When it comes to digital marketing techniques, a majority of organisations are either using or planning to adopt Web 2.0 technologies - including user-generated content, corporate blogs, podcasting and videocasting - during the coming 12 months, according to a survey conducted by E-Consultancy for cScape.
According to the survey's Customer Engagement Report, 2007 will be a watershed year for online business with large numbers of companies planning to adopt so-called Web 2.0 features to help engage customers.
However, while the majority are keen to exploit new platforms and technologies, many organisations are still struggling to provide a consistent and personalised level of customer experience at a basic level across existing channels. The survey found that there are significant gaps between the aspirations of many companies to engage customers and deliver an optimal customer experience and the reality of what they are doing to meet these goals.
Almost two thirds of company respondents (64%) believe that consistent, joined-up online and offline experiences are essential for engaging with their audience, but 60% of companies are either not very advanced at mapping customer experiences and identifying touch-points (36%), or admit they have to start looking at this because they are not doing it all (24%).
Personal experiences are key
Half of respondents (51%) believe that personalised experiences are essential for audience engagement, with a further 44% believing they are useful. But despite the perceived importance of personalisation, 37% of company respondents are not providing it at all.
According to Richard Sedley, cScape's customer engagement director, "There is a significant gap between the customer experience organisations are aspiring to deliver, and the reality of what they are providing in practice. It is a major challenge for organisations, especially when they are multi-channel, to ensure that they are providing a seamless experience."
E-consultancy analyst Linus Gregoriadis explained: "Today's consumers are more likely to switch loyalties if they're not getting the kind of service they want - whether online or offline - so businesses increasingly need to ensure that they deliver an online experience which is in keeping with their brands and with what is happening in their stores or call centres."
Customer experience inhibitors
Company respondents deemed the five greatest barriers to delivering the best possible customer experience to be:
- Lack of resources and/or time (regarded as a major barrier by 66%);
- Disconnected systems and technologies (50%);
- Lack of skills and training (38%);
- Lack of finance (37%);
- Lack of regular processes and/or suitable methodology (36%)
According to Sedley, "A lack of boardroom buy-in and organisational culture were regarded as greater barriers by agency respondents than by company respondents. The difference was particularly noteworthy for 'lack of boardroom buy-in', with 49% of agency respondents believing this to be a major barrier compared to 30% of company respondents."
Interestingly, 44% of agency respondents believed that organisational culture is a great barrier compared to 34% of company respondents.
Web 2.0 - the coming saviour?
Some 42% said their company was planning to apply user-generated content (UGC) to their websites in the next 12 months, while 23% were using it already. 35% were planning to use corporate blogs in the next 12 months, while 17% were using them already.
One-third (33%) said they were planning to use podcasting in the next 12 months, while 18% were using it already. And 35% were planning to use videocasting in the next 12 months, with 17% using it already.
Or is it?
However, the survey found that many organisations have no plans to use UGC, corporate blogs, podcasting or videocasting (34%, 48%, 49% and 48% respectively).
According to Gregoriadis, "The majority of businesses say they plan to embrace features such as user-generated content and blogging but a significant number of organisations will stand back from this. There is no right or wrong way forward, but companies need to make sure they have a coherent and well thought out approach in line with their brand and customer expectations."
The internet has given new levels of power to consumers and made it more difficult for companies to dictate the communications agenda. According to Sedley, 2007 will be a critical time in terms of the way businesses react to the world of Web 2.0 and social media: "Many businesses will jump on board with these customer engagement strategies, and those that keep their distance are likely to fall behind."