Optimising the online customer experience

Richard Lack, Managing Director EMEA, Gigya, explores the importance of investing in and understanding the user experience for ecommerce.

Customer expectations on the internet have been irrevocably altered by mobile devices, multiple channels, and social experiences. Today, we all reside in the ether. We communicate with loved ones via FaceTime and Skype, we entertain ourselves through listening to Spotify and watching YouTube, and we get our weekly shop through a click of a button. Unhealthy though it would be, we could now live our entire life from the comfort of our sofas.

This paradigm shift in society has been a blessing and a curse for marketers. Yes, it has opened up markets that were previously restricted by geographic‑borders, but it has also meant that businesses are having to sell their wares to faceless, digital entities. At the same time, we have seen consumer patience dwindle, while their expectations for a frictionless personal experience have soared.Customer expectations on the internet have been irrevocably altered by mobile devices, multiple channels, and social experiences. Today, we all reside in the ether. We communicate with loved ones via FaceTime and Skype, we entertain ourselves through listening to Spotify and watching YouTube, and we get our weekly shop through a click of a button. Unhealthy though it would be, we could now live our entire life from the comfort of our sofas.

So how do businesses build relationships with this new breed of customers to garner loyalty and repeat business? As consumer options, touchpoints and expectations grow, retailers must start adopting the strategies, tools and technologies that support the new customer journey. Creating consistent and personal online experiences is imperative to ensuring that consumers are continually engaged.

To help meet these rising expectations and reduce the potential for lost sales and cart abandonment, customer data can and should be properly organised through customer identity management (CIM) solutions.

Exercising business agility

Consumers are demanding that businesses continually update their systems of engagement to keep pace with technology trends. Agility here is key. Lean digital companies including Airbnb, Alibaba and Uber all have the ability to deliver new customer experiences and routes to market quickly. Traditional businesses trying to keep apace often find their legacy technology processes can shackle any ability they have to speedily react to the changing consumer demands brought on by digital transformation.

Moving into 2017, businesses need to transform into data‑driven, customer‑focused, digital enterprises, with a faster pace of innovation and speed to market. It is important to remember that it is not always the best ideas that win, but the quickest to market. This is how Airbnb et al. have been so successful.

On the flipside is those that have remained stuck in the mud. The corporate graveyard is filled with companies that have been out in front but taken their eye off the ball and been ultimately overtaken. HMV, Kodak and RIM Blackberry were all guilty of not reacting quickly enough to changing market conditions and all lost their leadership position seemingly overnight.

Creative user experiences

While consumers appreciate eye‑catching colour schemes and intuitive user flows, chances are, the user experiences (UX) you and they remember have more to do with being engaged in a relevant, timely and straight‑forward fashion. While UX is often approached with a front‑end mind‑set, meaningful customer experiences start on the back‑end, and can be traced back to the core inner workings of business operations, values and goals.

In today’s omni‑channel landscape, as businesses attempt to scale legacy database solutions to manage today’s multi‑channel consumer data, they can end up with a totally disorganised view of their customers rather than maintain a single view of them. In fact, almost 65% of marketers agree that silos within their marketing departments prevent them from having a holistic view of campaigns across channels.

Who is calling the shots?

The wider digital transformation has meant that consumer preferences, both in terms of desired offerings and how they prefer to be engaged with, is a rapidly shifting dynamic with customers now the ones to call the shots. Because of this, the software development lifecycle – itself becoming a more and more frequent necessity because of the prevalence of mobile apps – has a requirement to be more compact than ever before and have agility at its core.

With the market changing at an untold speed, there is a tendency to rush into the functional specifications prior to a detailed business requirements analysis. But it is important for businesses to resist this. The first stage in any digital transformation project – whether on mobile or otherwise – should be a thorough evaluation of the true business requirements and what the end goals should be. This helps errors and gaps being discovered later on during the implementation and testing stage.

And as we have seen recently, high-profile breaches can have a profoundly negatively impact on consumer trust across the board. Because of this, we are seeing that the ability to build and maintain trust with customers has become a major competitive advantage for all businesses and organisations that interact with customers or subscribers online.

Working back to front

It always comes back to the end customer, and as such organisations must keep them front‑of‑mind during all stages of software development lifecycles. One important starting point is for the marketing and IT department to unite to diminish organisational data silos and implement a master database that dynamically aggregates and synchronises data across channels. Only once brands have a single view of the truth when it comes to consumer identity can they begin to create cohesive customer journeys that span today’s multitude of consumer touchpoints. „

SDLC considerations

Adopt an effective CIM system

The globalisation we are seeing means that businesses need to handle large volumes of users. It may be a good problem to have, but is something that needs to be addressed. Trying to re‑purpose legacy identity access management (IAM) systems to manage potentially millions of customer accounts can be cumbersome, difficult to scale, unfit for multichannel strategies and ultimately offer deficient performance; putting off customers. An effective CIM system put in place from the commencement of the software development lifecycle ensures that the relationship between the customer and your organisation is core from the off, fostering trust and repeat business.

Engage through multiple platforms

Through offering the omni‑channel experience across traditional and emerging platforms, businesses now have multiple touchpoints with consumers. By implementing additional platforms with new registration forms and databases means that existing customers will either need to re‑register with the new platform, leading to siloed data, or a complex integration will need to be built to sync identities across platforms. Even then, you can suffer from inconsistent or contradictory data, with more than one version of the truth. In fact, it may be impossible to be sure that two records reflect the same person. CIM technology can unify the customer experience, such as facilitating single sign‑on (SSO) across all user interfaces and allowing the use of existing login credentials when engaging a new site or mobile app for the first time.

Develop structured databases

It is estimated that more than 80% of data is unstructured, and data requirements change frequently. Relational databases struggle to manage non‑uniform attributes, since they require pre‑defined schemas before loading them. The changes required to handle a new data source are cumbersome and result in an over‑complex schema. The fastest and easiest workaround is often to set up a new database, resulting in data siloes and more extract, transform and load (ETL) processes, creating more complexity. However, somewhere within the software development lifecycle, something will inevitably stop working, causing developers to become frustrated enough to leave, or new projects to slow down so much that progress will stop completely.

Keep an eye on registration conversation rate

The registration conversion rate – the rate at which anonymous users are converted into registered customers – is an often overlooked metric, and elegant UX design is the key principle underpinning it. Customers are increasingly craving a personalised user experience. Get the user experience wrong and your customers will opt to stay anonymous, with high rates of shopping cart abandonment, low transaction conversion rates and smaller average order values.

Stay up to date with compliancy regulations

Be mindful of the ever‑growing minefield of compliancy regulations, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), set to take effect in May 2018. It is often difficult for retailers to keep abreast of them, especially when selling cross‑border. As more information becomes available online, privacy regulations have become ever stricter. This increases the importance of security and fraud protection. Unfortunately, the bad guys are getting cleverer each year, as seen by the proliferation of data breach notices over the past 12 months. Make sure your CIM implementation complies with rapidly changing privacy regulations in all the jurisdictions in which you operate from the start of each software development lifecycle.

Creating brand advocates

An effective CIM system helps establish and build the trust necessary to facilitate the data sharing that supports know your customer (KYC) regulations, cross‑marketing capabilities and business intelligence activities, so should be built in from the commencement of the software development lifecycle.

By eschewing the inconsistent or contradictory data proliferating in the online realm, CIM can instead lead to a single view of the customer, even when a business has multiple sites of customer data pertaining to product offerings, marketing campaigns and acquisitions. A CIM strategy provides a unified and comprehensive view of the customer across all forms of contact, turning unknown site visitors into known, loyal and engaged customers that can become your ultimate brand advocates, even when the market shifts again.


Edited for web by Jordan Platt.