ICF Interactive | Elastic Path Software
ICF Interactive is a full-service interactive agency, offering multi-channel enablement, implementation, and digital marketing solutions. They excel in strategy and program management, business intelligence and process improvement, UX, visual design, CMS, portal solutions, enterprise search, CRM, and service-oriented architecture. Partnered with Adobe, SiteCore, Elastic Path, Red Hat, and Amazon Web Services, ICF Interactive implements custom, scalable enterprise hosting and WCM for Fortune 500 companies across platforms, across the globe.
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Get Elastic Blog | March 12, 2015

Experience-Driven Commerce: A Paradigm Shift in Digital Sales and Engagement

It’s Partner Thursday! Today’s post is contributed by ICF Interactive, a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.

Forget most of what you already know about online retailing. Whether you refer to it as multichannel or omnichannel, (while not exactly the same, these terms are frequently used interchangeably) the ways in which your consumers are researching, purchasing, and interacting have evolved, effectively backing most brands into a largely-reactive corner. The staple monolithic commerce system, featuring grid-style storefront pages with less-than-appealing images and descriptions, and disjointed internal strategies that isolate marketing and content initiatives from product management hinder both the buying process and internal growth.

Instead of continuing to fire-fight leveraging a traditional commerce approach, organizations must realign with experience-driven systems and methods to build relationships with, and sell to, the modern consumer.

Experience-Driven Commerce

exp-driven-commerce-1Experience-driven commerce capitalizes on each touchpoint, both online and off, that your brand has with customers. It builds awareness, provides information at precise moments of need, and enables decision making and sales throughout the customer journey. Additionally, experience-driven commerce allows brands to add purchasing functionality to any channel, consistently to any device – this layer negates the need for a standalone shopping cart requiring the consumer to perform multiple clicks or travel through multiple pages to add items to his or her cart.

While experience-driven commerce might not seem as radical of an idea to some, implementing the solutions and strategies necessary will require commerce, marketing, and IT leadership to collectively develop new ways to build brand loyalty through customized interactions. Contrasted with a multi or omnichannel approach, experience-driven commerce places the emphasis on revolutionizing digital engagements by redefining the mobile-armed customer, developing a digital environment that inherently supports personalized content delivery, and reimagining the sales cycle as perpetual. With a new understanding of what it means to provide consumers with the information they need and the means to easily act on it, brands can begin to distinguish themselves amongst their competitors on factors other than price, promotion, and placement.

The concept of experience-driven commerce is truly game-changing, and while there will be challenges such as reorganizing internal teams and departments to eliminate silos and their previously owned data, integrating best-of-breed technology solutions to augment or altogether replace legacy commerce and content systems, and developing revised strategies, there are steps brands can take that will clear a path for substantial digital experience initiatives.

Redefine the Customer Experience with a Journey Map

exp-d-c-2Providing a rewarding, engaging, and consistent experience requires truly understanding the customer at each one of his or her interactions with your brand – from research, to purchase, and beyond.

One of the best ways to know who your customer is and what he or she needs at precise moments is to become one. Quite literally, this means creating a diagram that depicts each touchpoint a person might have with your brand, products, and services within every channel.

If you have physical stores, what does someone who walks in see? If your brand is active on social media, what kinds of content do you share and how do your followers interact with it?

Throughout this process, you’ll discover areas of strength as well as places that could requirement refinement. The goal of developing a customer journey map is to create a decision tree that illustrates actions a customer might or might not take as they experience your story, which in turn will greatly influence the overall digital marketing strategy.

Mobile Considerations within the Content Strategy

Your consumer is constantly connected. According to a recent Internet Retailer article, the average American is actively using a smartphone for almost five hours per day, with the majority searching for information and completing tasks relative to their moments of need. What will he or she find when searching for information on the products and services your brand offers? From an experience-driven perspective, (and using the customer journey map, analytics, and other data points as a guide) what are the things your customers are most likely to search for via a mobile device?

Once you have identified the needs of your mobile audience, you’ll first want to ensure that the user interface is enabled for mobile displays (whether responsive web design or adaptive web design is employed). It won’t matter if you’re providing users with the content they’re looking for if they can’t see it properly or find it easily within the navigation. Additionally, while users might surf the web for information on your brand’s product or service, he or she may have downloaded your app or be interacting with you on Twitter or Facebook. Each of these channels will require different types of content, that maintain brand consistency, that function to improve the overall experience.

Can customers use social media interaction for loyalty purposes? Perhaps your brand leverages its accounts for one-on-one service or product care. Mobile content should enable sales and decision-making, enhancing the customer experience.

Technology Enablement

First came static HTML, then the great content-versus-commerce debate. Throw in customer relationship management, enterprise resource management, and a myriad of other platforms and solutions and it’s likely your brand’s digital systems are a mix of legacy and modern, featuring varying levels of integration.

While larger, out-of-the-box ready platforms have ruled the commerce scene, brands and analysts alike are starting to see and agree on the benefits of a best-of-breed technology solutions approach. Through a best-of-breed approach, brands should consider investing in technologies that serve specific purposes, but also integrating them with every other system to create a holistic environment.

If the customer experience now drives commerce and strategy management, then the customer experience engine needs to be robust and scalable, and must also feature seamless integration capabilities into every other mission-critical system. Commerce, then, should be a layered extension that stores customer histories, product information, and provides the abilities to bundle and combine items. System integration is essential in that it helps to maintain the flow of real-time information, across both the organization and to the consumer.

Each brand’s technology needs will differ, based on unique business challenges and requirements, but with experience at the core of every brand’s plan for unparalleled engagement, you’ll be positioning your brand to lead in satisfaction and sales.

Lift to Shift

edc-3As an organizational change agent knows, getting an entire brand to deviate from the norm can be challenging. And just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, migrating from a traditional commerce approach to a modern, experience-driven model will require time, resources, data, and dedication.

Begin by lifting the lighter items first – create a customer journey map or evaluate your current environment with a digital momentum checkpoint. Armed with this data, you’ll have a better idea as to the systems you should invest in, and your brand will have made great strides towards leading with the experience.

Mystified by “experience-driven commerce?” Elastic Path will be releasing a definitive guide to experience driven commerce, The New Customer Journey: A Convergence of Content, Context, Channels and Commerce <-- Pre-register today

Get Elastic Blog | May 28, 2015

You Have to Lose to Win at Customer Experience Management

customer-experienceIt’s Partner Thursday! Today’s post is contributed by ICF Interactive. Adobe’s 2014 North American Partner of the Year, ICF Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.

Managing the customer experience has become quite the digital affair – it’s not simply a call center with phone lines open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm central standard time, a P.O. box for “questions, comments, concerns” or that UPC and rebate form. It’s all of these things, plus a brand’s eCommerce store, email offers, social media properties, real-time product information, tech support, and more.

Customer experience management should now be defined as “efficiently directing the ways in which brands either respond to or facilitate customer interactions across every touchpoint, both off and online.” A proactive evolution of customer service, the delivery of an experience requires technology, strategy, and organizational considerations that enable a brand to seamlessly engage across channels.

According to the March, 2015 Forrester Report The CIO Mandate: Engaging Customers with Business Technology, 79% of global business budget makers surveyed indicated that improving the customer experience is a top priority. As organizations have worked to catch up with consumer demands for personalized, relevant interactions and self-service functions driven by the digital transformation, they have invariably continued to make additions and improvements to the systems and solutions that facilitate their efforts.

And while launching innovative programs and investing in technology will be key components to succeeding in customer experience management, there are a few things a brand needs to lose as well.

Lose Your Silos

ideaDespite our ability to be constantly connected, it seems to have only really significantly affected our personal lives. How often do we find our professional selves searching for a template, a record, a version, or an email? How much time do we spend attempting to determine who we need to contact in a particular department, or collaborating with groups on projects where processes and procedures differ across the organization?

The seamless experience brands strive to deliver both off and online can require a number of digital applications — consider email and marketing automation tools, content and campaign management systems, eCommerce platforms, loyalty and reward solutions, referral plug-ins and social components. If these aren’t integrated both with respect to how each internal use case is defined as well as within a holistic environment, you’re likely to fall short of the goals and expectations of both your teams and your customers. Think of how often you come across product offerings that perhaps you have already purchased, or services that you no longer need.

In addition to system and process governance, a brand will need to evaluate and perhaps restructure its teams to allow for interdisciplinary collaboration. Teams with limited interaction tend to have a different perspective on approach and brand goals. When siloed, this can negatively affect productivity, flexibility, and in some cases morale. Internal discord can take valuable attention away from the greater goals of the organization. Moreover, the lines between digital marketers, eCommerce, customer service and sales professionals’ roles and responsibilities continue to blur. To successfully manage the customer experience, brands will need to centralize both technology and operational efforts.

Lose Your Aversion to Change

lightbulb-momentIn the unlikely scenario that your brand relies heavily on traditional customer experience management techniques, with little to no regard for the new ways in which mobily-enabled users seek information and channels of interaction, then perhaps preparing for and reacting to change hasn’t been high on your list of to-dos.

Conversely, if members of your organization have acknowledged that your business units and the strategies that support them are due for a major overhaul, but has been apprehensive to take action due to size, structure, or the “that’s the way we’ve always done things” sentiment, there are steps your brand can take that require minimal investments but can net invaluable returns.

Listen Like Never Before

Pay very close attention to what your customers, competitors, and employees are saying about your brand and the experience it’s delivering. Listening can be conducted by everyone and anyone within a company, and can focus on social media and engagement platforms, customer service reviews, and even by following up on competitive news and announcements.

Listening to what people are saying about your brand outside of your organization is just as important as taking employee views and ideas into consideration. Inspiration and innovation can come from the most unlikely sources – don’t simply encourage transparency, but demonstrate commitment to your teams and your brand by providing big thinkers and contributors with the opportunity to positively influence customers’ perceptions.

Take a Risk

Not every new solution, strategy, or tactic needs to be revolutionary. Significant improvements to managing the customer experience can be made by simply testing existing programs. Email and social media communications can be tested on content, frequency, audience segments, and more.

Channels can also be extended to incorporate new techniques, such as customer service via Twitter. Your brand may also consider modifying a previous campaign, or leveraging a new design on a landing page to gage efficiency. Not every change needs to be the next Woo Woo.

Trust Your Data

For many brands, systems of record – your customer relationship manager (CRM), enterprise resource planner (ERP), your eCommerce solution, and your analytics tools allow for the storage and evaluation of massive amounts of data. Leverage dedicated resources to see what, exactly, your data says about your brand.

Perhaps customers are very satisfied with products, but your follow-up communication falls short. Or, an organization may find that self-service functions are highly preferable to other methods of interaction. Establish key performance indicators and measure the effectiveness of current activities versus future initiatives; with tangible evidence in-hand, potential changes may occur faster, and with full organizational support.

Lose Your Annoying Marketing Tactics

moodAnnoying might be thought of as overly-frequent communication, irrelevant content, retargeting ads, automated responses, or pop-ups. Daily or more than daily emails can become frustrating, potentially resulting in the customer ignoring it in the best case and unsubscribing in the worst. If a customer is searching for information and can’t easily find what he or she is looking for, a brand is setting itself up for failure.

As for retargeting ads – gentle reminders, such as discounts or offers of assistance may be viewed as helpful. But bombarding users with a product or service displayed on every web page he or she views is not only unnecessary, but as PageFair and Adobe pointed out in a 2014 report, “there were approximately 144 million monthly active AdBlock users globally”.

Outreach and engagement, when personalized, can build trust and brand awareness. Managing the customer experience with marketing tactics can be effective when the customer is shown that he or she is appreciated by respecting and valuing not only his or her business, but time as well.

By losing outdated and displeasing methods of managing the customer experience, your brand will be primed for future wins.

The New Customer Journey: A Convergence of Content, Context, Channels and Commerce, the first in a series of ebooks discussing customer experience across touchpoints. Download it for free today.

ebook-cta

Get Elastic Blog | July 2, 2015

The Retailer’s Crystal Ball: All Signs Point to Innovation

predictions1It’s Partner Thursday! Today’s post is contributed by ICF Interactive. Adobe’s 2014 North American Partner of the Year, ICF Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.

Looking to the horizon of the digital commerce landscape, one can only imagine what lies beyond – or know exactly how fast it will once again become the foreground of all that we can see. Improvements in business intelligence and technologies, the driving force of the Digital Transformation, and an ever-growing mobile audience (2 billion global smartphone users by 2016, according to eMarketer) has undeniably disrupted the ways in which brands market and sell to consumers.

Despite these changes, most organizations have adapted fairly well. Arguably, we can find all of our favorite products, services, and media in a variety of off and online channels – quickly and easily. But for as fast as best practices in digital marketing, commerce, and content strategy have been established, our guess is that it won’t be too much longer until we’re implementing solutions for a new group of consumers with a challenging set of demands. Developing new touchpoints, architecting holistic environments that allow for a 360 degree view of the customer, acquiring and retaining thought-leaders, and automating time-consuming processes while maintaining flexibility, will enable the innovation brands will need to succeed.

Sound a bit too far-fetched? Too much too soon?

We’re closer than you think to a new wave of interruption, as emerging trends point to the need for retailers to discover new methods of researching, targeting, communicating, and retaining loyal, engaged customers. Consider the following:

Text-to-Buy

With every new smartphone comes a new app or feature. And while a brand will need more than just an app to exceed the new consumer’s expectations, the way that any particular mobile tactic fits into the overall marketing strategy will be essential to achieving success in creating a streamlined experience.

A great real-world example is the text-a-Starbucks option Verizon Wireless rolled out late last year. Integrated directly within any Android or iOS phone messaging app, the feature allows a user to send a gift card to a friend (on any carrier) from $5 to $25. The cost of the venti latte/frap/mochachino is then tacked on directly to the Verizon account holder’s bill. If that person uses auto-pay, no money is ever physically exchanged. One doesn’t need to know another’s account numbers or personal information, and the sender never has to leave his or her house.

Applying this to other industries – clothing, home improvement, recreation, and more, what implications might this have? With a few clicks, Grandma in Honolulu could send Suzie in Hartford one hundred dollars to her favorite clothing store – effortlessly and instantaneously.

Merchandising Beyond the Storefront

Socially speaking, Pinterest recently unveiled Buyable Pins. Unlike Facebook or Twitter commerce integrations, Pinterest does not reroute the user to the brand’s site – instead, by featuring real-time information via APIs directly within the Pinterest interface, the brand effectively extends its own showcasing functionality. The ecommerce store can feature the latest products and lines, while Pinterest can maintain the fan-favorites that complete look and style boards.

Google recently announced it too would start embedding buy buttons within mobile search results, with purchases completed directly through Google’s own checkout – the customer never touching the retailer’s site. Effectively, social networks and search engines become retailers themselves, providing new opportunities for low-friction customer acquisition (though retailers must understand the impact on brand and customer loyalty).

Endless Possibilities with The Internet of Things

The aforementioned are tangible – they exist, they’re possible with a bit of strategy, technology, and forward-thinking, and can be implemented by most brands. But looking deep into the future, past The Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon and one can envision possibilities so bold that they straddle the line between Martin Cooper’s vision for the mobile phone and living on the moon.

Picture this: you’re getting dressed for work in the morning. You’re brushing your teeth or combing your hair and an alert embedded in your mirror tells you it’s raining outside and it’s only going to get colder as the day progresses. It then informs you you’re running out of milk. The applications within your mirror and refrigerator send an alert to your key fob (that you have to grab before you leave) to take your overcoat, rain boots, and buy milk on your way home. If you’re the forgetful type, it may also be integrated with your mobile device.

Let’s suppose though that you don’t own rain boots? Perhaps you’ve only just moved to the Northwestern United States from Arizona and you hadn’t realized how much it really does rain. What if you could purchase them directly from within another screen in your mirror, or through a dedicated app on your mobile device, ready to pick up as soon as you’re done for the day – because the store it suggested you buy from is conveniently located next door?

While you’re at work, your pre-programmed vacuum is busy gliding from room to room, careful to miss the cat food dish and your shoelaces. It’s using the last filter you have, so it simply places an order (if you haven’t already set up a recurring order with your provider) which is then delivered via drone to your front door. You’re fascinated with the efficiency of your smart home, your internet-enabled devices that leave little room for error that provide you with the freedom to enjoy your down-time. Maybe that’s reading your favorite book on a tablet or watching that television program via streaming service. Your life is easier, and with every brand interaction, that retailer or service provider learns a little bit more about you – enhancing the targeted personalization of future engagements.

The future of retailing is bright and only as limited as we imagine it to be – so what does your brand see?

Get Elastic Blog | September 13, 2015

Back to School: The ABCs of Ecommerce

abcIt’s Partner Thursday Monday! Today’s post is contributed by ICF Interactive. Adobe’s 2014 North American Partner of the Year, ICF Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.

For most of the United States, it’s back to school season. Ask any kid what he or she has covered in the first week back, and you’ll likely hear “enh – just a review from last year.” That got us thinking, while brands are entering into new and unfamiliar territory in:

• Customer experience management technology, strategies, and processes
• The potential of the Internet of Things, and
• Journey mapping and innovative, real-time relationship building

…that we should feature our own quick review on the basics of eCommerce. While this list is by no means exhaustive, these items are still questions and concerns we regularly encounter. Read on to reacquaint yourself with the ABCs of eCommerce, and although we won’t be quizzing you at the end, your passing or failing will be determined by what your customers think about your brand, the touch-points you’re creating, and the online shopping experience you deliver.

A

Adapt to your customers’ evolving needs, shopping habits, and desires for easily accessible content.

B

Build a robust technology environment that’s flexible and scalable – for your brand’s growing interactive marketing needs and fluctuating number of site visitors.

C

Create online stores with brick and mortar layouts in mind – easy steps from the aisle (product or landing pages) to cart to the checkout.

D

Devote time to site and process check-ups, especially before high-traffic events and the holiday shopping season. (In the US that’s generally from Thanksgiving to January of the following year).

E

Experiment with A/B testing, surfacing variations of landing page content to segments of your customers to determine which ones lead to higher conversion rates.

F

Functionality > fancy design. Customers will leave if your site takes too long to load or if the browser can’t render the page, such as flash on an Android device.

G

Get social with your consumers. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram lend themselves well to online relationship-building and engagements for B2C brands, while LinkedIn is great for B2B organizations.

H

Hosting, the cloud in particular, is a game-changer. In addition to speed, a strong hosting solution enables flexibility, can reduce overall operating costs, and ensures the health of an organization’s owned digital properties.

I

Integrate, integrate, integrate. Integrate your technology systems, your internal teams, your processes, and marketing strategies.

J

Journey mapping is essential to understanding the needs of the customer; here’s a quick guide courtesy of our own Mary Carter and Deanna Peiffer.

K

Keyword analysis activities will help your customers find your online store through improving search engine optimization (SEO), as well as once users are on your site via a powerful, intuitive indexing engine.

L

Listen to your customers, your communities, and your competitors. Hootsuite is a great example of how a brand can improve its user experience through listening to constructive (albeit blunt) criticism.

M

Mobile is increasingly becoming the go-to gateway to conversions, beginning with research. eCommerce brands can’t afford to ignore mobile.

N

Nurture leads with targeted emails, social outreach, and loyalty programs. But with this in mind, lose the annoying marketing tactics.

O

Omni-channel commerce is “an interconnectedness between every touch-point from the perspective of the consumer” and essential to building the store of the future. Here’s multi-channel versus omni-channel as explained by our experience-driven commerce partner Elastic Path.

P

Product, promotion, placing, and price have been all but replaced by the cohesive, user-friendly shopping experience that brands develop and deliver. Loyalty that is fostered by relevant engagements and unparalleled customer service will improve customer acquisition and retention rates.

Q

Quickly resolve complaints, site issues, and concerns. Customers are taking to social media more than ever to voice opinions and exploit poor experiences, and it’s imperative to respond quickly and effectively to an #epicfail.

R

Recurring orders should be automated to save time and effort – both for your brand and your customer.

S

Solutions are many regarding B2B and B2C eCommerce needs. You may wish for help through the process of selecting the right mix of technology and process for your brand’s needs.

T

Technology should facilitate sales, and needs to be the framework through which your eCommerce strategy is delivered. When developing an eCommerce store, consider your brand’s current and future goals, and build an environment that will support both.

U

Use your customer profiles, including order history, demographics, and other data to engage with individuals. Up-selling and cross-selling can be achieved and improved with the right technology, targeted strategy, and personalized content.

V

Validate your eCommerce strategy with analytics. What was successful in the past might now be costing you business.

W

Weekly ads, local deals, and coupons should to be streamlined across the off and online shopping experience. Ensure your brand isn’t frustrating your customers with confusing offers and gimmicky sales.

X

X marks the spot where a user can close a window – if your eCommerce site can’t be navigated easily across all devices, it might also indicate the spot where a customer leaves your site completely.

Y

Yellow is used to grab attention. The aesthetic of your site can positively or negatively impact the buyer’s mood and feelings about your brand; design carefully.

Z

Zoom, multiple image views, and dynamic features such as the ability to change color, size, and other product features can enhance the shopping experience – creating an in-store feel to a virtual experience. Create ways for customers to evaluate products as they would in a physical store, leaving little room for questions or hesitation.

Experience-driven commerce solutions and strategy should be as easy as 1-2-3 for your customers to navigate and use, even as your brand and its technology advances.

Get Elastic Blog | April 9, 2015

Exceeding Mobile Expectations: You Need More Than An App

It’s Partner Thursday! Today’s post is contributed by ICF Interactive, a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.

app1Apple’s widely successful, trademarked, and oft-quoted “There’s an App for That” campaign spoke well to mobile device users and technophiles of early 2009, seemingly creating an app-happy culture: we now wake up to our favorite music, catch up on news and emails on our commutes, and wind down with Facebook or a good Netflix binge all thanks to our mobile apps.

But the aforementioned applications are only examples of an extended web, desk or laptop experience: they’re typically all digital born-and-bred brands in which our interactions begin and end on internet-enabled devices. Conversely, retailers and service providers — brands whose roots aren’t nestled among the dotcom-only giants face a far greater challenge in effectively reaching the new consumer while staying true to their own histories and cultures.

The phenomenon in which customers have come to expect a streamlined brand experience across every device, driven by digital transformation, one that features a well-developed strategy consisting of personalization and ease of use, has forced most organizations to adapt sooner than perhaps they would have. There have been those that have floundered, piecing together the user experience without considering the importance of a holistic, omni-channel approach, and those that are so large that tasks such as evaluating, selecting, and implementing solutions have required years of research, development, and internal struggles.

While apps and emerging platforms will continue to nurture the relationships retail and service brands have with their customers, designing and developing a digital environment to meet and ultimately exceed expectations require other, more robust technology considerations as well. We can’t say with any certainty what the masses will be asking for next, (Amazon thinks it’s an on-demand subscription delivery service) but we can tell you three questions your customers should absolutely not be asking — and the technology and strategy solutions behind how to avoid them.

The following outlines an actual experience one of our colleagues had in purchasing a product and interacting with the brand, as it was less than stellar, the names of those involved have been redacted.

1. Why Isn’t the App Integrated with the Brand’s Other Touchpoints?

“I purchased a product and downloaded the application necessary to use it. I would have assumed the app would have either the ability to link out to the brand’s website, or include the steps to take to access the content necessary to understand how to use the product, where to go for customer service, and other ‘getting started’ type activities. The leaflet included within the packaging provided little more than how to turn the thing on. As I already had my phone-in-hand, I used it to search the brand’s website; to my disappointment, while it was mobile-friendly, the site was primarily focused on sales instead of support, forcing me to boot up my laptop to find exactly what I needed. I shouldn’t have had to muddle through three properties across two devices to figure out how the thing worked.”

The Fix: A Wholly Integrated Digital Environment

Customer journeys don’t end when the purchase is made, and brands need to look at all the plausible uses cases for the channels they are using. Brands need to focus on the ability to repurpose content and push it to any digital property, be it web, mobile, social, or application. This is where things can get tricky without the right technologies that can work together. Whether it is through a best-of-breed approach or a customer experience platform, brands need to deliver optimized content that’s integrated with back-office solutions, to give marketers the information they need to create a seamless user experience across channels. Because this is no small task, businesses can focus on the mission critical parts first and continue to evolve through possibly a larger digital transformation (the lift to shift method is detailed here).

2. Now Where is…?

whereis“I spent way too much time searching for content on the website. It appeared as though the brand was more focused on showcasing its latest and greatest products, rather than make it simple for a first-time user like me to find what I was looking for.

Having purchased an earlier-generation version of the brand’s product, it was especially difficult to find the correct versions of documentation. Ordinarily I would have searched the site, but search functionality didn’t exist.”

The Fix: A Product Information Manager (PIM), Taxonomy, and Integrated Search

If a brand offers multiple versions of the same product, it’s absolutely necessary to continue to support the previous-generation users as much as you’re trying to acquire the newer. Search is a very subjective topic from brand to brand. From a user’s point of view, it either works or it doesn’t, there is no middle ground. It is important that if you are selling multiple versions of a product that there is a healthy taxonomy that supports all products. This should be directly tied into a PIM or catalog that is completely indexed by the search engine for optimal results. Brands can then leverage faceted search or other priority rules to surface the right content on product information for customer service needs.

3. What Does This Button Do?

mob2“Working in the tech and digital strategy industry, new platforms or user interfaces don’t intimidate me. But, if I’m fumbling through something, wondering what menu items do or why others were excluded, how will that affect the experience of someone who isn’t as familiar? Even for a tech-savvy person like me, it needs to be intuitive.”

The Fix: Common Usability Best Practices, User Testing, and Customer Service Strategy

Everyone wants to be cutting edge with their apps and websites. It needs to be ‘sexy’ and ‘next generation.’ How often do we forget that there are usability best practices that need to be maintained to ensure the best user experience? In transactional worlds such as commerce, the goals are ease of use to gather information to inform the buyer, and then ease of use to actually execute the purchase. Don’t introduce new menu designs unless you are willing to test and implement the changes that benefit the customer. Always perform user testing before rolling out a change, or conduct A/B testing to see how you can improve the performance or use of a feature.

Inevitably there will be someone who will just want to know how someone can help them. If the digital properties a brand leverages to explain the uses and features of a product aren’t apparent, it should have an army of well-trained, patient people ready to field questions and complaints, create tutorials, and provide support. A poor digital experience may be easier to overlook, but a poor customer service experience will likely cost a brand.

Any new development of a digital touchpoint needs to be fully vetted and tested among the existing environment. And while a brand can gain a serious competitive advantage by working with the experts, a great way to exceed customer expectations is to know any experience needs more than an app.

Get Elastic Blog | February 5, 2015

Did You Outgrow Your Commerce Platform? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

ecom-platformIntroducing Partner Thursday: every month we will feature one guest post from one of Elastic Path’s outstanding partners. To kick us off, we’re pleased to have Mike Razzoog, VP of Commerce Solutions and Fred Faulkner, Director of Marketing at ICF Interactive, a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how. Mike and Fred have over 30 years of combined eCommerce, technology, and, digital marketing experience.

Perhaps you invested in a SaaS commerce solution that addressed each of your business needs, but you’ve grown as a business – your sales are up and business is booming. You’re now paying more as a result of your increase in transactional fees.

Maybe your commerce solution wasn’t designed with flexibility. Your competitors are engaging with your target audience in new and effective ways, and your sales have plateaued — or worse.

It could be that your solution is so incredibly customized that not one of your developers can make sense of it anymore, or your teams can’t make changes within the system and are forced to market reactively.

The truth is, investing in business technology for commerce becomes exponentially trickier when met with the ever-evolving demands of customers, clients, and internal stakeholders. Maintaining digital environments, configuring them to the needs of business users in an effort to solve challenges, and training teams on how to properly use the system typically requires a lot of time, a healthy budget, and flexibility. Reaching a working cadence and level of comfort with any commerce system demands a strategy-driven approach and continued enhancements. Commerce managers, solution architects, digital marketers, and designers understand that the cohesive, omnichannel brand experience that organizations strive to deliver is part science, part intuition.

questionBut what happens when either your metrics or your gut says “it might be time to consider a new commerce platform?” It can be easier to identify than you might think.

Here are things that you can look for, indicators that will clearly show how soon you’ll need to plan for a migration initiative. The following questions can be used as a quick reference guide; if you can say yes to any one of these questions, you should consider a new solution sooner than later.

Has the Operational Model Become Inverted?

In addition to providing customers and clients with the ability to easily research and purchase products and services online, commerce platforms are a necessary component to the modern transactional operations model. The cost associated with implementing and licensing a solution should be realized in a relatively short time frame – you should see this via streamlined internal processes and rich marketing and digital campaign functionalities that may have formerly required outside resources and longer turnaround times.

However, in certain instances, you may find the total cost of ownership is eroding operational margin and profit. Why? Perhaps an increase in maintenance fees. Or in a SaaS model you discover that you’re paying more per transaction, or your aggregate annual transaction costs make an owned solution more attractive. It could also be that your “out-of-the-box” ready solution can’t be easily customized – forcing you to allocate more operational and development resources than you had in the past. It is recommended that your Total Cost of Ownership model and ROI models be evaluated regularly to ensure you are still realizing the same or better value of the originally approved the program.

Are Your Customers Demanding New Ways to Engage?

Considering concepts such as digital transformation, the Internet of Things, wearables, experience driven commerce, and anticipating the needs of consumers dubbed micro-moments by Forrester, a major shift in the ways in which brands are interacting with consumers is occurring. Not will, is.

We know consumers are constantly connected, that they’re looking to learn more about your products and services in new channels – quickly, easily, and on their own terms. While organizations may have once grappled with which approach: mobile-first, or a responsive web design, the question now becomes is your current commerce platform flexible enough to account for what your customers will want next?

If mobile isn’t an inherent component of your current solution, or if you have to customize either code or content management processes – ditch it. According to a recent study featured in Internet Retailer, “[i]n Q4 2014, 25.8% of global online transactions took place on a mobile device…37% higher than Q4 2013.” As this number continues to grow, along with mobile researching and showrooming, you can expect to be left for a competitor whose site is mobile-enabled if yours isn’t already.

Equally critical is social integration. Social as a commerce influencer, once limited to ratings and reviews post-purchase, has now permeated every facet of the customer funnel, from acquisition through engagement, to purchase and advocacy. Driving content from a central repository to each of your brand’s digital properties, including social and other applications, will help to positively differentiate your experience from those of your competitors. Social media marketing has its clear advantages, but if you can provide your followers and fans with the same rich content, and even better, the ability to buy from directly within a social application, you’re sure to drive higher conversion and return customer rates.

Is Performance Suffering?

img2Coded yourself into a corner? Many organizations found that their boxed solution required a few too many customizations. While tailoring a system to your brand’s specific needs is highly advantageous, it can become detrimental to performance and flexibility if done too often, too poorly, or for far too long. Compounded by varying skill levels and styles of the many developers who have worked within your solution over the years, you can find yourself staring at a rat’s nest of code – scary to look at and impossible to maintain (of course your documentation is current, right?). If it takes three months to simply change the font color on your site, you’re ready for a new solution.

Perhaps the number of custom configurations is relatively low, but they take too much time to performance test and tune after each release. Or, maybe it’s not you, but your platform, that can no longer manage a growing number of transactions during peak hours and seasons. Either way, a poor experience will force customers to defect online – regardless of how much they love your brand.

Have Your Teams Lost the Ability to do Their Jobs?

Having to rely on external or specialized teams to complete day-to-day tasks is costly, time-consuming, and truly rather antiquated. While it’s essential for product managers to be able to quickly and easily make changes to the catalog, if your marketing and content teams are constantly in a holding pattern due to inflexible templates, the inability to make on-the-fly changes to campaigns, and poorly architected or non-existent workflow, it’s time to think about a system migration.

In conjunction with the need for your teams to quickly and easily make changes to the user experience, can the teams who need analytic insights access information? Data-driven decision-making is the new reality, and if your solution cannot easily leverage those insights to drive customer experience, you will quickly suffer a competitive disadvantage. If it takes a week to act on information, that’s nearly a week too long.

Did Someone Fail to Upgrade?

img3Upgrades may happen often to patch issues and improve functionality, or they may happen on a more infrequent basis – every vendor is different. Regardless of when they happen, if your internal tech team or solution provider hasn’t upgraded your commerce solution version in some time, you might discover that it will require a significant investment to get you up to speed or worse – you might not have the option and your version might go unsupported.

Upgrades aren’t typically difficult, but met with the nuances of everyday commerce management, they can be put on the back burner. They’re essential to continued success because they’ll ensure that your system remains PCI compliant, that it’s protected from hackers and identity thieves, and that you’re getting the most return for your investment.

Asking yourself these five questions to figure out whether or not it’s time to replatform, rather than how lucky you feel, will ensure the satisfaction of your customers – as well as the health of your commerce solution and your bottom line.

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