Walking the Walk of Creating Connected Experiences

Q&A with Enterprise Platform Architect Dave Bilbrough

Adobe Stock / kevron2001
Walking the Walk of Creating Connected Experiences

In the last few years, there has been enough written about omnichannel marketing and connected experiences to fill dozens of libraries.

Yes, we all understand that customers now access brands by hopscotching their way from one channel to the next — reading reviews on their laptops, putting out product questions on social media, showrooming on their phones, maybe interfacing with live sales reps in a store — until they, hopefully, reach the point of purchase. But, it doesn’t mean that most of us are any closer to walking the walk, accepting the need to act, or knowing how to make it a reality.

Fortunately, a number of leading brands are successfully stepping up to the challenge of creating connected experiences for their customers — and seeing real results from it. They’re employing a blend of web properties, mobile apps, kiosks, and communication to create experiences that are not only connected, but far more powerful than the customer experiences of the past.

As an enterprise platform architect for Adobe, Dave Bilbrough knows this firsthand — he’s helped more than a few brands take on the challenge of creating connected experiences and succeeding at it. We recently sat down with Dave to learn what challenges brands are facing, how they are overcoming them, and how brands interested in providing a connected experience can get started.

Dave, for companies trying to get their mind around this, how do you define the connected experience?

In the connected experience, the customer is operating across channels, typically between digital channels and brick-and-mortar channels, and the handoff from one channel to the next is seamless.

For example, a customer might start the purchase process online but encounter some sort of friction and go into a store to complete that purchase. In a well-connected experience, the rep in the store has all the information he or she needs to help the customer complete the purchase.

The opposite is also true. If the customer is unable to find the product they need in the store, a connected experience should allow them to continue shopping on the website without having to start over or re-enter data. Providing that customer with this kind of continuously powerful experience is possible, but marketers must leverage consistent data and consistent orchestration to make it happen.

Not all companies feel a pressing need to invest in creating a connected experience. What would you say to convince them?

Some brands are taking a “well, that would be cool” approach, rather than trying to alleviate specific anxiety in their shopping process. On the other hand, the most successful brands are the ones trying to solve for specific anxiety. They realize that their customer’s digital experience is only a portion of the total experience. They understand that having a strong web presence is great, but 80 percent of their sales are still happening out in the field — where they have very little digital presence. And then they start asking how they can improve that, understanding that investing in a connected experience as they invest in digital marketing can pay huge dividends in increased revenue, greater customer loyalty, and a higher customer lifetime value.

Can you share some examples of companies that are creating this kind of a connected experience right now?

T-Mobile’s connected experience involves a giant sign that thanks the customer by name as they leave the store. In the T-Mobile world, where they are kind of hip and cool and like to build that kind of relationship with their customers, they can get away with that. It seems appropriate for their customers in a way that wouldn’t work for, say, Walgreens.

The lesson here is that what works for one company in building connected experiences doesn’t always work for another. You can’t just mimic another company’s flashy experience and get the same result. It’s all about proper context for your relationship and making sure that what you are doing is actually assisting the customer and building loyalty.

In one great example of this, a bank I worked with realized customers arriving at their branches were experiencing a high degree of anxiety around scheduling appointments with different specialists. To overcome this anxiety, the bank created a kiosk that would notify the appropriate specialist of the customer’s need. By the time the customer met with the specialist — within minutes — the specialist would automatically have the customer’s information on hand so they could get right to the heart of what was needed.

What have you found is the biggest barrier to creating connected experiences?

Creating a frictionless, connected brand experience is by no means a walk in the park. If your organization is not customer-centric, your initiative is not likely to succeed. Your organization has to be obsessed with customer service for digital marketing tools to have the effect you want — technology won’t make up for sales reps who don’t check to see if appointments are scheduled or who don’t bother to review customer information.

Companies like to say, “We know our business,” and “We know what our customers want.” But I have found that’s actually rarely the case. Most of the time, connected experience solutions like these are being implemented to solve for a massive blind spot that a brick-and-mortar store creates in a shopping experience.

For companies that want to invest in creating connected experiences for their customers, what is the best way to get started?

You need to start by identifying the critical handoff points between channels. This is where I like to actually shop the customer experience with the organization. Going into this experience from the customer’s point of view, but with fresh eyes, usually makes it pretty evident where the problems are.

Another great first step organizationally is to establish a center of excellence. I am consistently surprised when I go into meetings at organizations where you have a retail group working alongside a marketing group working alongside an IT group, and they’re all meeting each other for the first time. To help these groups work together, a center of excellence that establishes responsibilities across stakeholder departments is really critical. This prevents one team from making a change to one part of the experience without consulting the other stakeholders. It reduces a lot of friction in the deployment process. It also keeps training and onboarding processes consistent, so in-store associates know what to do with data from digital marketing and vice versa.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t assume that you can design a great experience without plenty of testing and iteration. Success on this issue is all about trying a new idea, analyzing the data, acting on the result — and then doing it again and again.

For more detailed information on focusing your digital marketing efforts to provide customers with a connected experience, read this how-to article by Dave Bilbrough. With a commitment to creating seamless experiences regardless of channel, you’ll be delighting customers and reaping the results like never before.

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