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Customers are in flux – brands and digital sellers should get smart about CX

omnichannel
(Image credit: Image Credit: M247)

There’s an old saying: “May you live in interesting times.” The intention is ironic, with “interesting times” being troublesome ones. Well, we’re living through interesting times right now, with the Covid pandemic radically changing the way we all live and work. In response, businesses all over the world are rethinking their business models, and both consumers and enterprises are adjusting the way they buy, sell, and relate to the brands and products they use.

That’s causing big headaches for brands that have invested countless hours and millions of dollars in customer experience, or CX.  Studies show that investing in CX can dramatically boost your revenues — but during times of global crisis, trying to deliver a customer-centric experience is a bit like trying to hit a moving target. No matter how good your intentions, or how smart your brand management, you’re left several steps behind your customers — never quite delivering what they need, but also never providing the reassuring stability and consistency that they crave. 

It’s time for brands to take a smarter approach to CX, and find ways to deliver great experiences without reactively trying to reinvent themselves to meet the shifting needs of their customers. That means taking a more proactive, product-focused approach to delivering amazing experiences for our customers.

A better kind of experience 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that brands should stop caring about the experiences their customers have. Clearly, now more than ever, we need to ensure we’re exciting customers with cohesive, on-point messaging and a rich, tailored shopping journey. But to deliver a winning experience, we need to recognize what works and what doesn’t — and what marketers and sellers usually think of as “customer experience,” clearly has its limitations.

That might come as a surprise to brands, retailers and other commerce businesses that have spent the past few years trying to perfect their CX strategies. But the truth is that with so many customer touchpoints – including websites, eCommerce sites, mobile apps, marketplaces, and more – it’s become incredibly time consuming and costly to build strong experiences across the entire customer journey.

Now, as customers’ journeys have changed or grown more complex during the coronavirus pandemic, many brands and retailers have been caught flat-footed. With so much invested into serving up experiences aimed at a specific kind of customer, it’s hard to quickly pivot into delivering experiences aligned with customers’ new needs. 

In fact, many businesses are struggling to survive in the new landscape, precisely because they’ve built an experience architecture that’s entirely contingent upon their customer’s journey in a particular channel or touchpoint. The companies that are succeeding are those that heed that wake-up call, and move quickly to refine their CX strategies, and start delivering product-focused experiences that wow customers in the moments that matter most.

Put product first

In the Covid era, customers are still the top priority— but they can’t be the only point of reference for your efforts to provide a winning experience. Instead, brands need to look inward, and build experiences around their own products.

That’s an effective strategy because while customers are fickle and have ever-changing needs, your products are a consistent anchor for your brand. In fact, if you can provide cohesive product information, along with rich and compelling content that’s consistent and well-adapted across all your different touchpoints, your brand can emerge as a trusted and reassuring point of stability, no matter how your customers’ needs evolve.

Product-focused experiences can be a powerful way not just to retain existing customers, but to drive business growth and market more efficiently to both new and legacy customers. During times of turmoil, that kind of efficiency boost can be the difference between success or failure for digital sellers.

Not just a tech problem

Creating a powerful product-led experience starts with putting the right back- and front-end digital infrastructure in place. But product experience isn’t just a question of having the right tech stack.

To develop a winning strategy, brands need to work with internal stakeholders, such as team members who manage or contribute to their product catalog. They also need to work with  external partners, including suppliers, channel partners, and digital agencies. The goal is to draw together input from all those groups to forge an effective process that governs how catalogs are created, managed, and updated.

We need to ensure accuracy above all else, because inaccurate product information simultaneously blocks the customer’s journey and does lasting damage to your brand. Beyond just accuracy, though, your team needs to find ways to deliver true experiences, including compelling content that’s consistent across touchpoints and tailored to individual platforms and market segments.

Stop chasing, start building

Putting the right process in place isn’t always easy, which is why — in conjunction with the right tech — it can be a real differentiator for brands that get it right. And while there’s certainly some work involved, we’ve found that as brands move away from CX and start pursuing product-led experience strategies, they grow far more nimble and responsive to customers’ actual needs.

In fact, we’ve seen brands that embrace product-led experience strategies improve their time-to-market for new products by 70 percent, and increase their team’s productivity by 50 percent. Most such brands find they have an eye-opening moment when they realize that they aren’t actually in the business of chasing after business with tailored customer experiences. They’re in the business of building consistent and compelling experiences around their products, and trusting that customers will find value in that no matter how their individual circumstances change.

Consistency is key

What customers want more than anything else, in these testing times, is stability and consistency. If you spend your time chasing after moving targets and trying to satisfy the rapidly changing needs of specific groups of customers, you’ll likely fail twice over — because you’ll be too slow to keep up with the customers you’re targeting, and too unstable to satisfy those customers whose needs haven’t changed, or whose needs have changed in ways you haven’t anticipated.

With a product-led strategy and the right digital tools, on the other hand, you can provide a cohesive and consistent experience for your customers, whatever their individual needs or changing priorities. Brands that get this right can reduce the likelihood of shoppers switching to competitors, even as their needs and consumer behaviors change, and will be better placed to think strategically about how customers experience and interact with their products across their ever-growing roster of channels and touchpoints.

With the right product information strategy, it’s far easier to develop accessible, emotionally meaningful, and interactive content that will give all your customers the experiences they crave. No matter how quickly the world changes, brands that focus on steadying the ship with compelling product-led experiences will be best placed to succeed.

Fred de Gombert, co-founder and CEO, Akeneo

Fred de Gombert is the co-founder and CEO of Akeneo.