By Christian Weichelt, Product Marketing Manager www.coremedia.com

Each day organizations are learning the hard way that managing their online customer experience is becoming a more complex challenge. As consumers we’re all busy making choices and expressing preferences on a near continual basis — Facebook members, for example, are registering nearly 23 million ‘Likes’ every minute , ChannelAdvisor research from Summer 2010 showed that 92 percent of US Internet users claim to read online product reviews, while 60 percent of Netflix subscribers regularly rate the movies they rent.

Organizations need to acknowledge these heightened levels of customer engagement, and ensure that they have the Web strategies and capabilities in place to respond. By failing to empower their increasingly frontline Web professionals — starting with the effective creation, publishing and ongoing applicability of their online content — they are neglecting to realize the full value of their Web properties. Those with corporate responsibility for the Web function need to take this seriously: it’s no longer simply a matter of being frustrated at not meeting customer online needs effectively, as ENGAGEMENTdb research shows a clear correlation between deep Web and social media engagement and leading financial performance.

Knowing that today's customers increasingly communicate their positive and negative customer experiences - and that they are more likely to share negative experiences than positive experiences - business users need to be able to deliver a compelling experience to keep their customers engaged on the Web. Clearly their role now goes way beyond the simple tasks of creating and publishing content for a Website. In a world of near infinite information, the more successful Web professionals will be those that help customers to focus by delivering more value in less time. And the increasing value will derive from filtering and curation.

Let's take the example of a marketing manager responsible for promoting a jazz concert online. While part of the campaign would involve the creation and publishing of content to the Web, crafting an experience for a specific audience requires a broader perspective: addressing the audience that prefers the jazz genre; leveraging historical buying behavior to make the right offer; and considering ticket capacity and pricing.

And time can matter: 30 minutes before the concert a teaser might be useless for Website visitors while the information could be essential to those in the city and accessing the platform via a mobile device. The reality is that the Web needs to extend beyond the standard Website if customers are to benefit from faster and more relevant information.

For business users, such as online marketers, communications specialists or channel managers, the risk is that adopting a Web approach that is limited to just the creation and publishing of Website content will lead to a “one-size-fits-all” experience for customers. For these professionals - who are typically closest to understanding their customers’ real requirements — the frustration of not being able to fully deliver against both their customers’ wishes — and their own business’ online goals is proving increasingly frustrating. This lack of flexibility will become an increasing risk to organizational agility during 2011, and a barrier that needs to be removed if businesses are to successfully optimize their customers’ online interactions going forward.

Delivering contextualized experiences for customers — your essential checklist:
Providing such customized experiences for customers is a significant challenge. It means authoring meaningful content, crafting rules to match it on demand with each customer’s specific context, and finally optimizing the representation for the specific device used. The complete adaptation of the customer experience to the customer’s needs and situation is what we call contextualization.

The following checklist outlines the key capabilities that your business needs to drive effective value on the Web through a contextualization approach. It addresses the five fundamental prerequisites essential for managing content in context:

1. Creating content effectively
2. Getting the whole picture
3. Crafting the user experience
4. Experiencing the result
5. Doing all of the above — efficiently

1.) Creating content effectively
For effective content management, it’s important to determine whether it’s the users or the actual content management system that should set the pace.

It all starts with content — be it events, products, services, articles, or press releases — and how to compose that content from a variety of media sources including text, pictures, product information, and probably video. It is about tracking different versions, working on a piece of content collaboratively without overriding a colleague’s changes, and - of course - it is about publishing the content. Organizations also need to break out of traditional Web publishing cycles — not waiting for tonight or tomorrow, but straight away - in seconds, if necessary. For 2011, creating content is all about immediate changes and ongoing content reuse - independently from where it is stored.

These are the core requirements - not just for managing content, but also for enabling a more customized experience for customers. This flexibility and responsiveness will quickly become the standard. However, many organizations will struggle to fulfill these basic tasks, especially if they still use a homegrown content management system that was build to create, assemble, and deliver a static Website.

Make sure your business users set the pace of production and not your systems.

2.) Getting the whole picture
Customers need to be given the whole picture, not just what is actually available on the content system. Content delivery has to be all about customer relevance and not simply the output from a prescriptive data structure. For example, a music event could only be considered relevant to a customer if tickets were still available, the price was acceptable, and their online friends and peers recommended the band. This information could be stored across multiple systems — a ticketing system, an ERP application, a social media site, or a Web Content Management (WCM) repository. To make sense to the customer this information needs to be queried and collated before delivery.

In contrast, business users are often limited to just accessing content that sits natively within their WCM system — missing out all the applicability and value available from other data sources. Customers need to see the whole picture in order to receive a more relevant Web experience. Instead of just offering choices from a list, customers would benefit from only being able to view events for which tickets were still available, or that had received positive recommendations from friends or valued experts.

Delivering a more comprehensive online customer experience needs an approach that can draw on an organization’s wider software ecosystem. It is essential that your business users aren’t limited to inflexible Web content editors that either deny them access to relevant content, or force them to access multiple applications for important details.

Make sure your business users have all the information they need at their fingertips, not simply a pretty user interface for accessing a limited Web content repository.

3.) Crafting the user experience
Creating a customized user experience involves applying predefined rules that can deliver selected on demand content that matches the customer’s needs precisely. The intelligence inherent in these rules originates from their creation, not from their execution. So, for a customer like Alice who’s a jazz fan who always writes reviews about the concerts she attends, it might make sense to reward her regular reviews and attendance with a discount towards the entrance fee for the next concert she attends. And not just for Alice, but also for other customers like her. The ability to identify these situations and determine the rules needs to sit with your organization’s business users, ensuring that they have the flexibility to respond quickly — and that they don’t need to keep on bothering your IT department with frequent changes.

In order to create these rules a business user must be able to access all relevant content - including the information that defines a customer’s context. Factors to consider here would include the segmentation of customers (jazz fans and classical music lovers); the device they might use (iPhone, laptop, mobile device); the status they have (premium customer or prospect); their level of activity — if they are a regular contributor; or simply the keywords that brought them to your Website.

Depending on how rich the context is that you wish to leverage, you should ensure that your business users are able to make use of context to craft intelligent rules that will align the experience with the customer’s needs.

4.) Experiencing the result
The ability to create rules is important, however it’s also essential for business users to have real visibility of the impact of these rules on the customer interaction — and their effect on the overall customer experience. Business users need to understand the actual results rather than simply rely on guesswork. The ability to verify the link between the customer’s content and the desired outcome in terms of the actual experience is important.

Business users need to be able to easily test customer profiles within their working environment, and be able to see the impact of contextual information during this testing. This will show what the landing page actually looks like — according to their specific rules — when their customer first arrives from a Google search. For example, if Alice searched for a venue and concert, will she see the list of upcoming concerts when she was directed to the venue’s detail page? In contrast, if someone else searched for the venue and size, the available dates should rather be shown.

Business users must have control over the results of the customer experiences they craft — regardless of the touch point involved. They shouldn’t have to guess what the experience is like for customers in different situations. They will need to understand, for example, exactly what happens in the CRM system when Alice is using an iPhone and changes from being a prospect to a customer.

Business users need to experience outcomes before their customers do.

5.) Doing all of the above — efficiently
Creating content, providing customers with the whole picture, crafting the correct user experience, and being able to preview the results before going live, requires an intelligent Web Content Management approach that is designed from the start with the business user in mind.

Ultimately it’s about the workplace. Does the environment reflect the business users’ reality - or does it force a particular or limited view of the information? An environment that’s tailored to your business users’ needs will not only increase productivity and lower training costs, it will also unleash their creative power and increase your business’ ability to engage with your audience.