Since the launch of the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud in 2015, the annual Episerver Ascend user conferences have been opportunities to roll out the latest elements in a complex, but customer-driven, product roadmap. Here at DMN, we’ve watched the Episerver offering grow from a website and content management offering to a broad platform incorporating not only CMS, but marketing automation and social modules, embedded AI, and a data layer.
And if you associated Episerver primarily with eCommerce use cases, it’s showing increasing versatility in servicing public authorities, non-profits, cause-driven organizations, member associations —
any client needing to create successful online journeys for customers. As chief product officer Justin Anovick said, kicking off Ascend 2019 in Miami, “At the end of the day, everybody is selling something.”
Putting on the white gloves
But speaking of customers, a new theme was present on the first day of the user/partner summit. In addition to growing the product, and the partner eco-system, Chad Wolf, chief customer & sales officer, spoke of a focus on customer success as a whole-company mission. Specifically, the days of outsourcing support and service on weekends and holidays were over. The customer success team at Episerver was now in double digits, and the aim for 2020 was 24/7 “white glove service.”
It’s a doubly important theme, because it’s not enough to sell software which will build AI-driven customer journeys: the brands buying the software need to extract maximum value from it if they’re to remain in market for Episerver’s new product offerings.
The destination for Episerver, in the medium-term at least, is to enable its clients to detect journeys instigated by their customers, then use a range of recommendation tools to guide the customer to the best outcome (conversion, registration, the solution of a service issue, etc.).
Sure, Episerver has always talked about customers as well as products. But Chad Wolf is breathing new life into the concept of customer-centricity. I sat down with him to explore the details.
What seems key to extracting value from Episerver’s platform is the concept of guided journeys (now guided by content as well as product recommendations; more on that tomorrow). “I’ve been doing CRM since 1997, and we talked about customer-centricity then,” said Wolf. “A few years back, customer experience became the rage; everybody in the marketing tech space became the experience vendor of choice. But experience has become a little bit commoditized. We wanted to take it back to the basics, and look at how our customers enable the journey —
not the experience, but the journey. That’s how we’re trying to drive our product roadmap now. Our tools help our customers craft that journey, and be pro-active along the way, using machine learning and AI tools inside the software to actually guide.”
It’s not that Wolf counsels the jettisoning of experiences; the emphasis is rather on how experiences drive outcomes. “Everybody can build these crafty experiences, but how do they flow from step one to step n, and how do you guide that along the way across millions, or tens of millions of interactions. Some customers are now doing well over a billion interactions a year through Episerver software.”
Developing the AI-informed software to enable the creation and execution of such journeys is just part of the puzzle. Customers need to know how to use it. How much is Episerver involved in training and consultation to ensure the platform is being used to its full capacity? “When I got here three years ago, we didn’t do that. We’ve been on a journey ourselves. We had three customer success managers just two years ago; today, we’re over 20 and growing quite significantly. Those customer success managers are all about adoption and best use of the software. Previously, our Expert Services team was very developer-centric, and they still have quite a lot of connection to developers. But we’ve been building out a business consulting capability.”
Episerver’s educational tools are now all online: “Our prior model was to do training in classrooms. We’ve now crafted courseware, so that a trainer can touch 100 people a week rather than just 15 people in a classroom. Next year’s a big year to really push that out.”
Customers also display many different levels of different maturity. For some, acquiring Episerver signals the beginning of their digital experience journey; others are highly advanced, and using Episerver to solve specific problems. “Our partners do well at helping customers through that maturity lifecycle.”
A diversity of use cases
As a judge for this year’s Episerver Web Awards, honoring innovative use of the Episerver platform, I really began to understand that this isn’t just a solution for companies selling products online. The range of users, from a historical society, through sports associations, to British police forces, was eye-opening. I asked Wolf about the breadth of the customer base.
“That’s the beauty of the platform. It can solve an infinite number of problems, but they all have the same genesis around that customer journey. We have a large customer base in the association space, for example, where ‘customers’ are called ‘members.’ The nomenclature used in the software is quite different, as is the taxonomy used to drive experience. Within Episerver, we’re starting to align towards some of those bigger industries, but our partners have the depth. We have partners who only do nonprofit, only do associations, only do specialty retail, so we’re getting strong alignment there.”
Another big goal for Episerver, said Wolf, is harvesting more of these use cases from different industries to inform the product roadmap. But is Episerver doing enough to let those use cases tell the Episerver story?
“I think we could do more,” Wolf admitted. “The more we can scale and find these stories, the better. We’re relaunching the Episerver website soon, and it will be more customer-centric as opposed to software-centric. We’re getting partners to tell the stories of customers too.”
We’ll be telling some partner and customer stories here, as well as taking a closer look at this week’s product announcements.