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TechBytes with Ed Kennedy, Sr. Director of Commerce, Episerver

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Ed Kennedy, Sr. Director of Commerce at Episerver

Ed Kennedy
Sr. Director of Commerce at Episerver

Earlier this year, Episerver published a report, “Reimgaining Commerce.” We spoke to Ed Kennedy, Sr. Director of Commerce at Episerver, to understand how businesses should prepare to provide experiences beyond transactions.

Tell us about your role at Episerver and the team/technology you handle.

I’m the Senior Director of Commerce at Episerver where I’m responsible for working with B2C retailers and brands and B2B manufacturers and distributors on their digital commerce experiences. On any given day, I connect with partners and customers who are using the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud to deliver business results and help plan out beta customer participation. Working at a global company, I get the opportunity to collaborate with people from many different cultures and backgrounds from North America, Australia, Vietnam, and throughout Europe.

Episerver connects digital commerce and digital marketing to help organizations create unique digital experiences for their customers, with measurable business results through a combination of content, commerce, multi-channel marketing and predictive analytics in a single platform to work full-circle for businesses online.

How do you define ‘Customer Experience’ at Episerver?

Customer Experience is a broad topic that includes any interaction a customer has with an organization — whether digital or human. Today, this includes an emphasis on the digital experience that organizations deliver to customers. There are many elements that factor into online customer experience — from product recommendations to personalized search results to one-click checkout and omnichannel options — customers interact with brands across a variety of channels and touchpoints, which together form the modern customer experience.

At Episerver, we understand that each individual experience is different and discovering and browsing specific products play a role in the customer journey. Combining customer data with personalization tools is the way to create engaging, personalized experiences that keep users coming back and loyal to your brand.

What is the ‘State of Customer Experience Management’ in Omnichannel Marketing?

Omnichannel marketing is all about delivering an integrated customer experience, as customers aren’t always coming to a retailer’s website to purchase. In fact, our latest report found that 92 percent of first-time visitors to a website do not intend to make a purchase. With that in mind, focusing on customer experience allows brands to present the best, most personalized experience to customers so they want to return again and again. Marketers need to improve earlier stages in the customer journey, including discovery and research stages of online shopping, preparing for omni-device usage and integrating their digital marketing with their e-commerce websites.

Based on your latest report, titled, “Reimagining Commerce,” how should businesses prepare to provide experiences beyond transactions?

Businesses have the chance to use experiences in their favor, but only if they can provide them beyond basic transactions. Focusing too much attention to conversions blinds brands from engagement opportunities that exist throughout the entire online customer journey. In order to prepare, brands must work to determine why shoppers are visiting in the first place. Among the shopper must-haves, efficient product search functions, concise information about products and returns, and personalized recommendations are what drives customers when making purchasing decisions.

Another way that brands can work to identify future investment opportunities through experiences is by determining where online shopping has disappointed consumers in the past. While there are a few different “disappointments,” the biggest is an inability for shoppers to find the information they’re looking for. For example, when consumers were asked why they left a brand’s website/mobile app without making a purchase, the top reasons for abandonment included a lack of product, store or brand information. Investing in the improvement of such functions makes for a better experience.

How do online experiences impact brand perceptions? Could you provide an industry/customer case here?

As a result of today’s borderless e-commerce landscape, online experiences can have a major impact on brand perception. With the internet and advancement in shopping technologies, online shopping has been integrated into a consumer’s daily life.

Shopping is just as much about the experience as it is the purchase, therefore, a poor online experience can result in negative brand perception. The absence of ‘must-haves’ such as easy-to-use search functions, personalization or product information makes for a disappointed customer. Personalization especially is a major influencer in perception and over a third of shoppers (35 percent) feel brands do not care enough about personalizing their shopping experiences, causing them to feel disappointed (32 percent), frustrated (16 percent) and distrustful (12 percent).

I am particularly impressed with what native online retailers such as NA-KD have done to integrate product inspiration into their social media channels and translating this inspiration into purchases.

At Episerver, how do you verify the authenticity of online data? How does it impact your ability to build better recommendations for marketers?

At Episerver, we value the use of authentic online data and have a strategic process in ensuring that it is in fact authentic. We use Episerver Social, a cloud API, to gather, manage, and deliver user-generated content of any kind whether it be reviews, photos, or posts to a discussion group. It also makes it possible to capture website or e-commerce site data, reliably stores it, delivers it and then makes it easy to set up custom moderation flows.

User-generated content positively impacts our ability to give better recommendations because it helps build brand and customer relationships over the long term. In many instances, it helps highlight useful content and removes or hides less valuable content allowing visitors to rate content submitted by other visitors.

How do modern marketers differentiate between UX and CX? How are these two interrelated in a mobile-first ecosystem?

User Experience (UX) is a discipline all organizations must develop and utilize which contributes to effective Customer Experience (CX). Marketers committed to Customer Experience excellence must connect many well thought-out user experiences to create a continuous, frictionless online journey. While creating a good experience for your organization’s users is still a priority, the concept of CX goes even deeper to paint a more complete picture of customer interactions.

CX and UX are interrelated in a digital ecosystem where mobile leads because of the increasing popularity of smartphones. Shoppers are becoming more comfortable using different devices during each stage of the online buyer’s journey, with 29 percent of people browsing for purchases on their smartphones daily, and half are doing so weekly. It’s important that brands start to offer mobile responsive websites and location-based marketing strategies to deliver the ultimate UX and CX.

Overall, CX should offer customers a seamless experience (across all devices) throughout the entire customer lifecycle, while UX should be device-specific.

How would you define personalization, segmentation, optimization and automation at various stages of your digital campaigns?

Personalization, segmentation, optimization and automation play an important role in various stages of a digital campaign. Personalization is key in any good campaign and involves identifying individual users in order to personalize their experience by providing pathways relevant to them. Offering consumers a one-of-a-kind experience every time they interact with a brand can boost customer loyalty and drive sales.

Segmentation and optimization are also important components of a digital campaign. Using a combination of personalization and predictive analytics in real time allows brands to predict exactly what motivates a buyer to purchase and offers highly accurate recommendations and relevant promotions at the right moment. By combining customer data, behavioral data, and Machine Learning algorithms, brands can characterize individual consumer experiences while maximizing their resources.

Automation is extremely important at various stages of a digital campaign. It can be used to develop, execute, and manage each aspect of the campaign and is a way to ensure that things run effectively and at a quick rate. Automation allows brands to use personalization according to market segments to maximize the efficiency of not only the team but lead quality and quantity as well.

Why do marketers find it hard to attribute customer success to experience management? What are your recommendations to overcome these challenges?

Improvements in customer experience are difficult to attribute because customer experience is a practice that must be embedded within an organization’s culture to be successful and many organizations do not have reliable, high-quality analytics, which clearly shows the success of modifications to the customer experience.

The challenge of embedded customer experience philosophies and practices into an organization is a challenge digital leaders must embrace and tackle. Soft skills, rigorous program management, and executive alignment all play a factor.

Quality data can support the development of a customer-first organization. Many organizations are moving beyond session-based analytics solutions such as Google Analytics to implementing a Customer Data Platform (CDP), which captures and stores richer and higher quality data to analyze which customer journeys are successful and why. Episerver has worked over several years to develop a CDP, which underpins all experiences our platform delivers to users across web, mobile, email, paid search, and social. With Episerver Insight, organizations can capture, store, and analyze detailed customer interactions including what content a consumer engaged with on a page and link journeys between channels by merging mobile, desktop, and email profiles.

Quite often we see that marketers find it hard to attribute customer success to experience management because they focus too heavily on transactions and are not accounting for shoppers’ diverse shopping expectations. Brands are also unable or unwilling to prioritize the online shopping experience, which is causing them to fall short when it comes to meeting shoppers’ needs.

Overcoming these challenges is simple — craft experiences that shoppers will love. Top priorities can include perks that make the shopping process smoother, free shipping and package tracking or technical assurances like a fast website. These must-haves can easily be implemented as long as brands pay close attention during the personalized research process.

How do you leverage AI/ML and data science at Episerver? What AI companies are you particularly interested in?

The use of AI and ML is rapidly advancing beyond its initial purpose: personalization. Utilizing personalized and scalable conversations with consumers is an essential part to understanding consumer habits, context, and intent to better predict and provide the engaging content that users crave.

We understand that AI/ML is becoming more and more sophisticated, which is why at Episerver we offer Episerver Personalization, an intelligent personalization suite of products available in the cloud with a simple SaaS subscription. We combine Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Statistical Analysis to deliver unique content to give each visitor a highly relevant and engaging experience on any website or mobile site.

The next frontier for organizations committed to improving customer experience (and the technology vendors that support them) is the use of Predictive Analytics, which use pattern recognition to predict which consumers will respond favorably to specific promotions, content, or product recommendations to assist organizations in further optimizing their customer journeys. Episerver has been working closely with the Microsoft Cognitive Services team to develop predictive models that tell brands and retailers which consumers are most likely to purchase on their next visit.

I’m paying close attention to Amazon’s deployment of Predictive Purchasing, which they received a patent for in 2015. When AI/ML is able to predict what I’m going to buy before I buy it, we will enter a new stage of customer experiences.

Thanks for chatting with us, Ed Kennedy.

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