Connecting data and technology to fuel seamless experiences
by Chris Staley
“The customer is always right.” We’ve all heard this customer service cliché. It rose to fame during a time when systems and business units were siloed, and customers tolerated inconveniences. Since the technology didn’t exist to provide consistent, convenient experiences, gaps in the customer experience were accepted. To keep customers happy, businesses adopted this unwavering mantra and started to fill experience gaps through kindness—which often resulted in a loss of revenue. Situations like these became commonplace:
- A customer wants to use a coupon for a promotion our franchise isn’t offering. But we’ll honor it anyway.
- A customer wants to return a product we don’t currently carry. We can’t (quickly) assess if this product used to be in our inventory. But we’ll process the exchange without a receipt.
- A customer’s business is losing productivity due to a software issue. We can’t troubleshoot the issue remotely, so we’ll discount their next subscription.
With the adoption of smartphones, social media and online shopping, connected experiences have become an expectation. “The customer is always right” mentality is no longer enough to earn customer loyalty. In fact, 84% of customers say the experience is just as important as the product or service they are purchasing.
People expect proactive brand engagement and support. Apologetic, reactive solutions to their problems won’t cut it anymore. Today, great customer experiences meet customers where they are at in their journeys. Brands that are winning have the right mix of data and technology to delight customers at any touchpoint, at any time.
The new customer journey: The right content on demand
In some ways, customer journeys haven’t changed much. Customers still research options and interact with brands in-store. They still demo products and price compare. But data connectivity, IoT and in-store applications have raised the bar on customer expectations. Finding the right information online is no longer the threshold of convenience.
How did we go from being satisfied with the option to shop online to expecting 100% consistency at every touchpoint? It started with integrated online and offline loyalty programs.
At brick and mortar stores, employees began telling customers they were eligible for a coupon during checkout. At first, this was a delight—who doesn’t want an unexpected discount? But now, this is commonplace. Coupons on demand (in-store, in cart abandonment emails or onsite) are so pervasive, they’re no longer a surprise. We expect them.
Next, retail brands began integrating past behavior data into online experiences. They started providing sizing recommendations for clothing based on items customers purchased in the past. By connecting point-of-sale information and customer review data, these brands raised the bar on onsite experiences.
Personalization and connected experiences have become the status quo. When buyers encounter disconnected experiences, they’re annoyed and take their business elsewhere. Let’s look at two scenarios to highlight the importance of a connected experience.
The frustration of disconnected experiences in action
Buying a mattress is a big decision. Most health experts recommend replacing a mattress every 7-10 years. According to ConsumerReports, the average price for a comfortable mattress is around $1,000. Between the short lifespan and the hefty price tag, you need to make sure you make the right choice. During the decision-making process, a positive experience with a brand can go a long way. Let’s compare:
Mattress Store A:
The customer starts researching mattress brands. Based on reviews, she narrows her options to three mattresses. She searches for local stores that carry these brands. She finds a website that sells all three. She clicks around the site and uses a comparison tool to evaluate the benefits of each. The website prompts her to create an account to save her product preferences. Once she’s created the account, she sees there’s a promotion running next week. This incentivizes her to purchase quickly. But first, she heads to the store to test out the mattress models. When the customer gets to the store, the staff is unable to look up her product preferences. She didn’t write down the exact models because she’d already saved them online. After testing out models based on the brand names she could remember, the customer learns that one of the models is no longer available in the store—even though it said it was in stock online. It will need to be special ordered because the store sold the floor model. She ends up finding a different model she likes, but she’ll have to order online to redeem the discount since the store isn’t authorized to honor the promotion. The customer leaves. She’s annoyed that her shopping experience took longer than expected, disappointed she couldn’t try the store’s options and frustrated that she couldn’t use her discount to order on the spot.
Mattress Store B:
The customer starts researching mattress brands. Based on reviews, she narrows her options to three mattresses. She searches for local stores that carry these brands. She finds a website that sells all three. When she lands on the website, she’s prompted with a chat that asks which mattress brands or types she’s interested in. She enters the options on her list and is taken to a product comparison page. This page compares her three models and suggests other top-rated models based on her preferences. After comparing some mattresses, she notices that the product pages tell her which stores near her have these models in stock and on the floor for testing. She’s prompted to make an appointment. She’s not sure she can commit to a specific time, so she declines to schedule. However, she provides her email to save her preferences. When the customer gets to the store, she’s greeted by a sales associate who asks if she’s visited their store or website before. The associate looks up her email address on a tablet and pulls up her saved preferences. She decides to start with her preferred models. The associate makes two additional recommendations based on her preferences. In less than 30 minutes, she makes her decision and is ready to check out. Since the mattress model is in stock, the customer opts for free same-day delivery. The associate verifies her address, which the store has on record from her online visit. She checks out in less than three minutes. That night, the customer gets great sleep on her new mattress. She even updates her account preferences to receive future emails about other products like specialty pillows.
Both mattress stores invested in great onsite experiences. Both provided comparison tools and allowed users to save online preferences. But since Mattress Store A didn’t connect their online and offline experiences, they let down their customer. Even though the first store was running a promotion that could have saved the customer money, she chose Mattress Store B thanks to its seamless experience.
Brands that invest in connected experiences have a clear edge. In fact, 66% of buyers say they’ll actually pay more for a product or service that delivers a better experience. Customers want proactive, connected experiences—both in-store and online.
How can you provide connected experiences?
The interfaces customers interact with are ever-changing—mobile applications, browser-based stores, Instagram shopping, in-store displays, etc. But the data sources fueling these experiences have mainly stayed the same: CMS and CRM. But in many cases, these platforms aren’t working together. They’re rarely even managed by the same team.
Customers don’t differentiate brand experiences across CMS, customer portals and email communications. So, why does this gap exist? First, integrating your CMS and CRM is complicated. Second, not all CRMs are engineered to function as your business’s customer data platform (CDP). But two platforms are fully equipped to help customers scale quickly: Sitecore and Salesforce.
In July 2018, Sitecore and Salesforce launched Sitecore Connect. This connecter makes Sitecore CMS content instantly available in Marketing Cloud, letting users quickly create and edit emails, landing pages and other marketing assets. Sitecore Connect also acts as a doorway between Sitecore and Salesforce, effectively connecting the data you need to fuel seamless online and offline experiences. By connecting these data sources, you can harness the power of personalization, AI and analytics tools.
Let’s go back to our mattress company example. A company could be capturing onsite browsing data to fuel hyper-personalized onsite experiences and showcasing the products and promotions most relevant to a customer’s onsite behavior.
Customer expectations are in a state of flux and connected experiences are quickly becoming the status quo. This poses an integration challenge for businesses. But customers of Sitecore and Salesforce have a leg up thanks to a connector that’s allowing them to fuel omnichannel personalization. We believe the best way to help our customers—and in turn their customers—is for IT and marketing to converge. Together, Sitecore and Salesforce are tackling the data collection and connectivity issues businesses are struggling with every day.