploring this new way of marketing within your organization for the first time, or simply looking for ways to tweak your existing offering, hopefully some of the above will provide thinking points from which to continue your exploration of CX.

Just like the user, the needs of each brand are important requirements to bear in mind when you begin to implement your CX strategy, as factors like budget, resource and hierarchy will affect how it can be best used.

What is for sure is that, whether consciously or not, your brand is creating CX in its interactions with its users – the choice you have is whether to empower yourselves in controlling those interactions, or continue to overlook them and potentially miss out on valuable uplifts to ROI or repeat custom.

Salmon is ideally placed to help you work out your CX and business strategy – using methods like the above and many more, we can shed light on your users and how to connect with them best.

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Product data in context

PRODUCT CONTENT IS KING

If you ask customers what they are looking for when they buy online, 85% would say product information.

A similar percentage of respondents like to see manufacturer and retailer information. Customers also like to see what customers think of the products, in the form of ratings and reviews. This shows how important product data is for different perspectives and audiences. Ultimately, it will determine whether you sell the product or not.

Product information is king.

Just think how you buy products online. The more (online) research you do before buying a product online, the more expensive the product probably is. Did you ever watch an ‘unboxing video’ on YouTube? Did you view the ratings and read the reviews on the retailer website? Why do we do this? Simple: because we want reassurance that we’re getting the best deal.

It’s also true that the journey sometimes brings more joy than the destination, or – in our case – the product. Often, getting as much information on the product as possible before buying it is crucial. Customers also appreciate the fuller product perspective (for example, how people are using the product). Some companies even create social awareness around products by connecting them to community-based social platforms like Facebook or Twitter. All of this can be achieved with a PIM. But you can go even further by determining:

  • when you want to show content
  • what content to show
  • to whom
  • on which device or touchpoint.

This makes the content more relevant and personal to the viewer and places it in the right context.

WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHO?

When serving product information to a customer, we need more: more channels, more customer demands, more devices, and more variables.

In a single channel environment, it could be done manually. But with a multi – or even an omni- channel strategy, this becomes almost impossible. The exponential growth of data makes it even more difficult. How do you create the right product content in the right context with all these variables?

Whether you are a B2B wholesaler with 25,000 SKUs, or a B2C retailer with only 1,000 products, the personal factors, device types, touchpoints and other criteria can result in millions of product content variants. Most of these variants can easily be created in a PIM, sometimes with just a push of button. The system gives you access and the best possible variant: what to send, and which device or touchpoint to send it to.

Many factors can determine when you create or update product content; the weather, the seasons, and even the time of day. The PIM knows when your Christmas products are due to go live; it can promote umbrellas when it’s raining, and so on.

Companies that enable these features are typically more successful in selling those products.

There’s less navigation for the customer, plus higher ranking in SERPs (search engine result page). Just think how many scenarios this feature can apply to. For example, you could create in-store promotions if a customer is in the vicinity of one of your physical stores.

With a PIM, you can decide what content is going where. Image assets can be marked for specific channels e.g. optimised product images will be sent to mobile channels, and high-resolution pictures to desktop or print channels. Creating rules in the PIM can automate these processes. You won’t deplete customers’ mobile data allowances, and the customer also sees better performance on mobile. People using laptops and desktop computers will be impressed with your content, too. It all improves the buyer’s journey, as well increasing your sales.

Use product information to create the best personal experience

For the best personal customer experience, you’ll also want personal factors like gender, age, interest, and purchase history. Combining this with device type (mobile, tablet, laptop), location, and past search behaviour will create
a customer experience beyond customer expectations. However, to create this you need to know whom you are facing so you know what content to serve, to create the best CX and the best-selling catalogue. To enable this, you need to integrate with CRM, ecommerce, analytics and POS systems. This last one is important if you own physical stores or have an omnichannel strategy. Creating buyer personas will help setting up your PIM system to facilitate touchpoints as well.

Just imagine, after buying shoes, you get a smart link for a matching belt and the right shoe polish. Even better, the system skips the shoe polish link because you already purchased it. In PIM, you can create these product relations. With a smart ecommerce platform, recommendation engine, or merchandise tool, you can display these product links at the right time, to the right customer, on the right device. You can even go a step further by connecting your PIM with big data pools and make your offers even more personal.

From a business perspective, it is now clear that a PIM can fulfil all three pillars of the Treacy & Wiersema model (image 1). This business model determines how your business differentiates itself from other companies in terms of product leadership, operational excellence, or customer intimacy. Simply put, it tells you how unique your company is. PIM will stimulate the time-to-market, and it
will lower the mark-up costs of products once you reach the break-even point of your PIM investment. All of this will help you improve your product leadership. Efficient data storage, supplier onboarding, reseller portals, and data quality improvements will elevate your operational excellence thanks to automation and clear processes. Customer satisfaction will increase with integrated MDM features, like personal and situational factors enabled in your PIM.

The enriched product content and information that PIM creates will help boost your intimacy with customers as well.

pim
PIM product information management helps all the aspects within the model.

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Marketplaces rise up in the battle for customer attention

PART ONE – MARKETPLACES ARE CHANGING THE WORLD, AGAIN!

A BRIEF HISTORY ON MARKETPLACES

Mankind has traded goods and services since the dawn of time. It didn’t take long for our ancestors to create centralized areas to exchange items and services of value. The first marketplaces, bazaars, have been recorded around 3000 BC (some 5000 years ago), though it is believed that the existence of marketplaces goes back in time even further. Bazaars and marketplaces thrived and grew exponentially once trade routes were established between cities, civilisations and later on even continents.

In the 16th century the Bazaar of Tabriz was the Amazon of that day, attracting and connecting traders from around the world. This bazaar wasn’t just a place where people came together to trade products and services, it was much more – a place where people could find anything for their needs at the time, one place that had it all.

This bazaar solved many problems for all kinds of people; as a farmer, you could sell your surplus of livestock for gold that was needed to pay taxes for the king’s rented land, or buy rare, exotic spices hard to come by as an innkeeper. The bazaar even functioned as a supermarket for the commoners, doing their daily groceries, finding their products for the right price and quality. Bazaars and marketplaces were also social, cultural places where new ideas and innovations were shared, and these ideas and innovations would eventually change the world.

Marketplaces are cultural and social places that solve problems for sellers and buyers

Physical marketplaces are still out there but play a less prominent role in our Western Europe daily lives. Supermarkets, malls, shopping districts, retailers, wholesalers and certainly websites have taken the upper hand when it comes to buying and selling. Today, with our busy lives, precious free time and mobile technology, we prefer not to walk and shop for hours anymore. We don’t even enjoy endless browsing and hop from site to site. Nearly 55% of people start their product searches on Amazon just out of convenience or to save time, and 37% of the online total spend is with the same marketplace giant.

Arguably then, digital marketplaces are changing the world once again. According to trend watchers and analysts (such as Eric van Hall, Mediaweb) digital marketplaces are a hot topic this year as a channel for business growth. You could say that the decision to host or join a marketplace can no longer be ignored.

So, what’s the big fuss all about? Marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist have existed for over 20 years. Why, all of a sudden, are digital marketplaces such an interesting business proposition for retailers (B2C) and wholesalers (B2B) in 2018? And why should you get involved with this model? Should you start your own marketplace, sell via existing one, or do nothing at all, expecting the hype to blow over?

Before we dive further into the hype of digital marketplaces, let’s first have a look at what exactly a digital marketplace is, starting with a definition….

What makes Marketplaces unique is that they allow brands and sellers to inherit the demographics and seasonality of the channel. Brands can appeal to entirely new customers and verticals.

THE ECOMMERCE COMPARISON

Comparing the marketplace definition with that of a regular website, the only real difference is the word ‘sellers’ – it’s plural. Does this mean that you can turn your own site into a marketplace? Basically yes, but unfortunately not many ecommerce platforms come out-of-the-box with typical marketplace features that, for example, support multiple (re)sellers, auction-price mechanisms or are able to cope with tens of thousands of products in your inventory. But even if you can turn your ecommerce platform into one, a marketplace is much more than just software and features; it’s a different business model that can hugely impact your organization and expand appeal to customers.

Marketplace vs Traditional Webshops

A marketplace isn’t just another sales channel or touchpoint; it is a different business model that impacts the organization dramatically.

PART TWO – TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD A MARKETPLACE?

THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY

It is safe to say that starting a marketplace is far more difficult than to connect to an existing one. Just think about how to attract and onboard third parties? How will you arrange and secure payments? How will this affect your current business processes like fulfilment and services? Still, there are some good reasons to start your own marketplace; just think about:

Are you able to attract a large audience or group of people for your offerings?When it comes to building a marketplace, there are some things to consider that will increase the chance for success:

  1. Are you able to sell all the branch offers (long-tail) or all specialised branch offers (vertical selling)?
  2. Are you able to change your business model and organisation rapidly?
  3. Are you able to own every interface (see also part three: Interface Imperialism)?

Maybe the most important question that needs to be answered when starting a marketplace is what problem it is going to solve. A successful marketplace solves a real problem.

THE MARKETPLACE ENABLEMENT

Marketplaces and marketplace enablers tell companies in their ads that it is easy to connect with their platforms and success will follow shortly. Though this may be true, you have to consider that making the connection isn’t the challenge, it’s what comes next! How do you become successful selling your products on a marketplace? Do you have the right price and content for your offerings? How can you be sure your products are on top of the search results pages? Some marketplaces offer different ways to enable your products on their platforms. Three most common examples are:

  1. The marketplace operator enables and sells your products on your behalf
  2. A third-party reseller onboards your products to a marketplace and sells your products on your behalf
  3. You do everything yourself

PART THREE – INTERFACE IMPERIALISM

THE WAR OF CUSTOMER ATTENTION

So, what should your marketplace strategy be? Doing nothing isn’t an option, because the ecommerce landscape is changing rapidly. Why is it changing rapidly? Because of the battle for customer attention which can be explained as follows.

The growth in time customers spend with digital interfaces is much slower than the growth of digital commercial offerings.

War for Customer Attention

The amount of time that customers will spend online and with digital interfaces isn’t growing as fast as it used to, as almost everybody is digitized in some way now. Studies reveal that our behavior of spending time with digital interfaces such as mobile apps or browsing on laptops isn’t increasing at the same pace it used to. Sure, people are spending twice as much time online compared to ten years ago, but this is fueled by the increasing use of tablets and smartphones, which is now commonly embedded in our society. With no sight of a revolutionary invention, such as the smart phone, we can assume that the growth will not increase as rapidly as it did in the last ten years.

On the other side, we see that commercial digital offerings are increasing rapidly.

Digital offerings are growing fast because:

  1. Everyone has gone digital
  2. Everyone wants to own the customer interface (or should do!)
  3. Of globalisation: everyone wants to sell everywhere!

Just think of the car manufacturer Ford, who want to start selling their cars on Alibaba. Only 15 years ago we thought that selling clothes online was a crazy concept – how wrong we were! Maybe it’s good to assume that in the next 10 years buying a car online will be just as common as buying a television. It’s to be expected and accepted that you can sell everything online, whether products or services. Imagine buying a house online – it’s no longer so ridiculous.

If you own the interface, you own the customer; if you own the customer, you own the data and if you own the data, you own the future.

THE INTERFACE IMPEDIMENT

So, how will this impact brands, retailers and wholesalers? How will they get the customer’s attention when there are more and more offerings to view, compare and to buy? Simply put, it’s by owning all the interfaces, something we call “Interface Imperialism”.

And if you can’t own all the interfaces? Well, you join those who can! Amazon as a marketplace operator is clearly an example of an interface imperialist. Its eco-system is built to own every digital interface and to create a great user experience, whether it’s visible on a screen or accessed by voice.

MARKETPLACE MODELS THAT WORK

As I’ve stated, inaction is not an option in today’s markets. Yet starting a marketplace seems a significant investment in time and money – so, is engaging via a marketplace the only option? What strategy should you pursue? If you lack experience with marketplace operators or setting up a marketplace and wish to move efficiently and at pace, you could opt to work with skilled agencies like Marketplace Ignition or a marketplace vendor like Mirakl, both of whom offer deep, specialised marketplace experience.

There are multiple strategies and models that make it possible to start your own marketplace. Three models that work in practice are:

1. The new start-up: Find investors and create a new company with a digital-first approach and new fresh-minded employees, and become an agile software driven pure-play. This is the only way to avoid years of change management, debating on cultural differences and carrying the burden of legacy processes and software. You’re starting with a clean sheet that enables you to shape a company the way that fits best your market. The model works well in niche markets.

2. The buy-in: Team-up with manufacturers or even the competition. Start a co-op marketplace with other players in your market and provide a long-tail offering that other vendors can’t offer. Share costs and revenue but increase market share. This model works well in markets where the competition is fierce.

3. The expander: This appeals to market leaders that are afraid of losing chunks of market share to disruptors. Turn your current ecommerce website into a marketplace platform where others – smaller players – can sell on. You have to play the long game and it demands quite an initial investment in processes and money, but traffic and conversion will increase over time.

WHAT’S NEXT: THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL MARKETPLACES

Digital marketplaces appear to have a bright future and respond well to the trends of customer demands today and in the future – just like the bazaar of Tabriz grew and prospered due to the trends and demands of customers at that time. Digital marketplaces appeal to consumers just like the bazaars of old.

They offer a fantastic experience and solve problems normal websites can’t: they save time, offering convenience by bringing products and services from all over the world together, and sharing experiences, innovation, ideas and thoughts of brands, manufacturers, buyers and sellers. We can only assume that marketplaces will become more social and more personal in the future due to the growth in, and application of, data and machine learning. Looking into a crystal ball, Salmon sees two possible options:

1. Everyone will own or integrate with a marketplace. Effectively then, marketplaces will replace the traditional ecommerce model but since everyone connects this is effectively a zero-sum game.

2. The more likely scenario: “the winner takes it all”, where a few big players will survive the interface race and a few major platforms dominate the internet. In some verticals and niche sectors there will be space for specialist marketplaces – but only a few. (Notably, those with unique brick & mortar experiences or service are demonstrating that they can survive and thrive). The consolidation will go on. The rest will need to connect with an existing leader (with less attractive market appeal) or run the risk of going out of business fast.

Digital marketplaces are here to stay, reclaiming the prominent role they once fulfilled at the dawn of civilisation.

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