For most of the last two centuries, we’ve been trained to think that innovation has to lead to standardization. Whether it’s George Stephenson’s railway gauge beating out Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s in the 19th century or VHS overcoming Betamax in the 20th, we’ve been taught that tech works best when everyone gets the same experiences through the same platform.
For a while it looked like digital technology would go the same way. Not anymore. We’ve come to realize that Facebook won’t be the dominant social platform that the world uses for everything; that WhatsApp won’t be the only form of instant messaging that people want on their phones; that neither Alexa, Siri nor Google Assistant will sit in a smart speaker in every home; that Netflix won’t be the only streaming service that people want—and that Disney+ won’t be either.
When it comes to digital technology, the forces driving standardization have been contained and pushed back by the forces enabling proliferation. There’s no need to settle on Facebook Messenger just because you already have Facebook. You don’t have to settle for Apple Music or Apple TV just because you own a Mac or an iPhone. Each consumer designs a personalized portfolio of tech that reflects the different facets of their personalities. They don’t want one platform attempting to do everything.
So why do we keep telling businesses that’s what they need to do when it comes to delivering customer experience? Why is the pressure always on to adopt a one-size-fits-all CX platform?
THE ALL-IN-ONE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE MYTH
No matter the size of your business, what type of customers you have, or what stage of growth you’re at, you’ll likely be told that you need an all-in-one platform that can take control of any channel or touchpoint where your customer might engage with you. There are just two problems. First, these giant, all-encompassing platforms typically require a major investment that is out of the reach of most. Second, they tend not to fit the way that most businesses actually engage with their customers—or the experiences they want to provide.
This standardized model puts automation out of reach of businesses that could actually be designing more creative and more distinctive experiences for their customers.
INNOVATE FOR THE CHANNELS THAT MATTER
Customers don’t need to experience your business through a standardized platform that sticks to the same script whether on Instagram, Slack, or email. They don’t communicate the same way on email as they do on WhatsApp, and they expect their experiences on different channels to feel different. What really matters to them is that their experience of a business is consistent and connected—that the messaging always makes sense and that they can easily pick up where they left off when they move from one channel or touchpoint to another. You don’t need an all-in-one platform to deliver this. You just need a single source of data and automations that share that data, which are designed to deliver the best experience for wherever the customer is at that moment.
The automated experiences you deliver should reflect what you’re about as a business. That means the experiences you offer may be different from the next business, and that’s absolutely fine. You don’t want to deliver the same experience that business does. Your customers are different—they want different things and they use different touchpoints. They want a customer experience that’s relevant and personalized to them and to their relationship with you.
STAY CLOSE TO YOUR CUSTOMER DATA—DON’T PUSH IT AWAY
Once you start to put automations in place, the next thing to focus on is how the automations provide you with data. Ultimately, it’s how accessible and usable this data is that will decide how much value you get from the automations you set up. If you can keep your data in a form that is easy to share between different platforms, then there’s no limit to the number of automations that you can plug in to use it. You’ll have the freedom to keep innovating as you need to, experimenting with new services and new customer experiences and expanding the scope of what you do.
One of the potential downsides of all-in-one platforms is that they can make businesses wary of close contact with data. They abstract, anonymize and generalize, reducing metrics down to standard numbers that fit easily onto a dashboard. They keep customer data at arm’s length.
Having metrics that you can take in at a glance isn’t bad in itself, of course. Indicators are very helpful when you’re steering a business. However, if this standardized, reduced form is the only way that you experience customer data, then you’re not using it to its full potential. Make sure that the data your automations generate is in a form that allows you to access it, work with it and explore it in-depth. Make sure it’s actionable—and free to work for you.
In my own experience, that’s where the real benefits can be found. Automations shouldn’t reduce visibility of your customers or cut out human touchpoints that deliver value. Instead, they should make those interactions more valuable. They don’t just enable you to try new things. They provide you with a new depth of insight into how your customers engage with you. They reveal patterns that lead the way to new ideas, new ways of segmenting your audience, new services that are designed to leverage your understanding.
Jason VandeBoom is Founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, the Customer Experience Automation (CXA) category leader.