The next generation of customer experiences is already here, but it is unevenly distributed, as is so often the case with how future technologies unfold. Customer interactions get more intelligent, responsive, and personalized every month. The organizations leading the way are very intentionally creating “Intelligent Customer Experiences.” Let’s define this concept.

What is Intelligent Customer Experience?

An Intelligent Customer Experience (ICX) is a uniquely-assembled interaction between an organization and a customer, in which the content responds to the customer’s individual context. With ICX, organizations automatically form adaptive relationships by listening to customer data and responding with contextually-relevant content in real-time. These new-era experiences deliver meaningful and useful content across channels, reducing the manual effort and transaction friction for consumers.
 
Intelligent Customer Experiences have five characteristics:

  • Omnichannel - Assembling content modules into orchestrated, unique customer experiences across multiple channels, platforms, and devices.
 
  • Contextual -  Listening to and understanding a customer’s context and making that customer data available to real-time sessions. Bringing together relevant modular content from a content pool to meet customer needs in their required formats and views. 
 
  • Fluid - Flowing across a complete content supply chain and a Customer Experience (CX) and martech software stack, and into multiple interfaces and renderings with minimal rework. 
 
  • Automated - Responding using conditional logic to facilitate instant and long-term customer journeys, without human intervention. Connecting with robots that consume structured data.
 
  • Conversational - Connecting with customers via intent and response interactions, including chatbots and voice interfaces, facilitated by a combination of human and machine intelligence.

To get ‘there’, we need to engineer ‘here’.

To achieve the next generation of customer experience, content must first be available for assembly. 

Not every content interaction needs to be dynamically assembled. And neither does every customer experience need to be “intelligent.” It’s okay for some content to sit in big chunky fields published on traditional pages. Books are wonderful, and should always exist. Compiled digital renderings (such as PDFs) serve a useful purpose. Highly-designed, image-laden, pixel-perfect web interfaces are not going away. But more and more hybrid views on our content can and should be assembled from components.

Intelligent content cannot reasonably be separated from intelligent customer experience. The essential ingredient to all customer experience is content. And so, content problems impact customer experience. Modern customer experiences will increasingly rely on structured, intelligent content. 

Producing and maintaining intelligent content is directly derived from the practice of Content Engineering. The foundation for ICX is people, process, and technology aligned purposely and intentionally utilizing standard content and semantic structures for translation between roles and systems. 

Not only is the engineering of intelligent content the key to ICX, but it is also the only sustainable way to effectively, efficiently, and productively scale authoring and publishing operations.

Paying diligent, ongoing, scientific attention to the structure, formation, assembly, and delivery of intelligent content is the domain of the content engineer.

Personalized experiences are assembled, not made.

In the traditional approach employed across many digital experience teams today, content gets crafted as ‘pages’ or ‘interfaces,’ and delivered to a single endpoint. In the new era of ICX, content must work across more than just one page, interface, or customer interaction. We need to craft leverageable systems of content portability so that enterprise leaders can activate many experiences out of one content pool.
 
To assemble an intelligent customer experience, we bring together modules of structured content into different representations. For example, a product and related descriptions can assemble into many variant outputs. This idea seems old as time by now, but implementations are still too rare today.
First, we need to get to a basic structure for reuse. Then, beyond simpler presentation variation, comes the more advanced contextual personalization of content. Personalization depends on structured content meeting real-time customer context. Let’s look at some common misconceptions about what makes personalization possible:

Buying Technology

Personalization is not a piece of tech. No software gets us there. All those technical solutions that boast they can “manage and deliver content across multiple channels”, all depend on content structures and semantics. All of that relies on content engineering. When we write content to a single platform, it’s stuck. Content engineers work to decouple content from systems so that systems are less constraining and restrictive to the content supply chain. Content needs to move fluidly between systems and representational states. 

Hiring a Pro

Personalization is not accomplished by making a single hire. No personalization guru can do much real work without structured content. We can make really intense spreadsheets, but unless the content can keep up with the targeting profiles and algorithms, they are all paper tigers. Hiring is only part of the answer.

Changing the Process 

Personalization is more than just a process. Process change alone misses the goal. Technology does enable a reduction in content supply chain friction when architected to help. And, engineering content and technology must be included in the overall program.
 
Personalization is an effect born from many causes across content and context, strategy, engineering, and operations. We should not assume intelligent customer experiences will happen by pressing any one button, buying any single technology, or hiring any one person.  Shortcuts lead to short impacts. This next-generation of customer experience asks us to deliver integrated experiences across various native content sets at scale. To meet this, the content will be engineered and orchestrated on an entirely new level. And it asks us to work towards the whole, one part at a time. Getting there takes leadership.

Content Leaders drive Intelligent Customer Experience

Over the last two years, [A] has seen more and more professionals with a background in technical communication, content strategy, and the technical dimension of content become significant leaders in organizational change. And we even see a few content leaders taking up global portfolios as corporate Vice Presidents, like Anna Schlegel at NetApp. Introducing the practices of Content Strategy, Content Engineering, and Content Operations into teams takes work and perseverance. But it’s happening.
The enterprise landscape keeps changing. Customer Experience initiatives are taking over marketing and technical communication departments. We see ‘Omnichannel Customer Experience’ moving from roles into actual organization structures. The wheels are in motion. Content sets will eventually be connected across a single customer journey. It’s just a matter of how and when.

Knowledgeable content professionals bring the wisdom and tactical knowledge necessary to move the conversation away from a one-dimensional discussion of tools towards a more systematic approach to content intelligence. Here are some things each of us can do:
 
  • Invest in or advocate for skill development around content engineering to grow the practice. Having the content engineering practice and mindset integrated into our ecosystems will begin to improve digital processes and systems.
 
  • As a content leader, take the reins and drive the conversations around Intelligent Customer Experience and how content intelligence activates it. Start conversations with colleagues who are excited and passionate about the future of content.
 
  • Build or participate in communities focused on the future of customer experience and intelligent content skill sets, to share knowledge. As examples: STC, conferences, online forums, and the [A] Content Order seek to facilitate such dialogue and idea-sharing. These kinds of groups can be built within an enterprise as well as committees, communities of practice, or centers of excellence.
 
  • Begin the foundational work to assess the current process around content, and build working groups to explore the future of how content is created and consumed. 

Everyday content engineers are working on new solutions for improved intelligent customer experiences. Through innovation and collaboration, we are all navigating the ever-expanding ecosystem that supports intelligent content.