The future of the digital customer experience: 6 Experimentation trends for disruptive businesses in 2019

9 min. read  | Last updated: October 18th, 2018
Reading Time: 9 minutes

You are the catalyst for future growth.

This past September, hundreds of specialists at organizations across industry verticals flocked to at #Opticon18, the largest experimentation conference in North America; and it was clear; the driving force is you—the Optimization Champion.

Experimentation as a strategy for future business evolution and innovation is happening now.

The most successful organizations are experimenting (or at least planning to!) across all customer touchpoints. Because customer experience is king.

To keep pace, you’ll need to stay on the pulse of what’s happening with experimentation: new tech and tool developments, the latest strategies for scaling experimentation, and the emerging trends that will define your business in the future.

Because your ability to adapt will lay the foundation for the radical change that is set to happen in the business world:

The next 10 years will generate an order of magnitude more change than we have seen in the last 10 years.

Brian Hopkins, Ted Schadler, and James McCormick
Authors of Forrester's report, “The Insights-Driven Business”

In 2019, you will want to accelerate your strategy with these six experimentation trends that will pave the future of your digital customer experience:

Trend 1: The currency of business insights

Customer data, machine learning algorithms, the latest technology stack—no technological development is worth implementing if you can’t leverage that data into business insights.

Business insights are the valuable intel that allows you to experiment and evolve. To innovate and proliferate your learnings across your entire organization.

Data is the red blood of an insights-driven business—there can never be enough flowing in the veins. Look always to tap more—and more relevant—data.

Brian Hopkins, Ted Schadler, and James McCormick

Your ability to accelerate the speed and transmission of insights across different teams is the currency of the future. Business insights will underpin the radical change we will see in the next 10 years.

Data analytics and software enable these organizations to sift through an immense amount of information to glean transferable insights.


Because this trend hinges on human intelligence: the ability to accumulate a large quantity of quality data sources and to be able to glean actionable insights.

Insights that reveal something about your systems and processes, your product or services, and especially your customer:

Insights-driven businesses bring insight, not just data, into every decision, and they know exactly how to use them for greatest advantage across the entire customer life cycle. For these firms, digital insights and what they do with them are their secret weapons to disrupt your market and steal your customers.

Brian Hopkins, Ted Schadler, and James McCormick

But more importantly, the most successful organizations will find ways to close the loop—bring insights forward and experiment with them at different touchpoints.

Insights-Driven Experimentation
The flow of insights drives your experimentation program, maximizing your organizational learning capacity.

You must democratize your data and insights so anyone in the organization can harness them for an improved customer experience.

At Uber, for instance, 50% of their employees have access to an insights database which helps to inform their decision making on a daily basis, according to the Forrester report.

Because information is power.

There are many things that you need to get right to create internal alignment and scale insights across the enterprise. However the most important is having the executive team demanding this approach and a top-down strategy guiding the synchronization of teams around a common practice.

James McCormick

But this is a challenge for any traditional, non-agile organization.


In fact, Brian Hopkins, Ted Schadler and James McCormick predict that insights-driven businesses will grow eight times faster than the projected 3.5% global GDP Growth.

More granularly, their predictions include that insights-driven public companies will grow 27% annually and startups will grow 40%.

But this might not be possible without the top-level support of changed processes and systems.

What processes and protocol can you document to ensure that business insights are spread throughout your organization?

A Marketer’s take on this trend

The dissemination of insights is crucial if you really want to move your organization forward. The learnings you generate from experimentation can’t live in a single team – particularly those insights about your customer’s emotional states and contexts. Because these insights can most likely be applied and tested at many touch points throughout your business.

Now is the time to figure out what systems you need in place to ensure the right people have access to insights from data, experimentation, and customer research. This may be as simple as an experiment insights archive, or it may require a more intentional dissemination effort.

Natasha Wahid
Marketing Lead

Resources to get you started…

Trend 2: The cross-organizational experimentation mindset

Thomas Edison would be thrilled to be alive today, if we could see the stuff that is really going on, the stuff that you are all doing.

Stefan Thomke
Professor at Harvard Business School

It’s not a surprise that Forrester analysts predict unprecedented growth for insights-driven businesses in the next decade. Experimentation refines ideas into validated insights, evolving the digital customer experience.

And with more organizations adopting the experimentation mindset of testing and learning across every department, the ability to generate and leverage business insights increases exponentially.

In the next 10 years, we will see widespread adoption of experimentation across all touch points to validate all marketing activity and focus our limited time and resources on the high-impact areas.

Nick So
Director of Strategy

The future of the digital customer experience is through experimentation. In the next 10 years, you will see more and more organizations experimenting across every customer touchpoint, in order to optimize their entire journey.


Your first step is to de-silo experimentation in your organization. Instead of relegating experimentation as a side-strategy, organizations will need to implement the structures and processes to enable experimentation in every team.

Learn how…

To become a true experimentation organization, you need scale and scope. Scale is about running many experiments and scope is about getting all groups across an organization to participate in experiments.

The most successful organizations are already on board with cross-organizational experimentation. According to Stefan Thomke, at organizations like P&G, Uber, Airbnb, or Bing, experimentation is going on at all times.

Any point in time, there’s billions and trillions of variations,” explains Stefan Thomke. “And by the way, the success rate at Bing, alone, is only 10-20% of what they try.

WiderFunnel High Velocity Experimentation Examples
Real-world examples of experimentation at scale
The most successful organizations are experimenting at a high velocity, gathering insights from both winning and losing variations.

And despite a low win-rate, these organizations are investing in experimentation as their cross-organizational strategy. Because it’s not about winning or losing — that’s thinking too small, too immediate.

That’s because experimentation competency across their organization is their competitive advantage.

They are testing large-scale and high-velocity because they involve every team, every department. Experimentation is all about gathering business insights.

At its peak maturity, experimentation is a cultural mindset that spans across organizational departments, marketing channels, and throughout executive management.

Chris Goward
In his #Opticon18 presentation, “You are the catalyst: Optimization Champions’ keys to success”

So where do you get started? We’ve got it figured out.

The 5 pillars of an effective experimentation program

Cross-organization experimentation requires a scaling strategy. It requires focused intention, a multi-pronged approach to your process, your metrics, your culture, your expertise, and your tech stack.

Based on years of analysis of experimentation programs, and through surveying Optimization Champions at organizations all over North America in “State of Experimentation Maturity 2018“, we’ve identified what makes the most successful programs gain traction across departments, across activities.

And it’s called the PACET framework.

The PACET Framework

WiderFunnel PACET framework for scaling experimentation
WiderFunnel's PACET Framework
By focusing on the five core pillars of process, accountability, culture, expertise, and technology, you can scale and mature your experimentation program.

Our findings informed Widerfunnel’s framework: PACET. And it includes these five pillars:

Process

This pillar includes an organization’s experimentation protocol and methodology, process for ideation and prioritization, experiment design, and measurement of success.

Accountability

The most mature organizations keep process and accountability at the core of their experimentation strategy, fuelling how experiments are developed, and results are analyzed, understood, and leveraged.

Culture

Culture is crucial when defining experimentation maturity: Does your organization celebrate testing and learning? Are people encouraged to try (and fail) and try again?

This pillar includes organizational buy-in for experimentation, program support from the C-level, and cross-team participation in an experimentation program.

Expertise

An experimentation program needs expertise and resources. The amount of time and full-time team members dedicated to experimentation is reflective of an organization’s maturity.

This pillar includes people and skill sets: strategists, analysts, designers, developers, project managers, product owners, third-party partners, as well as hours dedicated to experimentation.

Technology

Experimentation maturity requires a well-rounded technology stack. Experimentation and personalization tools, visitor engagement tools, customer data tools, project management tools. Mature organizations have the right tools in place to ensure they can develop the best possible hypotheses and have reliable data.

Your first step is to evaluate how developed each of these core pillars are within your organization, so you can set your sights on your future growth.

Trend 3: Empowered product experimentation

Experimentation has become the product. Your product is the culmination of user feedback and quantitative data tied to your business goals. And experimentation is the engine that brings it all together to validate the way forward.

Ralph Chochlac
Director of Product at Student Brands

Just as James McCormick mentioned, your experimentation program’s scale and scope are essential for driving your future growth. If you are considering how to grow your program, empowered product experimentation should be your next step.

There are numerous untapped opportunities:

Server-side experimentation has really opened up what is possible with product experimentation. Allowing development teams to build experimentation directly into their sprints and workflows,” clarifies Thomas Davis, Full Stack Developer at WiderFunnel.

WiderFunnel Experimentation in Product Development Cycle
The product lifecycle
You can experiment deeper into your stack with product experimentation, including with machine learning algorithms, log-in states, and more.

But besides the ability to experiment throughout the development lifecycle, you also have the opportunity to maximize your digital customer experience by building off the value that is already created.

Successful product managers create an experience that delights, an experience that meets the customer’s emotional needs and states in the context of your product. And continuous and iterative experimentation makes certain that you are moving toward this end goal.

You can heighten the positive emotions that your customer experiences, and minimize the friction points to make it more sticky.

And that experimentation mindset will be critical to ensuring the longevity of your product in the marketplace.

A Developer’s take on the trend

Nothing is more frustrating than building out a fully integrated feature that has a negative effect on the business. Product experimentation stops developers wasting time building out fully polished features that will just be rolled back.

Thomas Davis
Full Stack Developer

A must-read article…

Trend 4: The evolution of the Digital Experience Stack

Delivering exceptional customer experiences at scale is high-pressure for the disruptive business leader. It’s a fast-paced market and they know they have to keep up.

Marketing is a “jack-of-all-trades” discipline,” explains Sergiy Bondarenko, Marketing Operations Analyst at WiderFunnel.

Marketers need to be specialists have to be experts in copywriting, sales, design, psychology, web technology, app technology, SEO, paid traffic acquisition and demand generation, social media, public relations, etc.

Naturally, there isn’t a single person who can excel in all these disciplines. This is where many tool vendors come in, promising to “fill gaps”, and marketers fall into the trap thinking a tool can replace skills.

When it comes to technology, gone are the days of finding that traditional one-tool solution. These legacy suites evolve slowly, delivering mediocre results across the board. At that pace, how could you ever stand out amongst your competitors?

Insights-driven businesses are 137% more likely to differentiate with data and analytics.

James McCormick
In his Opticon 18 presentation, “Building An Experience Optimization Architecture”

But implementing new tools and technologies without an overarching martech strategy will lead to poor results as well.

Since 2007, we have gone from ~150 martech vendors to over ~7,000 in 2018. Unsurprisingly, marketers are now suffering from the “shiny object” syndrome—every new tool promises to solve every problem there is, and if it’s trendy, then it’s almost an obligation to work it into the existing workflow—or risk being seen as a laggard.

Sergiy Bondarenko
Marketing Operations Analyst

The new Digital Experience Stack is an innovative solution, particularly for those disruptive businesses that want the best of the tech worlds.

WiderFunnel The Digital Experience Stack DXS
Some of the best-in-class tools have partnered to create The Digital Experience Stack (DXS). Source: Optimizely.

And it ensures you have the well-rounded technology stack to empower your organization’s experimentation at scale.

If you have 100 tools that are fragmented, don’t have an open API, and are sparsely used, then you have a problem on your hands,” states Sergiy Bondarenko.

Firstly, team productivity and happiness will suffer. This will eventually trickle down into underperforming operational metrics and will have a negative impact on the KPIs.

A bloated martech stack also means a bloated budget, and you never want to have a bloated marketing budget—it creates tension and a lack of trust with organizational leaders like CEO and CFO.

And no organization wants that.

An Optimization Strategist’s take on the trend

The digital experience stack is a great approach that enables businesses to work with a diverse range of best-in-class technologies, and enables technology companies to continue to focus on their area of expertise. Collaboration, not competition, to better support the industry as a whole.

James Flory
Optimization Strategist

Trend 5: The re-framing of personalization

Experimentation ensures that businesses are innovating and evolving. But, it doesn’t mean that it is a separate strategy. It is the underpinning methodology of getting any and every strategy right.

Personalization is just one technique within the methodology of experimentation.

It’s not one or the other.

So, your experimentation team shouldn’t be siloed from your personalization efforts.

We’ve seen a lot of hype around personalization in recent years, but many organizations are only aspiring to the level where they can deliver individualized experiences to their customers. That’s the 1:1 experiences that many tools claim to provide.

WiderFunnel Marketing Personalization
Providing a more customized user experience often starts with segmenting your audience, but any personalization tactic needs to be validated through experimentation.

But, as Mike St. Laurent, Optimization Strategist and Product Lead points out: “Most companies do not have the necessary data collection and segmentation capabilities in place to even be thinking about personalization as a strategy.

2019 will be the year of laying the technical groundwork so that companies have the tools they need to test relevant customer experiences effectively.

Mike St. Laurent
Optimization Strategist and Product Lead

You also need to keep in mind that any tactic needs to be proven; not every implementation of personalization will deliver results.

If you have an idea on how to leverage personalization in your strategy, validate your hypotheses through experimentation.

The end goal is to create digital experiences that are highly relevant to the customer in your business context. But you should only want that as a means of generating a higher customer lifetime value.

An Optimization Strategist’s take on the trend

Creating relevant experiences can be an effective way to improve conversions, but companies are realizing they shouldn’t be personalizing just to say they are doing it.

Companies are starting to understand that just because something is “personalized” doesn’t mean it’s more effective. A personalized experience needs to be tested the same as any other change to the site.

Mike St. Laurent
Optimization Strategist and Product Development Lead

Get well-versed on this topic…

Trend 6: True customer empathy

Businesses have long been trying to solve their customer’s pain points. But what has been missing from the conversation is true customer empathy.

Because you don’t want your customer to only have their problem solved. You want them to feel an affiliation with your brand and with your experience. You want them to be surprised; you want them to be delighted.

widerfunnel customer delight
Are you creating delight for the individuals who are your customers?

True customer empathy means understanding your customer’s full spectrum of emotions within your experience: knowing what emotions they feel when their expectations are met and know how they feel when their expectations are not met.

In the digital world, customers can access your brand on many touch points: social media, email newsletters, your website. All of which offers plenty of opportunities to connect with your customers.

Where are the points of friction and where are the points of delight in your experience?

Unfortunately, at least one unintended bad customer experience is part and parcel of any new launch; companies simply can’t predetermine how every part of their customers’ experience is impacted by design or development decisions made during the feature development process.

A crucial post-launch practice at FullStory is something we call “game film“—a process where we auto-play sessions of users interacting with the new feature and note down how many bad experiences they encounter.

Whether through game film or some other practice, the point is that everyone should have a built-in mechanism to monitor these empathy-inducing moments of frustration for customers.

Jordan Woods
Demand Gen at FullStory

True customer empathy leads to an understanding of how you can maximize and minimize the feelings your customer experiences at these different points within your experience, so that your brand can align more closely with your customer’s emotional needs and states.

In 2005, when Bain & Company surveyed 362 firms, 80% of companies stated that they were customer centric. That sounds promising until you consider their customers’ response: Only 8% of customers agreed.

Clearly, there is a disconnect.

So, how can you get deeper than demographics to not only understand your customer, but to anticipate their emotional response? How can your organization become genuinely empathetic to their customers?

Start by listening to your customers at every touchpoint.

Marketing Trends Customer Journey
The customer experience is a holistic journey across multiple touchpoints. Having empathy for your customer’s emotional needs and states is crucial for making their experience delightful.

Live chat. Social media listening. Customer surveys-these methods are a starting point. But true customer empathy only comes from deep inquiry and the thick data that results:

Research techniques — such as contextual inquiry, diary studies, ethnographic research and others — can generate thick data that allows you to understand your customer’s emotional needs.

Matt Wright

True customer empathy is also a rich source of hypotheses ideation. You can validate this deep understanding of your customer through experimentation, to see if your hypotheses stand true.

A UX Researcher’s take on the trend

People will always be the centre of any business. Understanding those people — your users — and their circumstances will help you generate powerful hypotheses. But the key is to take these insights forward through each of your experiments to drive and scale a sophisticated experimentation program.

Kim Quach
UX Research Specialist

More on this topic…

Remember what you do now counts.

Your leadership, your strategies, your experiments are driving your organization into the future. What you do now accelerates the growth of your company.

It takes just one person to lead the change. The more you embrace the trends and technologies of the future, the more ready you are to embrace the pace of change.

But know that you don’t have to bear the burden alone.

Build the right insights partnerships – don’t go it alone. You probably won’t own all the data, expertise, or technology. We expect most companies to work with a wide variety of insights services partners.

Brian Hopkins, Ted Schadler, and James McCormick

You can still lead the charge.

As the more determined you are to push the boundaries of how your organization operates, the more likely you can evolve with the rapid growth that your organization can facilitate through experimentation.

But it’s not just about you and your organization—it’s about your organization’s purpose, your vision—the reason why behind your work.

And that is your customers.

Because a delightful digital experience is how your brand stays relevant—now and in the next decade.

What trends stand out as most important to your future growth? Let’s start a conversation in the comment section below.

Author

Lindsay Kwan

Marketing Communications Specialist

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