Customer engagement at every stage is the primary reason your business invests time and money into platforms like Episerver Digital Experience Cloud, and you want to understand how to fully leverage that investment in every one of those engagements along the customer journey and the digital experiences a customer will have.
Though the terms “experience” and “journey” often are used interchangeably, for this series, let’s make a distinction.
Customer journey is something I like to use for the broader macroscopic phases of your engagement: from acquisition to retention, to (my favorite phase) the “cuddle” phase, and ultimately to building brand ambassadors. One could look at it as a more strategic outlook; if I am making a customer-journey map, it is likely encapsulated in something more static like an infographic.
Customer experiences, particularly digital experiences, are more granular, dynamic, and perhaps tactical. If I am making a digital-experience map, it is going to be more akin to modernized flow chart diagram or mind map, and constantly changing and evolving.
Like all new terms, as digital transformation moves forward in business and society, we need to keep defining and redefining the terms until they become part of the common understanding and we end up with the same meaning when we are using the same words.
Digital experience is all the interactions your customers have with your business via digital channels such as the web, email, or social media. As more of our business functions undergo digital transformation, the natural progression is to want more seamless digital experiences from one channel to the next.
So you click on a link in a tweet, and you end up on a website where you fill out a form and then get an email. Is this “unified”? Is it even “dignified”? (We’ll save our discussion of dignified digital experience for another day. We might have to wait until after the election year in the U.S.)
The sequence of events I described above is unified in some ways, in that it crosses multiple channels, and most importantly, it has some aspect of being contextually aware that the user has moved from one channel to another. Through programming, especially in websites, we have been able to engineer these types of solutions that unify on a case-by-case basis. But we recently have passed a milestone in the products and platforms that make unified digital experience a low-effort reality for every experience we deliver to our customers.
Four primary capabilities define a Unified Digital Experience solution and mark the evolution of the various solutions, both on the platform side and in the realization of those capabilities through implementations.
The idea of a session on a website has been with us a while. You can click around a site during a visit and things about your interaction with the site — whether you have logged in or placed items in a shopping cart — stay with you during the time you are visiting. You don’t even have to give up your anonymity to fill a shopping cart and have that cart stay with you as long as you still are on the site. And maybe if you return to the site within 30 days, the cart still will have the items you placed there in your last visit. We, as digital citizens, now have the expectation that a similar type of on-going session exists, not only with the website, but with every interaction we have with the business on the other end, whether that be with emails or phone calls with representatives.
As customers, we have the expectation if we switch channels in the midst of our experiences, it will be a continuation rather than starting over. There will be some retention of our experience and the data we had given and received on the first channel. If we started to fill out information to place an order on a website and run into a problem that leads us to call the customer service center for help, we do not want to have to give all of the information again. This is the convenience we expect as payment for having our information captured.
We see this today in many forms, where data is handed off between the channels, and that is a form of a Unified Experience. But what we truly mean by Unified is that this exchange is integrated — a common service for the information to be passed back and forth consistently in any direction. It might be a common platform sharing a user-data service on the backend, or it might be a data service with connectors making it possible to pull together the experience from three separate vendors. The key is, to the end user, the context of which channel they are using at the moment hands off to the next, driving the sequence forward rather than ever having to reset.
We have discussed the need for data to deliver a continuous session across channels to the end-user. But what about for the organization delivering that experience, that wants to harvest all that data and glean the powerful insights about their customer’s behavior? Many cross-channel solutions fall short of providing true access to the data around the unified digital experiences, in a way that helps the organization make better decisions about the experiences they are creating.
Especially challenging up until now has been seeing this data integrated into a common view. An organization that sent out various email campaigns with alternate content variations targeted at different segments, with personalized subjects, might be able to see open rates and click rates, but it has been laborious in the past to correlate the data directly to conversions or correlate it to anything other than gross population behaviors.
What if you wanted to drill down? What if you saw something you didn’t expect and wanted to craft a new experience based on that data? How clear of a picture can you get, and how quickly?
The challenge of unifying data about experiences has been even more elusive when looking at social media, which traditionally has compartmentalized the metrics collected through each channel.
The Unified Digital Experience solution that addresses the contemporary Omni-channel data challenge provides insightful data about user behavior in not only historical views but also real-time views, which can be pivoted on many dimensions and drilled down to smaller and smaller groups of users, including an individual profile.
This tenet, which probably seems like it should be the first, of Unified Digital Experience is the ability to create and manage experiences in a way that is unified across the digital (and, in some cases, non-digital) channels you use to engage your customers.
We are in a new stage of thinking in an editorial role, or content producer, or digital marketer. This conversation started many years ago as the social network sites first were making real headway, Wikipedia was being deemed a model for group sourcing, smart mobile devices were crossing over to ubiquity, and Twitter was transitioning from a presence system to a short-form content-publishing phenomena. I remember counseling my clients over a decade ago that “Everything you type is content” and encouraging them to think of it the same way as if they were publishing a web page.
Every email, text, social network post, comment, instant message, etcetera — even if it was back and forth conversation with a group — you need to manage like content and with all the deliberateness of editing and workflow through content-management tools you were used to using in the web or in documents. There has been such a long practice of “user-generated content” that we don’t even use that term anymore.
With everyone being content producers, content managers, and marketers, we produce so much content as part of our regular lives that we no longer even perceive it as an activity of a business any more than we consciously think of breathing.
But now, the conversation is about creating and managing experiences. The building blocks of authoring and managing cross-channel user experiences are being exposed in solutions that require less and less daily intervention by technologists. In the history of Digital Transformation, managing web pages moved from being the domain of developers and webmasters to being the specialty of editors and content managers. Rather than being limited to managing a page at a time, sequences of experience are managed together by a new type of professional, the digital experience manager.
The title “digital experience manager” has not become universal despite being in use for years, because it can mean too many different things. If I had my choice, I probably would leverage the term “digital experience conductor”, which conjures the image of the professional in charge of managing a journey (in this case a train). Or the charismatic leader of a orchestra, delivering a dynamic, real-time experience for the audience. But, alas, they do not let me decide these things.
We could NOT start with this tenet because we need those building blocks to be there first. We need a platform like Episerver’s Digital Experience Cloud. We need intuitive authoring experiences at every level of content and integrated for each channel. We need services on the backend that can move data in a seamless way across the channels and unify sessions as sequences of discrete digital experiences. We need a language to describe these options, transitions, and blocks to build with so when the tools are in front of a marketer or an editor who is architecting a compelling digital experience, they can match function to idea.
The fourth principal tenet of Unified Digital Experience is magic. Well, not really magic, but something that almost seems as amazing. The success of the previous three points is largely dependent on the content manager or digital experience conductor anticipating all possibilities. A staggering number of possibilities from an audience that not only consumes experiences but actively participates in the creation of the experience as much as the performers. But this last capability can help make maestros out of all of us, even when the audience has instruments, too.
The idea is simple when you get the hang of it and see its similarity to other things you use every day. We have the ability to match Digital Experience Sequences - a series of distinct interactions between a user and the digital media assets of a business, whether explicitly designed or organically navigated - with our customers based on their behaviors. Managed digital experiences, or digital experiences created and designed to compel a customer to certain outcomes can be augmented and supplemented with new dynamic digital experiences that the business never intended. Those experiences can produce even more conversions than the ones explicitly designed.
By treating experiences as sequences, we can create ways of comparing and matching those sequences. The sequences can be decoded to “signatures,” for lack of a better word (a better word is “hashes,” but it might sound a bit too jargon-y at the moment), and these signatures from different sequences can be mathematically compared and given a value for how close they match.
Something you use every day that works very similarly is when you search for content by supplying several words. The most relevant content comes back at the top of the results list. Most of the search technologies you use at least employ the concept of indexing words in documents and determining the relevancy through the number of times the word appears in a document and throughout all the documents the search engine is scanning.
Think of the index of all the words that show up in one document as a “signature” for that document, and then the words you enter in to the search box as another “signature.” An algorithm then can compare the signatures and see how closely they match. In fact, it can compare all the signatures of all the documents, to the signature of your search terms and give you back a list of the most relevant to the least relevant documents.
This is very similar to how it is done with experience signatures. We can create signatures for all the editorially designed digital experiences. For instance:
That digital-experience sequence will be given a signature to represent it mathematically.
All the designed experiences will get their own signature. Then, as users start to engage with the various digital channels, creating a stream of data that is being collected, signatures will be created for all the experiences they have. This is true whether they were planned out by the experience managers or not.
Now the magic starts to happen. Partial experiences that users have that were not planned can then be delivered as intersections with the designed experiences.
Consider someone who winds up on the landing page from a search engine rather than because they opened the newsletter and clicked through. What experience should they get? If I can collect what the user has done so far, I might find a match in a designed sequence. The user’s digital experience may have started out differently but had a content item in common with a designed sequence. So now the site offers the dynamic CTA, instead of the default link for the page.
Or the signature matches a different sequence with another CTA more closely, and so that CTA is offered from this landing page instead. If the CTA is successful, the signature of that sequence will gain more weight. Doing this in a rules-based system is overwhelming and could take an army of experience managers to track and anticipate all the possible ways to move in and out of interactions and implicitly designate content or experiences for each of those options. With dynamic sequences in a unified solution, you don’t need an army.
Experiences are channel-aware, automatically altering messaging and content if the user is on a mobile device (now) when he or she was at a desktop an hour ago. Matching the right digital experience with the right customer at the right time then will be as easy as getting someone to find the right web page by typing in a few words in a text box.
Once you are delivering results for your business with real unified digital experiences, maybe instead of a conductor they will call you a digital experience magician.
This is a high-level introduction to some of the ideas that shape Unified Digital Experience. Over the next several weeks, we will be digging deeper into the concepts mentioned and start to map them to more concrete ideas and steps to take and how Episerver’s Digital Experience Cloud platform can help you transform your business through Unified Digital Experiences.
Topics on the horizon include:
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You don’t have to wait for the next blog post. Engage with Episerver’s Expert Services today to have a relevant experience and drive value immediately from your investments in Episerver. Let’s spend some time together making a unified digital experience a reality for you: Engage with one of our digital strategy consultants for a workshop or our team to develop a long-term digital strategy roadmap.
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