Five Customer Experience Milestones on Your Journey to Digital Transformation


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Last year my wife and I decided to buy a condo in Coronado (near San Diego). Since we were new to the area, we spent six months learning about the real estate market, with a big help from online services Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin. Each provided the basics, but over time I gravitated to Redfin despite a less attractive user experience.

Why? Because Redfin’s site and services provided better support to our complete buying process. More than just a digital marketing island, Redfin convinced me it was really was different. Agents are paid on customer satisfaction, not commission, and their ratings are posted for all to see. Collaborative technology is used to keep all the parties in synch on key deadlines.

Oh, and real kicker is this: As a buyer I would get a rebate! Now, this really got my attention. If I can get a better buying experience and save money, why not give it a whirl? So I did, and overall, Redfin delivered as advertised. We found a condo for sale, made an offer, managed most of the closing activities online (with a big help from DocuSign, I might add). It’s a good example of a company that has leveraged digital technologies to create value for buyers and upset the industry status quo.

Digital Experience Journey

These days there’s plenty of talk about “digital transformation” which, according to one breathless advertisement I received recently, “is taking the world by storm.” Oddly, what the vendor was selling was just a Content Management System (CMS) — not exactly a new solution.

Yes, it will be exciting someday when the Internet of Things (IoT) connects my Fitbit to the refrigerator to the doctor’s office. There are plenty of industries ripe for a serious rethink, according to Manish Grover, digital strategist and author of Dancing the Digital Tune: The 5 Principles of Competing in a Digital World. He contends that companies must look beyond mere digitization — automating existing processes and channels — and seek opportunities to integrate and transform the customer value chain.

More on that later, but for now let’s see how companies might get to the Digital Transformation Promised Land. Here’s my view of how companies will progress.

Source: CustomerThink
Source: CustomerThink

Milestone 1: Adoption

Customers have been shifting to digital channels for many years. Here are a few industry stats to illustrate:

  • Smartphone and tablet adoption will reach market saturation in a fraction of the time it took desktop computers, laptops, or regular old (feature) cell phones (Pew)
  • Globally, mobile usage is now 25% of web activity, growing by leaps and bounds year over year (Sitecounter)
  • In 2014, for the first time, respondents said they used FAQ pages on company web sites more often than speaking with a live agent via phone (Forrester)

Digital experiences have become an expected part of everyday life. In a recent conference keynote in Latin America, I asked the audience how many used a smartphone. Answer: 100%. One time when I had a DSL problem, I tried the “self-service” option, found it too difficult, then used Twitter to get the company’s attention. When booking a car service appointment recently, the dealer offered a nicely designed online reservation system, with chat available if I had questions.

In each case, I enjoyed the convenience and the company saved an expensive phone call.

However, while digital channels are growing in popularity, there is no sign of any one-size-fits-all channel emerging. As an Avaya study found, channel preferences vary by interaction type. Internet self-service is the most popular option for research and getting help, but the phone is tops when consumers have a question about their account or bills, and email is used most commonly for complaints.

As digital channels have emerged, it has resulted in a proliferation of channels and systems — silos of automation — that don’t always take the best care of the human beings needing help. That’s why the next phase is becoming a mainstream trend.

Milestone 2: Consolidation

When it came time for a site redesign, storage and data management vendor NetApp started by learning what users wanted. Refreshing! Instead of the traditional approach which results in sites designed to promote internal priorities, digital marketing head Kristen Kaefer said they invested in a usability study in March 2014 to understand the top tasks users were trying to accomplish.

This process lends to credence to Kaefer’s assertion that they want to provide a “stellar” experience to Netapp users, whether “lead bearing” (a juicy prospect) or not. This is music to my ears, having lamented that most B2B companies don’t give a rip about the buyer’s experience, unless it’s for a potential prospect. Nice to see that changing.

Using a list of 10 major tasks, NetApp redesigned its site, then implemented the design using solutions from SDL, a prominent player in the market for Web Content Management (WCM) solutions. By using one platform instead of a hodgepodge of sites, it took just seven weeks from redesign to implementation for 20 sites around the world. Without a platform, that process would have taken 9 months, says Kaefer. Using this agile process, they also saved 400 developer hours.

Milestone 3: Personalization

It’s also important to be as relevant as possible. Why show customers/users information that they don’t need? Sitecore, another major WCM player, offers the capability to personalize content based on user attributes and behaviors.

The possibilities were illustrated nicely on a recent webinar, where a Sitecore partner showed how UnitedHealth Group personalized their digital recruiting experience on four “pivots” — content, marketing campaign, recruiting event, and location (GeoIP). The process took about a year and, like NetApp, started with thorough research about what potential candidates wanted to accomplish. The results were impressive. User profiling and “intelligent content matching” increased traffic to career areas of their site, boosted total hires and “dramatically reduced marketing spend.”

Sitecore Chief Strategy Officer Darren Guarnaccia says predictive analytics is a critical technology. Every design change can be tested to see how it impacts behavior (e.g. registration) or purchase conversions. Changes can be automatically rolled back if KPIs move in the wrong direction.

Milestone 4: Orchestration

One of the biggest customer frustrations is what I’ve dubbed “touchpoint amnesia” — forgetting customer information as they move through their journey. Go to any web site, then pick up the phone and I’ll wager that you’ll have to repeat yourself. (Don’t take that bet: the odds are 80% I’ll win.) The impact is severe: consumers are 50% less likely to recommend (after a service experience) and up to 35% less likely to complete a purchase (during a buying experience).

Fortunately, the problem is recognized now, and more companies are stepping out to “orchestrate” channels to provide a more consistent experience.

Sprint, for example, used a specialized cross-channel analytics solution from Clickfox to learn why customers start interacting with a digital channel (web site or IVR), got frustrated and then called a live agent. Solving this channel orchestration problem saved Sprint millions of dollars while dramatically improving customer satisfaction. From 2008 to 2013, Sprint’s ACSI score (a measure of overall satisfaction and loyalty) improved from a dismal 56 to an industry-competitive 71.

Milestone 5: Transformation

The foregoing is still fundamentally about delivering the same value proposition, packaged in a better customer experience.

For real “transformation,” executives need to look beyond process efficiency or channel orchestration. For example, Grover points out that Nike aspires to be more than a shoe and apparel maker, and has “embedded itself into the daily ecosystem of its customers.” He opines: “Could Nike’s next partners be with fitness centers, organic food makers, or with doctors and nutritionists?”

Four Seasons, one of my favorite hotels, has been on its digital journey since 2009, according to Susan Helstab, Executive Vice President of Marketing.

We realized that we needed to create a platform that we could leverage for all those future opportunities to engage and ultimately transact with our guests. The other a-ha moment was that with marketing, consumers were going to have control of the conversation. We wanted to be in a place were we could influence that. We wanted to create content and assets that people saw as authentic and that they wanted to share. We need to make sure all of our assets could be accessed through that platform.

Along with a slickly redesigned and more aggressive digital marketing, Helstab increased customer engagement with a portfolio of web properties including Have Family Will Travel, Concierge Recommends, and Taste, just to name a few. This is part of what Grover calls a digital transformation for Four Seasons to be a more complete travel planning partner, not just a destination.

Tips for a Successful Journey

You won’t get far on your Digital Experience Journey without the right strategy. I’ll close with three recommendations to help.

1. Start with the Customer

As the examples from Netapp and UnitedHealth Group illustrate, it’s critical to work backwards from the customer. What are they trying to accomplish? How does your approach help customers with their “jobs to be done” better than competitors?

Bill Price, contact center expert and coauthor of Your Customer Rules! Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand, says it’s time to stop thinking about B2B or B2C. That first “B” implies that the business is in control. Customers beg to differ. Instead, counsels Price, companies should develop a CX strategy that recognizes people want “Me2B” experiences.

This is where journey mapping can be a huge help. Spend time walking in your customers shoes — digital and otherwise — and you’ll see the disconnects, overlaps and points of corporate amnesia that drive customers crazy. Make digital an integral part of your total CX strategy.

2. Invest in Omni-Channel Engagement Platform(s)

To succeed, you’ll need to overcome some hurdles, says SDL’s Chief Marketing Officer Paige O’Neill. Chief among them is organization silos, rated the number one obstacle to customer-centric success in my recent benchmark study. O’Neill sees the proliferation of systems and data for marketing, sales and service as part of the problem, and I agree. It’s one good argument for investing in a digital experience platform, such as offered by Adobe, IBM, OpenText, SDL and Sitecore.

Did I say platform? I meant platforms, plural. Because for the foreseeable future customers will still want support by phone. Vendors like Avaya, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Oracle, and Nice offer omni-channel support that has grown out of their CRM and/or call center roots.

Add to this specialty vendors like Clickfox (cross-channel analytics), Marketo (real-time personalization), and Pega (process/analytics) and it’s clear that system integration will be critical to deliver a seamless customer experience.

3. Differentiate via Your People. Yes, Real Human Beings!

It may seem counter intuitive, but people will matter even more in the digital world. There may be fewer human interactions, so you must make them count!

Part of the problem with digital is that, despite effort to personalize, it’s still not personal. And I’ve done numerous studies that show people are the secret sauce in memorable experiences.

So instead of using digital to eliminate interactions with your expensive people, make them a value-adding part of the customer experience. In my Redfin experience, for example, the process of securing human-to-human time was too difficult. Why not make it easier for buyers to launch a chat or phone call via the web site or cell phone? Take a tip from Amazon’s Mayday service and use real live customer service to differentiate.

Good luck on your journey!

My sincere thanks to the following people for their generous time in interviews for this article: Ed Burek (Pega), Manish Grover (IGATE), Darren Guarnaccia (Sitecore), Markus Hoischen (d-Group), Kristen Kaefer (Netapp), Paige O’Neill (SDL), Bill Price (Driva Solutions), and George Skaff (TouchCommerce).

Further reading:

Disclosure: This post is part of my independent coverage of technology industry developments. No endorsement is implied for any companies mentioned in this post. Please visit our sponsor page for information on companies that have supported this community.


  1. Especially valuable to reinforce the role, and potential, of people to reinforce and amplify the branded customer experience. It’s always impressive to see situations where processes and employees meld to create value: At the same time, it’s disappointing to encounter experiences where employees are robotic and emotionally insensitive and processes, digitial and otherwise, help undermine perception and trust level:

  2. These milestones correlate to the CMM (Capability Maturity Model) used in IT projects. It’s important for the discussion of digital strategy, because the model helps expose how a business THINKS about a technology, and how they put that thinking into operation. There are several versions of the CMM, but commonly-used levels are:

    L1: Initial
    L2: Repeatable
    L3: Defined
    L4: Managed
    L5: Optimizing

    At the top level (in this case, Optimizing), the organization has fully integrated the capability into their strategy, and it cannot be extracted from its product or service delivery. Amazon’s ‘one click’ checkout, or Zappos’s back end logistics capabilities are prime examples.

    On a separate, but related note: your mention that Redfin’s reps are paid on customer satisfaction, rather than on sales revenue, reminded me of a study I read a few years ago, and wrote about, titled: Race and Gender Influence Customer Service Bonuses. It caught my eye, because the concept of rewarding sales personnel on service ratings at first seemed such a good idea. But the authors of the study contend that basing bonuses fully (maybe even, partially) on customer satisfaction is flawed because satisfaction ratings are “anonymous judgements by untrained raters that usually lack an evaluation standard.” The authors conducted a study in which they discovered that a white male sales associate received ratings that were 19% higher than the black male and white female who participated in the study. Here’s the link to the study:

  3. Andy, as I was digesting interviews and other research for this article, it was interesting how the phases started to appear.

    There is a kind of maturity progression, but I think some companies may be able to collapse some (e.g. consolidate/personalize) since these capabilities are driven by platform changes.

    And “transform” is not a neat and tidy outgrowth of the others. I think transformative or disruptive thinking can and probably should be underway long before a company is “mature” at the other phases.


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