Yesterday I attended Econsultancy’s Digital Cream event, which we host annually, and which brings together around 300 client-side e-commerce brains together for a day of intense knowledge sharing.

The event format is based on roundtables, which are a core part of our staple diet. We’ve been running roundtables since I joined Econsultancy back in 2003, and they inform much of the best practice insight that underpins our research. They are incredibly helpful.

Digital Cream 2011

Digital Cream is essentially roundtables on steroids… there are more than 20 of them, in one day. I have a few takeaways from the event that I’d like to share. By all means add yours in the comments section underneath this post, or let us know if you blog about the event, as Simon Lilly and Nick Allen have done. Our thanks to all who participated.

Before we begin I should probably mention a couple of similar events, which are are free to attend for client-side folks. Firstly, there is Peer Summit 2011, which takes place in New York in early June. Secondly, there is Digital Cream Dubai, which is our first big event in the Middle East and takes place on 12 April. Do sign up if you’re local.

The difference between user experience and customer experience

I sat in on a customer experience roundtable, moderated by Dr Mike Baxter, author of some of Econsultancy’s best customer experience guides (such as this gem). Early on a question was asked: “What’s the difference between user experience and customer experience.” It’s something I think lots of people are unclear on, and it matters when explaining ‘customer experience’ to the board / purse string watchers / stakeholders.

In short, we defined customer experience as something that is long-term, big picture, with multiple touchpoints, and that certainly isn’t limited to the website. Receiving a piece of direct mail is experiential, but cannot be filed under ‘user experience’. The same might be said of a telephone conversation with a customer services rep.

User experience is much narrower, more tightly-focused, and takes a (relatively) microscopic view. It is often goal-driven, where the user is ‘active’. As far as the web goes it is sometimes focused on the single in-session experience, rather than as a collection of experiences (web or otherwise). It’s perhaps more tactical, whereas customer experience is more strategic, at least in terms of scope.

Goals are key

“78% of web professionals wanted to improve the customer experience in the next year,” according to one (silly) piece of research cited. You have to wonder about the other 22%… who on earth wants to degrade the customer experience? This is a good example of ‘research’ that is to all intents and purposes utterly meaningless.

The point here is that you need to focus on goals. What part of the customer experience needs to be improved, and why, and what effect do you want the improvements to have on your business?

Observe closely and then set out to prove or disprove a theory.

Product and price are super important

I won’t dwell on this as I know that one of our cherished guest bloggers plans on writing about it, but there was some general chatter about how much bad websites (or, more broadly, bad customer experiences) are tolerated by consumers. Why? Because there are trade-offs, either to do with prices or products.

Think about Ryanair. Think about Primark. Think about a busy IKEA shed on the outskirts of some industrial estate. Books aren’t always judged by their covers.

That said, not all brands chase customers who are highly price sensitive, and when your model is anchored around providing things on the cheap you have far less room for manoeuvre.

Retention vs acquisition

Personally I think that a longer view on customer lifetime value and a focus on retention is the way to do business, but many firms are still very much acquisition led. This is to do with short term goals, competitor activity, legacy tactics (e.g. TV advertising), and – perhaps most importantly – the way sales and marketing staff are rewarded.

Acquisition might be a great strategy for your brand, but a culture of customer retention is likely to be a far more profitable one. Remember that Zappos generates 75% of its $1bn-a-year revenue from repeat customers. It’s a cyclical thing: Zappos can offer amazing service precisely because it offers amazing service.

The talent hunt is in full swing

A repeated theme from yesterday is that people are on the lookout for talent. There is something of a hiring boom going on, with demand far outweighing supply.

A few years ago there was a realisation that web analytics tools require in-house analysts to interpret the data, in order to make the right kind of business decisions. The tools had become incredibly powerful, but needed specialists to get the best out of them.

Outsourcing can help, but many brands are at the stage where they need permanent staff to help with all sorts of things. It is a good time to be looking for a new job, if you know your e-commerce onions. Try our digital marketing jobs board if you’re in the mood for a change (or looking to hire, for that matter).

Retaining staff is becoming as problematic as finding new people.

There are 100 simple things that you can focus on. It’s not all about the sexy stuff.

We’ve talked about the ‘beautiful basics’ before, and we’ll talk about them again and again. They matter. Massively.

For example, form optimisation is something that, for many, doesn’t set the pulse racing. But get it right, and your forms will deliver serious ROI, allowing you to invest in other sexier areas.

Tiny changes to your forms can have the wildest effects on conversion rates. Ideas:

  • Ask a copywriter to rewrite your error messages.
  • Position ‘first name’ and ‘last name’ form fields on the same horizontal line for completion uplift and error reduction.
  • Alternatively try using just one field for the first and last name, and process these results afterwards to split them up (boosts conversion rates).

Learn how to delight your customers

I’ve written plenty about creating a delightful customer experience, and this was a recurring theme yesterday. We may start offering some training in this area, which is worthy of another blog post (stay tuned).

A few immediate ideas:

  • Call every customer after every sale, just to say “thank you”. If you have too many customers for this to be practical then segment the most valuable and call them.
  • Call shoppers who abandon their baskets. Try to recover the sale, but also try to find out why they didn’t complete the purchase.
  • Don’t bother using a script when you call. Have some guidelines but “be human”.

Marketing automation is a hot topic

My colleague Peter Abraham moderated the marketing automation roundtable and it’s certainly an area that we’ll be trying to make more sense of in the months to come. Very few people are actively doing this right now, but everybody wants to get better at it.

Common obstacles:

  • Diverse data collection points and technology systems.
  • Fragmenting channels and getting a single view of the customer.
  • Where to start and fears about the disruption it might cause.


  • Start with your data.
  • Know what you’re automating and why, triggered events based on customer journey or behaviour are the obvious ones, but also consider the buying process and buying cycle in terms of how you nurture leads and move them along the path to action (sale, registration etc).
  • Know what your goals are for automation (time, budget, customer service, sales etc).
  • Align your campaigns with strategic objectives, rather than tactical campaign-based stuff so that you get board buy-in.
  • Channel-wise, a good place to begin is email.
  • Make sure implementation of any technology is led by marketing not IT

Silos, silos, silos

I have interstellar amounts of empathy for the various heads of digital I talked with who continue to struggle with silos. For many, changing the structure of a business to fit around digital goals is akin to asking the sun to start orbiting around the earth. It’s simply not going to happen. There is an emphasis on getting internal business / team structures right, but there are often fixed boundaries to deal with.

Change management is difficult, but necessary for many large firms. Econsultancy offers tactical support and in-company digital marketing training should you need help in this area.

For more ideas, and to benchmark where you’re at, have a read of our report on The Impact of Digital Beyond Sales and Marketing.

Between thought and expression lies a lifetime

We all want to create a beautiful web experience for our users, and for many of us there is a definite lag between what we know, what we want, and what we have. I explained that we have a long to-do list, which we need to work through before we can start looking at our wishlist. Both lists grow ever-longer with every new day. And hey, it turns out that we’re not alone!

Increasing tech resources to make things happen faster is easier said than done, regardless of issues to do with winning the budget, as for many firms it takes three to six months to bring new tech hires up to speed.

Measure everything

Why? Because you can. Try to quantify things like the customer experience. Make the intangible in some way tangible. Benchmark where you’re at today, so you can make sense of things tomorrow.

Take note of metrics that you may not look at frequently, so you know that they exist, and so that you can think about whether or not they might matter.

Attribution is difficult but there are lots of tools to help you see the bigger picture.