Creating a Sitecore powered customer experience

I was taking a look through some of our draft posts today and found this one I did in late 2015! It was originally written about the launch of one of our client websites, but it still holds up as an example of how we approached the project and the great platform we delivered at the end of it. With a few tweaks, I present to you our typical approach to creating a Sitecore powered customer experience.

The goal

Branded3 had been working with the client for a long time, initially as a Search-only client. We were given the opportunity to design and develop their website so we could execute our strategic search approach on a platform that met the growing business needs. For four years, the client had been running on WordPress, and this facilitated the growth and had delivered results successfully.

The site had gone through a number of updates, such as retro-fitting the responsive interface, new branding and new interactive features such as guides and a UK map of data. We decided with the client marketing team that it was time to take stock, review the platform and see where we needed to go next.

I wanted to see a step-change in the website. The one we had was starting to show its age and we need to be at the forefront of our industry – Client CEO

Although we had been with the client a long time, we felt it was worthwhile to get the stakeholders together and work through our Discovery process. This ensured that we all aligned to the new vision of the platform.

Our client has a strong ethical approach that ensures its purpose is to support the customer in their time of need. This customer-centric attitude needed to be at the core of the new online experience, focusing on giving visitors the information they need as quickly and easily as possible.

The requirement for a step change in the approach, along with a customer-centric journey and interface, meant only one thing for us: Sitecore.

Sitecore is our recommended enterprise level CMS due to the intuitive interface that it provides authors, as well as the supporting marketing features that can increase the productivity and ROI on in the platform. We set out to build upon the latest version SXP8 and designed from the ground up to deliver complete scalability and compatibility with all of the Sitecore advanced marketing features.

Our typical Sitecore project process

  1. Identify the core objectives of the project
  2. Audience research and planning
  3. UX and design
  4. Development and testing
  5. Launch!

The objectives:

We started our journey by identifying three core objectives for the project:

  1. Design and build an industry leading website, positioning the client as the authority in both consumer and B2B markets.
  2. Build a scalable, robust and flexible website solution to accommodate evolving business requirements.
  3. Deliver a website solution that allows the ongoing optimisations of different user journeys, to improve conversions across the site as a whole.

Audience research and planning

The first objective contained a new element for the website – a B2B requirement. The client was very strong in the B2C market, but entering new services areas requires a different journey as these two audiences have very different requirements.

Through a series of interviews, research and market analysis, we gathered qualitative and quantitative data on who the existing audience were, and who they were likely to be in the future. This allowed us to identify specific audience personas, each with their own motivations, goals and pain points. These included how they regard the brand, how they research providers and what the typical level of engagement is. From these, we created user flows to map out user journeys and gave content and functionality recommendations to enable each persona to achieve their goals.

With a clear understanding of the audience, our UX and content team produced a content strategy and structure that outlined what the site needed to contain. This included new distinct service areas to support the B2B requirement.

The information gathered during this part of the project sets the foundations for the Sitecore Marketing Centre, where you can use your audience personas to set up Profile cards that can be added to pages and give visitor profile scores. You can use the visitor goals to set specific Sitecore goals for customers so they can earn engagement points or value.

UX and Design

Next, our design team began considering the interface. With “Industry Leading” as a benchmark, something special was required. Competitor research and the varied skill levels of the audience meant we had to create an interface that could take advantage of new user interface techniques. It needed to be touch-device friendly, responsive and cater for a growing number of devices and viewports, whilst ensuring it wasn’t overly complicated and remained professional.

We designed a navigational structure and on-site search functionality that was led by user needs,  creating an intuitive flow that swiftly guides users to their required information without pigeon-holing or over-generalising.

A flexible (and CMS controlled) navigation mechanic was designed to anticipate our clients’ future expansion into new markets, using colour-coded categories or site sections to help users identify where they are in the site. The full-width design framework ensured a consist experience across different user devices, and anticipated future devices not yet commonly used. Finally, a clean yet bold design was applied to compliment and expand upon the clients’ brand, with an emphasis on legibility and clarity of information.

The website has smashed expectations in terms of results. The quality and volume of leads has almost doubled since the site launch and the customer and industry feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – Head of Marketing

When designing for Sitecore, we consider what will be template driven, what will be a component and what might need to be controlled by data sources or author managed. Our Sitecore designs work in a grid structure to allow the authors to quickly build complex layouts that are responsive in nature without needing to know HTML. Layouts are built using shelves containing column structures and component placeholders to allow the user to move content around and test the ideal layout.

Development and testing

Our development process begins with mapping out the Sitecore templates that are required. This not only covers the page-based templates, but also any components or reusable elements to the platform.

In terms of Sitecore, a ‘template’ actually refers to the data that is stored about each item, and what most people know as ‘page-templates’ are called ‘layouts’. This is just one of the ways Sitecore remains flexible, as it separates the content and data of an item to how it’s presented.

The platform also includes the definition of fields and features that support SEO, such as fully user-controlled page meta information such as title, description and canonicals. We also include the inheritance of scripts and HTML includes from the site root node, these features bolster the ability for optimisation and inclusion of third-party scripts (Much like a tag manager).

Each of the page layouts is completely component and widget-based. This means they can be managed entirely through the Sitecore Experience Editor interface. The use of Sitecore dynamic placeholders is used extensively in our builds to maximise the scalability of content. Each element within a page, such as a component, can be tested using the Sitecore testing engine or personalised accordingly using the personalisation rules engine.

As with most builds, where there is data capture the site required integration with a third-party lead management system to push customer enquiries and leads straight into the back office and CRM systems. Our integration utilises web service integration and hooks into Sitecores Web forms for Marketers “Save Actions” to maintain separation of custom code from core functionality. Live integration ensures that leads are processed in near real-time and that customers get the relevant service they require without any delays.

We included a series of customer experience optimisations in our development roadmap, such as creating dynamic multi-step forms, so the customer only gets shown the fields relevant to the information they have already entered.  We also included improved UX on forms with visual elements, such as transitions, question format and detailed MVT and A/B tests, to compare the most effective calls to action and interactive elements.

Final testing of the interface is also essential. At Branded3, we have a complete testing suite of devices to ensure compatibility. We use physical devices such as iPads, iPhones and Kindles to check that sites function as expected. We also utilise testing tools such as BrowserStack for complete coverage.

Launch!

The site has been live for over two years, with very positive results including a 100% increase in online leads, faster performance in terms of page loading and positive customer feedback. We look forward to spending the next couple of years increasing the use of Sitecore features, implementing more profiling and personalisation and ultimately delivering a great customer experience for our client.

If you would like to know more about how we work with Sitecore, or if you’re already on Sitecore and are looking to improve your customer experience or SEO rankings, get in touch.

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