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Customer Experience Is The New Brand Currency

This article is part of our April 2019 series about customer experience. Click here for more.

There’s no denying that companies today compete based on the experiences they deliver to their customers.

Indeed, Gartner predicts that this year, more than 50% of organizations will redirect their investments to customer experience innovations. According to Amit Ahuja, VP of ecosystem development at Adobe, the only way to nail customer experience across touch points is by developing and implementing a sound customer experience management (CXM) strategy.

What does that mean? Where do you start? He reveals those answers, and more, in the interview below.

CMO.com: Can you give us the lay of the land? What does the current business landscape look like?
Ahuja: The broader business landscape is evolving and changing very rapidly. So, if you look at any industry, in any geography, every company is going through the same fundamental challenge and problem right now, which is consumer expectations are continually rising.

People expect more and more out of the companies that they give their business to. And every single brand has an opportunity every day to either win a new customer, retain a customer, or lose a customer. And it’s what we at Adobe call a new subscription economy—where you have to win or re-win the loyalty of each customer with each interaction, or you risk that customer’s “unsubscribe.”

What customers expect, fundamentally, is that the brand and the company that they're giving their business to is going to deliver them the best experience at the right time, every time.

CMO.com: As a company, Adobe very often talks about building that single, real-time customer profile.  Can you talk a little bit about why that’s important and what it enables?
Ahuja:
Delivering any meaningful experience to any customer requires a comprehensive and current understanding of that customer, and at the heart of that understanding lies the real-time customer profile. That profile is made up of all of the different data signals about individual customers and lives in an accessible dashboard, empowering cross-functional teams to deliver personalized experiences—at scale.

The profile is imperative and it fuels CXM. It is the brain and the heart of everything that happens within the experience. And it has to, by definition, be real-time to be able to deliver the right experience to the consumer when they want it, wherever they are.

But just having the profile alone is not enough. The profile needs to be natively connected to the content management and experience orchestration systems that can assemble and deliver personalized experiences directly to individuals. That’s where CXM, from a technology standpoint, is very different from CRM. CRM tends to be more of a manual entry batch reporting tool. What we're talking about here is a real-time living and breathing profile that is then connected into all your channels like email, advertising, call support, whatever it might be. CRM is a key data contributor but is, by no means, a substitute for the real-time customer profile CXM requires.

CMO.com: Why the need for a CXM mentality?
Ahuja:
The world is getting more and more challenging as it relates to how consumers are interacting with brands. Historically, if you were a brand, customer engagement was when someone walked into your shop. Technology changed all that and digital accelerated the change. Websites came out. Mobile apps came out. It became progressively more and more complicated for brands because people are now engaging with them from all of these different channels. And it’s only getting more and more complicated and more challenging. At the same time, consumer expectations of a positive, personalized experience rise ever higher. CXM is the only way to meet those needs.

CMO.com: What does a best practice CXM operation look like?
Ahuja:
When looking at successful CXM, the No. 1 foundational element is clearly technology, which is fueled by data and provides insight into content. As a company, you need to be able to harness all the power of your data, all the power of your content (or be alerted when you need better or more content and the workflows to enable that), and to be able to then action off that and provide the right customer experience. Technology is required to enable that.

The second element at the foundation of CXM is everything around organization. Organizations need to break down their data silos, as there is likely even key content trapped in these silos. You have to take a hard look at your processes and what you need to do differently in order to build this single view of the customer. How do you bring that into a protocol pipeline?

CMO.com: What are some of the most common mistakes or missteps that companies are making when it comes to the customer experience?
Ahuja:
I would say that a lot of times companies fail because they get stuck within these organizational silos and they're never really fully able to deliver on the promise of CXM. Instead they need to make sure that they have a team of individuals that are working cross functionally, across the organization, that are committed to aligning on CXM. These teams become almost like a center of excellence and are instrumental in breaking down data silos and building that single view.

CMO.com: What type of people do you need for a successful CXM team?
Ahuja:
You need to have people that understand all the data across the organization and have the altitude and aperture to be able to understand where all the data sits and how to bring it into a central place. It’s almost like a data governance council.

Number two, it is imperative to have people who know and understand the customer, can get friendly and intimate with analytics, and just have a knack for the types of experiences customers demand across the full spectrum of customer touch points that exist with your brand. Understanding, from a functional point of view, what the different types of experiences the company needs to deliver to meet their goals and objectives is also critical. And finally, you need people that are thinking holistically.

CMO.com: Everyone’s been talking about personalization for some time now. The hot topic today is personalization at scale. What do organizations need in order to scale personalization across all customer touch points?
Ahuja:
The issue and the challenge today is just trying to manage and synthesize the vast amounts of data and the variety of data, coming in from all these different devices. The difficulty inherent in that requirement alone has left the majority of personalization efforts to be managed manually or be rules-based, which does not scale. Additionally, a lot of the data has been trapped within a single channel, so you're only really optimizing for a single part of that customer journey.

At the end of the day, what brands are trying to do is personalization at scale across the whole customer journey to better understand and satisfy that customer no matter where they are within that journey, whether it’s the top of the funnel or the bottom, and be able to offer the exact right personalized experience. To do that requires a massive scale.

It requires an understanding of the data and it requires AI and machine learning because manual doesn’t work anymore. Dealing with one channel doesn’t work anymore. You need a whole different system, and that’s where the scale aspect is so critical, which again comes back to the technology required to be able to make this happen.

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