Imagine telling someone 25 years ago that it's easier now to buy products, sign up for services and communicate on our computers, mobile phones and even watches than it is to turn on a friend's TV - what with all the different inputs, remotes and streaming devices to sort through. Most of us would have called your bluff, yet that's where we find ourselves today and not to the betterment of everyday digital operations.
The simplicity the Web now affords end-users is the product of the continued efforts of engineers, entrepreneurs, and everyone who contributes and carries out ideas to improve the 'Net. It's difficult for enterprises to keep up, however, with the speed at which technology is launched and marketed to improve website operations - some ignoring new solutions altogether or, on the other end of the spectrum, over-buying, over-optimizing and over-thinking website operations in general. There's a constant state of unbalance and brands would be wise to connect with their digital "chi."
Striking the right balance of operations and optimization is challenging as every generation today is Web savvy, to varying degrees. Navigating a website is so effortless (at least it should be, or it fails to convert) for them that they demand every scenario they encounter to have similar ease.
See if the following situations sound familiar when it comes to user expectations and the operational complexity it adds:
+ Requiring website performance monitoring, a content delivery network, trust indicators (e.g., seals, testimonials, preferred payment types), Web designers and developers, analytics solutions, and any number of offerings and professionals to monitor and optimize user experience
+ Requiring best-of-breed personalization software or an integrated ecommerce system that builds and leverages profiles unobtrusively
+ Requiring robust on-site search options (including filtering, predictive search, personalized results), live chat software, customer service strategies and staff (and/or bots), ratings software and an online community
+ Requiring an ecommerce platform that enables omnichannel management, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, an order management solution, return procedures, and shipping strategies to avoid cutting into profits by offering free and flexible shipping
+ Requiring a responsively designed website and a Web experience management solution
+ Requiring translation software and a content management system (CMS)
+ Requiring a CMS, writers, personalization software, ratings and reviews, a community of engaged advocates, a knowledge base and videos
+ Requiring a referral program, a loyalty rewards program, a customer relationship management (CRM) system and gamification elements
Even the basics of website operations - hosting, availability, security, analytics, optimization, acquisition, retention - take incredible decision-making, manpower, resources and software. Adding in some of the complicated user scenarios mentioned above, and a company's technology portfolio keeps growing. As it grows, of course so do time, money and risk (think of the many entry points hackers now have through third-party vendors, the integrations that need to be created and maintained for new technology choices or even offending an entire population by using low-quality translation software that doesn't pick up on cultural nuances).
In other words, end-users' expectations and past experiences of websites operating simply is creating incredible IT complexity requiring organizations find the right balance of what they buy and who spends time doing what. Take marketing technology as an example.
Scott Brinker's annual "supergraphic" of the landscape showed roughly 3,500 market technology solutions in 2016 (only 150 were included in 2011). For greater perspective, that's double the vendors even since 2015 alone. Plenty of companies included in the list - from Adobe to Zendesk - can aid in the quest to provide an intuitive, frictionless and personalized website experience but deciding among the solutions is difficult at best.
As larger, enterprise-focused vendors expand their product lines organically or via acquisition to become integrated systems (e.g., SAP/Hybris, Oracle/NetSuite, Salesforce/Demandware, Episerver/Ektron or even internally like SDL Content/SDL Language), a decision must be made to abandon ship from smaller vendors offering the functionality that a company's current vendor may offer with a system upgrade. Other options include staying with best-of-breed solutions and continually looking into emerging, often less expensive software-as-a-service (SaaS) type offerings.
If a tech portfolio was a family's budget, the SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, IBM and Adobes of the world would be the mortgage. See other line items at wsm.co/housetech.
Technology can fuel an end-user's experience. It's not, however, in charge of it. Much of how Web professionals operate daily fuels their company's sales, service and standings, yet there are distractions that can sabotage success.
Let's look at some major distractions as told to Website Magazine by Qubit's VP of Product Marketing Jay McCarthy:
Marketers often spend too much time testing cosmetic changes to Web experiences; the most impactful changes to customer experiences are the ones that address the user's fundamental flow or perception of the experience. Cosmetic changes like button colors, etc., have very little incremental value.
Analysis paralysis is still pervasive. The amount of analytics reporting presented to marketing teams is not only overwhelming and has been for some time, but is usually counterproductive. If one was to ask themselves what would they do with the knowledge gained by fully comprehending one of the typical reports, most would agree that they can't really take action off most of their reporting data.
Servicing a non-existent sales funnel. Many marketers have not yet come to grips with modern consumer behavior and how they interact with their content, product information and competitors in a way which can no longer be thought of as a linear path.
Continuing the one-size-fits-all mentality. Many marketers don't spend enough time considering their customer journeys, states and segments. A disproportionate amount of time is spent on blanket marketing activities.
Distractions are a natural consequence of websites being at the center of operations for many companies. To balance it all, it's imperative to go back and ask: what is this company trying to do and for whom?
What are its immediate and long-term goals and how are the efforts - of everyone from customer service to the CEO - helping meet those objectives? Regardless of individual answers to this question, knowing who is at the heart of the company (the customer) is key. Often companies lose focus of who they're operating and in business for. Who is the optimal target and how can we develop and deliver a plan to operate for them?
Consider audience segmentation as the first step. Whether it's to send more relevant emails, deliver more engaging social posts or present a website experience to match the context of their visit, audience segmentation helps companies move "from a blanket approach to a far more targeted and relevant experience delivery model," according to McCarthy.
Qubit believes that old-fashioned testing (e.g., A/B), optimization or personalization initiatives are wasting a company's time. In other words, fueling distractions and taking them away from their inner chi.
The digital experience platform offered by Qubit, for example, allows brands to deliver on customer expectations while driving higher lifetime value (LTV) in the process by emphasizing the quality of the visitor segmentation and how dynamic it is. The segments can be automatically discovered through machine learning or easily defined through known customer attributes (like self-reported data or previous website behaviors) and change dynamically as the customer changes.
If there is one way to find balance in website operations in 2017, it's to identify, inform and influence a target audience (e.g., highest website converters, those with the highest LTV, etc.) as well as adapt as they adapt and deliver experiences for them based on the context of their visit. Every decision should be based on this target audience - the type of content developed, the software being leveraged, the expectations attempting to be met, the frequency at which they are sent promotions. The laundry list of user scenarios mentioned earlier is only important as it relates to the target audience.
Bots, for instance, will dominate the conversation around customer service this year (for their ability to help organizations save time answering routine customer questions and meet the 24/7 customer service expectations that people have), yet new data from LivePerson indicates consumers only trust bots for certain tasks.
For example, 52.4 percent of respondents would trust a text bot to assist in recommending a restaurant, but only 12.4 percent would trust a text bot to assist in finding and applying for a credit card. Likewise, 30.5 percent wouldn't trust a text bot to assist with anything (booking a flight, recommending a restaurant, finding and applying for a credit card, ordering a new phone, purchasing a new outfit), and only 5.1 percent would trust a bot give legal advice.
Even though brands may feel the pressure to step into artificial intelligence this year, bots, in particular, aren't for every company. A legal enterprise may want to pass, particularly those serving more mature audiences who tend to have higher distrust in non-human customer service already.
Focus on these essential steps at wsm.co/netnamaste.
It is not, however, always the audience that puts pressure on a brand to change. A company seeing most of their website traffic arrive from desktop devices (versus mobile), for example, still needs to adapt to external changes that could impact their visibility on the search engines. Not being "mobile friendly," for example, could impact all areas of an enterprise's operation because of Google's penalty for sites that don't adapt to the devices of users. In short, keep an eye not just on a target audience's expectations but also industry-wide developments that impact experience.
Technology will continue to develop at a pace that will be difficult to keep up with for enterprises. While it is crucial brands don't get left behind, there's only so much time in the day and money in the bank. To operate at their highest level, companies need to focus on their target audience and develop, optimize and purchase solutions based on their needs. By doing so, it is possible to strike a balance within website operations.