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New e-commerce technologies set to change customer experience

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With the recent emergence of e-commerce technologies like Amazon Go and Commerce Cloud, customer experience has greater potential, but it also poses security issues.

While companies know that customers are key to their differentiation in the marketplace, many still struggle with putting substance behind that insight. Many go over the top by trying to offer such grandiose or unique experiences as to be unsustainable, or they go low by heavily discounting products and product quality.

However, according to experts, customer experience doesn't require this kind of roller coaster ride. Customers want solid products and, often, a back-to-basics approach that keeps them loyal and valued, said expert Brent Leary, a partner at CRM Essentials, who joined SearchCRM to discuss some of the e-commerce key technologies and trends that defined 2016 and that look to be enduring themes for 2017.

People are always talking about making customer experiences and how to make it [as] great as possible," Leary said. "But the core to creating great customer experiences [goes back to] the basics: making it easy for customers to find what they want; to buy what they want. Amazon has focused on that since its existence."

It all goes back to the core: How do you remove as much friction as possible from the process of getting people to buy stuff and getting things to them. Amazon has done this since its existence. It's always looking for ways to get people's stuff to them in the most efficient manner.

The marriage of e-commerce technologies and CRM

This year, companies like Amazon, SAP and Salesforce rolled out novel e-commerce platforms, such as Commerce Cloud, Amazon Go and Hybris. What's more, the data gathered from these platforms can be combined with traditional CRM and marketing data to create a richer customer experience.

"What's happening now is that, with the CRM platform -- finding, catching and keeping good customers -- you're seeing a lot of things being integrated into that traditional mix, and e-commerce is one of those things," Leary said. "If you're able to marry the ability to see all this great information about customers -- whether transactional information, activity, behavioral (what's taking place on social) -- if you can take that information and leverage [it] and make it easy for them to do commerce on an ongoing basis, to have these easy transactions from ... whatever device, then you're talking about an engagement strategy, not just selling something."

New form factors. Leary said that new mediums, such as voice-activated devices like Echo, Siri, Cortana and Alexa, are changing the nature of communication and completing tasks.

Combining voice with other e-commerce technologies like artificial intelligence enables devices like Alexa to indicate the weather outside or the score of a sports game, but also to perform complex tasks like ordering an Uber ride or a pizza. These new form factors, as other experts have observed, are poised to take hold because they are so human and organic, mimicking human communication. Leary said that this form factor will also drive new forms of sales and marketing by aggregating personalized consumer data.

"We don't have to type or swipe; we just have to talk," said Leary. "And the more we can do that, the more our buying patterns will shift. It's putting the transaction through, but also creating a record of what we want. But next year, we'll see much more with digital assistants and chatbots. You might speak a command, then get [a] visual prompt back."

Customer personalization and customer data privacy. While personalizing messages, content and offers to customers are en vogue, most companies have come to realize the burden of customer personalization strategies. Having access to this data requires companies to protect it, as well.

"With great data comes great responsibility to make sure that the data we're creating and they're capturing is secure," Leary said. "And then there is the sheer morality of how this data is being used. The goal is to create more value for your customers. That can be a win-win situation. If you create better experiences, then your customers may stay with you longer, and maybe buy more things. But it's all based on you using that information for the better. There's a thin line that can be crossed, where companies say, 'We have all this great data, we can push them to buy something we want them to buy, but that they don't want.' Then, the trust barrier has been completely blown apart."

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