It is an understatement to say that customer behavior and expectations have changed significantly as a result of the Corona pandemic. The Results a cross-national study by Sitecore of consumers and marketers in the US, UK and Ireland show that a revolution in customer experience is on the horizon - and it's happening in the German-speaking world, too.
In fact, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of UK marketers have fundamentally changed their customer experience strategy in response to the pandemic. Most respondents report positive results as a result of this change in strategy. 75 per cent feel "more connected to their customers". Seventy-four percent of respondents also report that they have made more progress in building their technology stack in the past year than in the previous three years combined. Unfortunately, many of these developments seem to have come at a cost: 71 percent of marketers admit to implementing mostly short-term measures rather than lasting innovations - and for 74 percent, last year was the most challenging time in their careers. Most marketers understandably want to develop these short-term measures before moving on to other priorities - especially in mid-sized companies.
Investing in technology to cope with the pandemic
Numerous trends can be gleaned from these data points, which seem contradictory at first glance. The most obvious: the coronavirus has accelerated the pace of digital transformation. When the pandemic hit, most companies began a high-pressure review and expansion of their digital offerings. Online platforms became the main, though not the only, way to connect with customers. As a result, many companies focused their investments on existing platforms and their ecosystems. In particular, these were customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which provide a central location for customer data to respond to changing customer demand and ensure positive interactions. But enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools also gained relevance, as they can automate and optimize operations and manage data.
During the pandemic, most marketing teams were able to use these central platforms to their advantage. However, CRM and ERP stacks can only support marketers to a limited extent because they only provide a partial understanding of customers. They don't provide a nuanced view of the customer's complete history that brands can use to determine the best possible next marketing action, for example.
The technologies and tools used by most companies are not fit for purpose in delivering a consistent experience that can engage customers across all channels and touchpoints. This was especially evident at the beginning of the pandemic. Companies had to focus on ways to protect revenue by expanding sales of existing products to existing customers. At the same time, other distribution channels changed fundamentally or disappeared altogether - in some cases overnight as stores were forced to close by the lockdown. Existing tools were often inadequate for the new challenge. As a result, companies needed to deliver experiences compelling enough to differentiate themselves from the competition and drive purchase decisions.
Long-term digital experience strategy with focus on customers
To achieve this, and to create relevant, practical and outstanding experiences that drive customer loyalty, content is crucial. We might not call everything we see on a website, app or email "content". But we all know that the images, videos or articles we view online create a reaction in us as consumers - whether we find something interesting, touching or inspiring. The best digital content creates a physical reaction, such as a purchase or an emotional response. Experiential brands have spent years trying to create these types of reactions. However, they can be difficult to execute due to the complexity of digital environments.
But it pays to get it right. Because that's exactly what consumers want - especially after a year of lockdowns and closures. The shift towards online shopping has set high standards for digital customer experiences. According to the Corona Consumer Checks of the IFH COLOGNE 43 percent of people in Germany made purchases online in March of this year that they would normally have made in stores.
Most consumers expect brands to know and understand their shopping history and habits - and to offer them a consistent and personalized experience online and offline. Providing personalized content that rewards customers for their loyalty is also essential to attract and retain customers who are more conscious than ever about the online experience.
High-quality digital CX wherever it counts
Companies that want to respond to an increasingly digital world must first know their customers. They need data about their shopping behavior and must be able to create appropriate content. This way, they can create a feeling in the customer that inspires action and ultimately a purchase. Marketing teams that want to develop and expand their technology stack against this background face a major challenge.
Because despite the huge strides made in online customer experience and e-commerce over the past year, many CMOs and CIOs still struggle to create a holistic strategy that unites marketing, sales and service. To meet all needs, they are often forced to assemble a martech stack from dozens of isolated solutions on different platforms. At worst, such isolated technologies can prevent what really matters - providing the right content for customers to tell a relevant story tailored to them.
That's why it's essential to have end-to-end solutions. Integrating existing ERP and CRM systems into a purpose-built digital experience platform empowers marketers to focus on what matters. Because such a platform serves all consumer touchpoints from content to e-commerce.
Brands that were able to respond quickly and effectively to the changes of the Corona pandemic found success with this type of digital customer experience. When the 2020 pandemic hit, companies had to change - especially those that primarily engaged consumers in person or through retailers. Even Sitecore clients that were already practicing a digital focus have once again repositioned themselves to stand out among the now new mass of companies. Brands like Deloitte Digital and Johns Hopkins were thrust into new roles in public health and expanded their content-driven initiatives. Sitecore helped them implement deeper content personalization to e-commerce and achieve experience-led growth.
A look into the future
After more than a year since the start of the pandemic, companies are now examining how they can reorient themselves according to the customer experience that often begins online. Brands must continue to modernize their operations and meet the dramatically changed expectations of the customer experience. The kind of customers who were not expected until 2030 have now been around since 2020.
To meet these heightened expectations for exceptional customer experiences, they need a stronger focus on providing the technology and infrastructure for marketers. This will allow them to further optimize their services from content to e-commerce. Customers are more knowledgeable than ever about digital issues. Therefore, it is essential to be flexible enough to serve their needs in an intelligent and integrated way across all channels.
Marketers who were caught cold during the pandemic and didn't have the right technology often struggled to refresh and ramp up their digital capabilities. Soon, we will enter a post-pandemic world of ever-changing consumer expectations and distribution channels - where having the right technology foundation becomes a must for marketers.
* Jill Grozalsky is Product Marketing Director at Sitecore and an expert in digital marketing. She focuses on personalization, user segmentation, testing and complex marketing strategies.