Optimizing Content Delivery Through Digital Transformation
The Digital Revolution occurred between the 1950s and the 1970s, a time in which technology moved from mechanical and analog to digital. Since that time, consumers have become accustomed to new ways of operating, from pagers and fax machines to digital cameras and computers to cell phones and now smart devices that do it all in the palm of a hand.
Today, we talk about Digital Transformation as if it’s a novel concept. What we’re really talking about is transforming from one flavor of digital to another, and that evolution will never end. Just as the Walkman to the iPod to an app that streams music, there will always be the next digital conversion we need to make. We must adopt a Darwinian process to Digital Transformation – it’s not just about remaining relevant, it’s about survival. Brands that can adapt will outlive brands that cannot.
Delivering content through a digital transformation requires a balancing act. On one side are consumers’ expectations. On the other side, content management needs. Content strategists must navigate these two often opposing sets of requirements to scale a positive customer experience through digital transformation.
Consumers today are savvy, and their expectations change. As Jeff Bezos stated in his 2017 Letter to Shareholders, “One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s 'ordinary'. I see that cycle of improvement happening at a faster rate than ever before.
”This focus on the ever-changing needs of the customer made Amazon the powerhouse that it is today, and that powerhouse is driving consumer expectations for the rest of us. As this evolution occurs, it’s important to keep in mind four primary customer expectations today.
A successful digital transformation today focuses first on contextual relevance.
According to Forbes, “As buyers move through on their journey, what is relevant to them changes. In fact, it changes at each step of the buyers’ journey. Relevance is defined by the situation, pressures, and feelings the buyer has at each step; in other words, it’s contextual. It applies as much to information as it does to actions taken.” In fact, consumers today expect that the content you deliver to them is not only relevant to where they are in the journey, but also to where they live and work, their role, their past behaviors, and their situation.
"Contextual relevance is about having empathy and delivering on customer needs and wants,” according to Tim Hayden, President of Brain+Trust Partners. “Being acutely familiar with preferences and a person's disposition is not always accessible at every moment, but technology today makes it possible to have all pertinent information about products, services and individual customers available to meet their expectations and respect their time and trust.
”The COVID pandemic and the economic ramifications of it have propelled millions of people into entirely different situations than they were in before mask-wearing was the hottest political topic around. A year ago, companies in the U.S. wouldn’t have fathomed the need for a face mask policy. Today’s reality means companies have lost customers for not requiring patrons to wear face masks and others have lost customers for requiring face masks. This seemingly no-win situation for retail operations shows just how quickly context can shift.
Demographics such as age, race, household income and number of children might apply to contextual relevance as well. If information only applies to a specific age bracket (e.g. AARP registration instructions), then segment by age. But, assuming that people in older age brackets are less technical – as was regular practice for tech writers in the 90s (myself included) – is notacceptable today. Why? Aside from the obvious risk of discrimination, it’s simply not true today. Dumbing down instructions for certain age brackets is not helpful, bringing us to the next basic expectation consumers have of digital content today.
Consumers today will not tolerate fluff. Even marketers, who used to be geniuses at creating amazing fluff y content, recognize that customers today expect content to be helpful. How do we know what is helpful? Well, to a certain degree, contextual relevance impacts whether content gets to the people who will find it helpful – content that was helpful pre-COVID might not be helpful post-COVID – but that’s just a start. Contextually relevant unhelpful content is annoying at best, and creepy at worst. For example, when Starbucks gives me a free drink on my birthday, that’s helpful because it feeds my caffeine addiction (others may suggest that this is actually not helpful, but I’m still in denial, so I find it helpful). But, when an eye doctor I met one time – and barely remember – sent me a happy birthday text, I didn’t appreciate it because it wasn’t helpful. Imagine how annoying it would be if every practitioner you ever saw sent you a text on your birthday! So, although your digital transformation will empower you to personalize just about everything, be intentional and choose opportunities to tailor experiences in ways that are helpful.
One of the most helpful experiences with digital content I’ve had in the past year came from an app created by Brooks shoes. The Shoe Finder app promises that “In 5 minutes or less, Brooks Shoe Finder will identify the right running shoe for your workout.” It asks questions that are easy answer about terrain, training goals, and injuries. Then it asks you to take off your shoes, walk around, and look at your feet. It doesn’t ask if you pronate or supinate. It gives simple instruction, then tells you whether you need a neutral shoe or one weighted inward or outward. It doesn’t ask if you have stable joints. Instead, it asks you to stand on one leg and report what happens, then it tells you what kind of stability you require. Of course, if you want to know more about the science, there’s a “Behind the Science” link to learn more. I love Brooks shoes, and the content provided by this app helps me to ensure that I will always buy the right shoes for me and for my entire family, making me a Brooks fan for life.
I used to sell shoes (many decades ago), and I like to think I was a very helpful shoe salesperson (I’m not overly confident that’s true, but I certainly tried hard!) Even as a recovered shoe seller, I appreciate Brooks the Shoe Finder app because it means I can serve myself without engaging a version of the possibly helpful younger me.
There was a time when it was true to say, “people just want to contact support”. Today, that’s a copout. It may be true that, when it comes to certain companies, customers have given up hope of solving their own issues, but it’s never good practice to blame customers for the company’s lack of ability to revolutionize the customer experience. I’ve talked to a lot of companies trying to create a self-serve culture with their customers and, almost always, the root cause of failure is lack of collaboration between internal departments. If you’re nodding your head and saying, “I could solve this problem if all customers enter the experience through my team’s portal,” then you’re missing the point.
Consider banking – as a consumer, you can now do 95% of your banking online. While ATMs used to be the standard for self-service check deposits, now you can just snap a pic and upload it using your smart phone. But this digital transformation in banking didn’t eradicate ATMs. Banks know that customers should be able to do all of their banking in the way they prefer on any given day. And whether they are talking to a teller, stepping up to an ATM, or using an app on their smart phone, customers want access to all banking features right there.
Likewise, for content to enable customers to truly self-serve, both the content and the experience must be available in any channel your customer chooses to come through. Whether your customer is in your CRM, your community, your doc portal, or your .com site, empower them to find helpful, contextually relevant content in the channel they are already in.
Companies that master contextually relevant, helpful self-service content gain the ultimate currency of consumers today. Consumers buy from companies they trust. “The more fluid and frictionless your brand's experiences are, the more trust that may be established with each and every customer,” says Hayden. “We have more ways of sharing data and insights between disparate operations today than ever before. Implementing a customer data platform (CDP) and building a central source of insights across all business units is a plausible way to achieve such a unified view and clarity.
”Other content-related drivers of trust include accuracy, security, authenticity and consistency. Accuracy might seem obvious, but it’s important to note that grammatical accuracy of product content may or may not be as important as providing the right answer, depending on the product. If you work for a company that sells “the perfect experience” (think fancy cars), then a misspelled word and a phrase that is off brand are unacceptable. On the other hand, if the content tells engineers how to install a product on a server, precision of the instruction trumps proper grammar every time.
In any digital transformation, security is at the top of executives’ minds because it’s paramount for customers. While customers appreciate the contextually relevant, helpful self-service experience, they won’t accept a breach in their data to realize it.
Authenticity becomes increasingly important as generations go by. In a survey, 80% of baby boomers and 85% of Gen X said authenticity is important to them when deciding which brands they support. “An overwhelming 90% of Millennials say brand authenticity is important, proving that younger consumers prefer 'real and organic' over 'perfect and packaged'.” What makes content authentic? Authentic content adheres to and even clarifies the values of the company, matches the brand voice, and, most importantly, is believable.
I learned firsthand the importance of consistency in building and maintaining trust. In extensive customer research at Amazon, we polled the sellers of Amazon on potential trust busters of content – accuracy, helpfulness, consistency, and engagement. By far, the biggest content-related impact on trust was consistency (both between different sets of content and between help content vs what agents stated). How can consistency be more impactful than accuracy? Well, when information is inconsistent, customers assume that one set of information must be right and others must be wrong, but they don’t know which one to believe. So, inconsistency implies some level of inaccuracy, while causing the customer to scratch a fact-finding lottery ticket to see if they win or lose.
While customers’ expectations may change over time, the need for content teams to adapt to those needs won’t change. Content teams need to constantly evolve the customer experience, while increasing productivity, often with flat – or even shrinking – headcount. How can content teams create a unified self-service experience while optimizing the volume and quality of content they deliver?
First, and most important – don’t try to do it alone. People across your organization are creating valuable content. The customer experience isn’t driven by marketing or technical writers or support or developers. It’s driven by all of the above. Embrace content silos and find a way to unify the experience across all content without shutting down the valuable insights coming from other teams.
Second, empower content developers from all departments to work in the tools they are comfortable using. Technical writers author in XML, developers in markdown, support in their CRM knowledge base, and marketing in a web CMS? No problem. Do not ask support and marketing to author in XML or markdown… it just won’t work. Instead, use a global taxonomy and tools that support content creation from multiple sources. Keep your content creators productive by empowering them to work in what ever tools they find comfy.
Third, ensure fresh, relevant content on all channels that customers may come through. Forcing customers to enter through one channel is unrealistic. Federated search across content silos is good, yet insufficient if it means linking customers from one platform and content type to another. Customers want answers on a specific topic. They don’t care what content type it is, so don’t force them to choose up front whether they want to search knowledge base articles, product documentation or training content. Deliver federated search results from every source to every channel, and then allow them to filter by content type, if they feel it’s important.
Hayden believes the secret to building a frictionless customer experience goes beyond bringing in a powerful reporting tool. “I've always thought that business leaders across disparate customer-facing teams should regularly meet over coffee or lunch,” said Hayden, “to build unity and internal empathy which can externally build trust with customers.
”By evolving your content delivery practices, embracing content silos, and serving content in multiple channels, you will future-proof your content processes, while building trust with contextually relevant, helpful self-service content.
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This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Best Practices – a publication of CIDM.