Customer Web Experience: Making Smarter Connections
Wes Simonds 120000EFD6 firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  personalized mobile lufthansa social experience differentiated web customer insurance smarter life capabilities ibm software compelling planet connections capability reliance face suite
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What's the face of business today? Just 15 years ago, the answer to that question might have been ’the retail presence’ or, in a few rare cases, ’the celebrity CEO.’
But today, the best and most common answer is, quite simply, the web.
Doubt my conclusion? Consider the numbers. Recent statistics suggest that there are now more than two billion Internet users worldwide -- and as new platforms emerge, that number is rapidly escalating. Cell phone subscriptions have topped five billion (and you can be sure that before long, every cell phone on Earth will be web-capable).
Facebook alone has in the ballpark of three-quarters of a billion users. Twitter isn't terribly far behind at more than 200 million registered accounts.
If you really want to engage your customers, you have to go wherever your customers are -- not just pull them in the direction you want them to go.
More, you have to provide a compelling, consistent experience for them, one that focuses on value as they define and perceive it, not as you do.
That means a lot more than just the company site (at least, the company site as it exists at most businesses today). It means leveraging the web as a whole to attract and interact with past, current and future customers. And it means connecting with them in a much broader sense than simply e-commerce. I'm talking about actually learning from them and using that information to serve them better, as well as empowering them to interact with each other.
Pursuing all those goals in parallel, though, will typically require more capabilities than organizations have at present. What's needed is a core platform that's smart enough, and flexible enough, to support business strategies, link customers, scale to unpredictable demand levels and expand over time to address new ideas going forward.
And I'm not alone in thinking that -- which is why leading IT providers are quickly introducing powerful new software solutions designed to deliver exactly those capabilities.
’We have a lead offering in this space,’ said IBM Program Director and Chief Strategist for Web Experience Software Nicole Carrier. ’It's called the IBM Customer Experience Suite. And it provides a foundation for organizations that want to deliver these very compelling, differentiated, socially infused, mobile-aware experiences.’
Let's tackle each of those adjectives.
Compelling and differentiated. ’Compelling’ is often used in modern marketing simply to mean ’good.’ But in this case, the original definition applies as well: capable of beckoning, of bringing customers in. Toward that end, one key factor is personalization.
’Organizations can really differentiate themselves from the competition, and improve customer loyalty via an experience that is personalized to customer needs, to their behaviors, to their preferences, as well as the language of their choice,’ said Carrier.
If you want an example of what she has in mind, consider Lufthansa Airlines -- an IBM customer. This organization has moved away from delivering a stock, one-size-fits-all web experience to an experience carefully tailored to each specific customer…and in every respect Carrier described.
’The first time you get there, it asks you for your country, your language; it's personalized for more than 80 countries and 12 languages,’ she said. ’If you log in, you can then see your information, [such as] your flights, your awards, all your content tailored to your preferences.’
Why is this crucial? It stands to reason that when sites understand customers better, they can serve customers better. And with better service, better business outcomes will emerge for organizations.
Mobile-aware. Another important form of personalization: the Lufthansa site is now device-and-mobile aware. It now recognizes which type of device a customer is using, then renders to that device a version of the site that has been tailored to the device's strengths and weaknesses
So, for instance, if the user happens to be on a smart phone -- typically characterized by both limited screen resolution and lower-bandwidth connection rates -- the Lufthansa site knows that and takes steps to compensate.
’You're not going to see a huge site that you need to scroll around with, that's hard to use,’ said Carrier. ’You'll get an experience optimized for the form factor of your phone.’
Socially infused. Beyond customer-by-customer personalization, though, another angle to consider is the social web. Sites that engage with customers, Web 2.0-style -- instead of simply selling to customers -- will almost by definition deliver a better customer experience.
You can think of this in terms of service management theory, if you like. Service management is all about aligning your products and services as closely as you can to what your customers need and want. But how can you do that if you don't know what they need and want
Socially aware sites answer that question by providing a microphone for customers to speak up.
’The social web has really been a great equalizer in terms of getting customers' voices to be heard,’ said Carrier. ’It could be as simple as allowing users to express their feedback by commenting or rating or participating in forums and communities on your site.’
Simple trumps pretty
Customers, just like water and electricity, will typically follow the path of least resistance. That means no site, however powerful or sophisticated it may be in theory, will satisfy customer needs if it's hard to use. Just as the GUI replaced the command line a generation ago, easy-to-use sites are rapidly replacing those that seem to customers to amount to a barrier of entry.
In my own experience, this principle is so powerful, it can even outweigh another -- that unusually good-looking sites attract more user attention and create more business value for organizations.
Carrier sees things in much the same terms.
’I've seen a large number of sites where they're absolutely beautiful, they're like completely flashy, and you go there and try to get something done, but it's so hard to navigate; it's really hard to get the task accomplished,’ she said. ’Organizations need to focus on ease of use and making sure that the actions people want to take when coming to your site are as easy [for them] to execute as possible.’
Open pudding, find proof
So what, exactly, has been the business outcome for organizations that have deployed customer-experience web solutions with the capabilities of the type Carrier cites from IBM Software -- solutions that ’provide a foundation for very compelling, differentiated, socially infused, mobile-aware experiences’?
’We have thousands of amazing experiences built on our technology,’ said Carrier. ’One customer, Reliance Life Insurance used [IBM Customer Experience Suite] to build both an agent portal and a customer portal. By leveraging our platform, Reliance was able to reduce their customer and agent self-service costs by nearly 50 percent and saved millions of dollars.’
’There is a large county government located here in the US that basically needed to make it a lot easier for citizens and various associations to do business with the county without having to drive all the way into offices or fill out tons of paperwork,’ said Carrier. ’They built this really exceptional web experience and eliminated a bunch of information silos and presented information in a really nice, aggregated citizen's view instead.’
And what kind of bottom-line benefits are they getting?
’Well, just last year from January to April, they had 10 million visits and collected $468 million in revenue.’
I'm not sure ‘wow’ is a strong enough word.
How does your company’s face compare?
About the author
Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.