Optimizely insight: The future of business relies on experimentation

By Jil Maassen

Jil Maassen, Senior Strategy Consultant EMEA, Optimizely, shares with Business Chief the importance of the democratisation of technology in businesses when it comes to progressing and innovating.

Trying to keep up with customers is a never-ending process. Whether trying to make a reservation through an app, or finalise a purchase on a mobile site, consumers expect a smooth, personalised experience every time. However, a one-time investment into user experience won’t be sufficient to meet these expectations. Businesses need to continually innovate, and ensure that their digital experiences are engaging. In the era of digital experimentation, businesses can continually test and optimise their digital experiences, with consumer data at the core of every decision.  In essence, experimentation helps find what makes customers tick. As summarised by Stefan Thomke, a professor at Harvard Business School, “Experimentation is the engine that drives innovation.” 

Despite this, Optimizely’s recent Digital Experience Economy report has found that businesses are too risk-averse to make any meaningful steps to truly innovate their business. This shouldn’t be the case. Retail giants like Amazon, for example, see failure as a core resource in the pursuit of innovation and true customer-centricity. In his recent letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos highlighted that "Multi-billion dollar failures” are the key to Amazon’s success. It is time that other businesses follow suit. Embracing failure is key to reaping the rewards that experimentation can offer.

Here are three ways I recommend for businesses to build experimentation into their strategy:

1. Address the skills gap

The Digital Experience Economy report found that a skills gap is one of the biggest barriers for UK organisations, preventing fifty-four percent of businesses from adopting experimentation to improve the digital customer experience. In order to innovate, businesses must give their teams the autonomy to make data-driven experiments, and encourage failures that are in the pursuit of success. These small experiments provide a controlled environment for failure, which then allows teams to scale back launches that aren’t having the desired outcome. 

Businesses must ensure that all employees have the right training, not just those in their IT teams. Whether it’s analysing data, or speaking to customers, training will empower people to recognise the issues customers are facing. Understanding the benefits of experimentation for the business means more employees will feel more confident putting forward ideas on how to address these issues because they can see the real impact they have. Developing existing employees to their full potential and attracting talent with the right skills is pivotal to separate businesses that are successful innovators, and those that aren’t. 

2. Democratise decision-making 

Data alone does not tell us anything about our customers’ needs or what their behaviour on our site means. To truly put customers and scientific evidence at the centre of every decision that is made, we need to tell a story with customer data—and who better to narrate than employees in customer facing functions that already play the starring role? 

If organisations don’t collaborate effectively and communicate up and down the business, individual ideas from within the workforce can remain lost and untapped. Marrying data from all areas of the organisation, ensures that new ideas are developed in a way that considers all parts of the customer journey and isn’t limited to one department’s perspective. Those based on the customer service desk team, for example, will have a much clearer understanding of the current frustrations customers are experiencing than those in the IT team. In order to really understand customer behaviour, it is key to tap into this pool of knowledge and give employees at all levels the opportunity to contribute to new ideas.

This will bring the business closer to its customers, enabling them to meet consumer demand for high-quality digital experiences and strengthen their relationship.  



3. “Every problem needs ten solutions”

Experiments, tests, trials. Whatever you want to call them, they’re vital to meet your customers' needs. They are true eye-openers for businesses, and they’re driving the fastest growing businesses in the world today. 

Tracking data such as where customers click on the page opens up a lot of real-time insight into what they engage with, and what they don’t. Simple measurements like this drive user-centric solutions, as receiving data-driven feedback from customers means they can really target customer pain points. In my team, we have a rule of thumb that every problem needs ten solutions. Why ten? It’s because we find that the first 5 or so are fairly easy to identify. They’re good, and logical but often they aren’t innovative. The last solutions to emerge, however, require more brainpower and creativity. Testing through experimentation shows that it is these ideas that turn out to be the game-changers needed to regain customer interest. 

Ultimately, customer demand is constantly changing and businesses need to be able to match it. Adopting digital experimentation enables businesses to find the most innovative solutions, reduce the cost of their failures, and capitalise on their successes; but only if they’re listening to their customers. If we do not know what is wrong in the first place, we can’t begin to know how to solve it. 


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