Companies that want to keep customers engaged and coming back for more might need to reconsider their approach to Web content management (WCM), according to technology professionals and IT industry consultants.
Successful WCM practices in the past were siloed and focused primarily on optimizing a website to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time. But experts say today's most forward-thinking organizations have come to understand that effective WCM should serve as the cornerstone for much broader customer experience management (CEM) initiatives.
At first glance, the wedding of WCM and CEM seems like a natural match. WCM tools have evolved to the point where -- given the right information -- they can offer highly personalized, interactive experiences to every visitor to a company website. And CEM is all about delivering personalized experiences and doing what it takes to keep customers engaged for the long term.
But firms that are serious about CEM need to face the challenge of integrating it with other important systems. The process of creating a personalized customer experience requires data about individual users -- and therefore WCM systems need to be tied into customer relationship, email and campaign management systems, and perhaps even external information sources such as social media sites.
"The key to a well-planned Web content management deployment for a rich customer experience and engagement is to stop thinking of it as a [standalone] Web content management deployment," said Tim Walters, an analyst at Digital Clarity Group, a Hyde Park, N.Y., content management research and consulting firm. "It [requires] an organizational shift and very few have accomplished the shift."
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One organization that has made the shift is MLB.com, the New York-based public-facing website for Major League Baseball. MLB.com is in the midst of a multiyear project integrating WCM technology with other systems to broaden and improve the experience of both individual consumers and business customers -- and the effort is already showing results.
MLB.com now boasts the ability to deliver sports highlights just minutes after they occur to visitors to its 30 team sites, Rob Boysko, the manager for multimedia publishing at MLB Advanced Media, said in a recent interview. It's all part of a CEM initiative that aims to put sports fans at the center of the content universe, and the company is taking similar approach with business customers.
MLB.com provides video and other digital assets to Women's NCAA softball, the Glenn Beck television program, the NCAA college basketball championships and others who are continually searching for sports highlights to air on their programs and websites. They acquire the footage via an MLB.com portal that ties a highly customized WCM system to a homegrown digital asset management system and a cloud-based collaboration application. It's created a streamlined communication process that puts the customer company in control.
In both the public-facing aspect of the website and the customer-facing portal, all of the content and collaboration capability is also accessible from mobile devices. MLB.com says it will continue to optimize its CEM strategy and views WCM as one tool toward that end.
Three rules of WCM for CEM
Creating an ideal customer experience should be the goal of any WCM initiative, according to Scott Liewehr, a principal analyst who also works at Digital Clarity Group. He added that the ideal experience will vary from one organization to the next. For example, a banking customer has vastly different expectations than someone shopping for electronics.
But regardless of which industry an organization serves, Liewehr said, there are three rules to follow when planning a WCM initiative that will help ensure an optimized Web presence and successful CEM.
Make sure the WCM system can capture cues from the site visitor. This might include identifying how they navigated to the site, capturing an IP address, or understanding their real-time searching actions on the site. All that information then needs to be associated to the right customer profile.
Make sure the WCM system has the ability to store and manage content that is easily identifiable. Liewehr said this can be accomplished by way of tagged metadata or through some underlying taxonomy created by site content managers.
It also must pair the visitor cues to the appropriate content so it can be displayed to site visitors at the right time based on visitor preference. Site managers can set this up using a commercial CEM add-on or with business rules that the organization's marketing department might have created using a content scoring system.
Digital Clarity Group's Walters added some advice of his own. The analyst warned that launching and maintaining a CEM initiative can be an arduous and lengthy process. But trying to retrofit a CEM strategy to an existing website can be even more difficult.
The best way to go about CEM, Walters said, is to first identify the specific kinds of customer experiences an organization wants to deliver in the short term as well as the new experiences the organization hopes to unveil in the future.
"That informs how you want to optimize and deploy your Web presence," Walters said. "Not the other way around."
WCM history gets in the way of CEM
In its early days, WCM was all about helping organizations create websites that could be updated with static content "without having the webmaster have to do everything," said Mark R. Gilbert, analyst for Stamford, Conn., IT research group Gartner Inc. That was 15 or so years ago. The key now is "to create a more dynamic website and try to understand who's on the website right now."
The most obvious use case is retailers and service providers that want to get site visitors to buy products before leaving the site, Gilbert said. That usually means dealing with cookies to figure out how visitors are moving around the site in an effort to ascertain their actions and habits. But that type of "mass customization" is not the same as the truly personalized experience that CEM tries to establish.
"It's not cheap to do that," Gilbert said, explaining products can range in cost from around $300,000 and up. "You're talking about a WCM system, personalization engine, Web analytics or some other type of customer engagement engine, so it gets expensive, but it is sort of the hot evolution of WCM."
But, he said, one of the big cost justifications is a substantial savings in service calls and other phone calls that companies avoid over time once CEM is in place.
"It's about creating a stickier more valuable user experience," Gilbert said, and then making that value obvious to the site visitor who is always on the lookout for fresh and relevant content via a number of avenues, including personal desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.
Walters points out that, from a mobility perspective, effective CEM strategy doesn't simply worry about getting content on any device, but it can share content on any device in multiple ways. A comprehensive strategy reaches across all touch points, including social networks as well as call centers, seamlessly, he said. "Don't think multichannel, but think in terms of de-channeling."
As for organizations that haven't yet begun the work of real CEM, Walters urged immediate action. "It's getting kind of late, so they better get moving," he said. "The WCM platform should serve not only a rich and optimized Web presence but also a broader customer engagement strategy."
Jonathan Gourlay is site and news editor for SearchContentManagement.com. He manages editorial content production for the site, working with expert contributors as well as writing news and features. Follow him on Twitter @sContentMgmt_TT or email mail him at email@example.com.
This was first published in October 2012