What Makes a Great Digital Partner Customer Experience? Lessons from Cognifide
Ask a group of people who have recently served as key participants of a recent digital experience (DX) technology implementation, led by a digital partner (systems integrator, consultancy, or digital agency) at their respective organizations, and you will get a wide variety of responses. One person thinks their project went smoothly. Another person cites a few issues with slipping timescales and budgets, and maybe some technical challenges, but dubs their project a success in the end. Still another person complains that the project went so poorly, and delivered such disappointing results, that it was a failure: a waste of money, time, and resources.
The perils of inconsistency
Given the thousands of such projects that happen every year, it is no surprise to see this variation in project experiences. However, in our VOCalis research program, where we gather feedback on digital partner performance from the perspective of their customers, we have uncovered a major problem in the industry. It is not uncommon for a single digital partner to exhibit this spectrum of performance, from very good to very poor, among its customer base. This goes for niche partners that work on specialized solutions in one or just a few countries, to the largest global companies in the world.
In other words, with a given partner – even one with a world-renowned name and reputation for working with the world’s biggest companies – you are just as likely to have a poor customer experience as a good one, since so many are inconsistent in their practices, skills, expertise, and customer service approach.
In fact, in the two years that we’ve completed hundreds of interviews across scores of partners, we’ve gathered enough data to estimate with confidence that for every four dollars spent on a partner-led digital implementation project, one dollar is wasted. Since many companies regularly spend in the millions of dollars on their digital transformation projects, the millions wasted due to digital partner inconsistency is unacceptable. The industry, can, indeed must, do better.
That’s why DCG has developed the VOCalis award: to acknowledge those digital partners whose customers recognize them for consistently delivering great experiences. And that’s why we’re pleased that after a comprehensive primary research engagement interviewing Cognifide’s customers and analyzing their responses, we present Cognifide with a 2018 VOCalis Award of Excellence in implementing Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). Thus far, Cognifide is the only global alliance partner for Adobe AEM to meet the rigorous criteria for this award. 73% of Cognifide customers rated the firm’s overall performance on completed projects as very good or outstanding, an incidence that is 2.8 times higher than the average for other Adobe Global Alliance and Premier Partners.
Here’s what we’ve learned from Cognifide’s customers, as well as the customers of Cognifide’s digital partner peers, about where many digital partners fall short, and where Cognifide does well.
Sources of digital partner dissatisfaction
The reasons for customer dissatisfaction with their digital partners are numerous, but can be summarized into four themes:
- Misalignment in project management expectations. The biggest contributor to poor client satisfaction tends to be when an agency’s project manager misunderstands or mishandles a customer. Lack of communication on the part of the project manager around increased timelines or costs, or technical stumbling blocks, will cause more customer dissatisfaction than a project manager who is honest and transparent about these issues.
- Complex systems integration requirements. This is particularly an issue in projects that have a component where products from different vendors (for example, a new CMS must integrate with a legacy e-commerce platform) need to work together, and the digital partner’s expertise is limited to the new technology.
- Deficiencies in project team expertise. This was cited in cases where the partner employees assigned to the project lack the technical or project management skills the customer expects given the partner’s status with the vendor (e.g. as a specialized or recommended partner).
- Projects delivered significantly late and over budget. Most customers are willing to be flexible due to unforeseen problems that may come up during the course of project, and will give the partner a pass for any delays and additional costs in those cases that result. However, this understanding falls away once projects take significantly longer (many months or even years, rather than a few weeks) or cost more than 20% over the initial budget.
Just as a consumer has certain expectations of the quality of their experiences with the brands from whom they buy products and services, an enterprise customer has expectations they will receive a great engagement experience from the digital partner that implements their DX technology. This engagement experience includes great customer service as well as project management capabilities, expectation management, and regular reporting. Without these elements, the most technically-proficient and innovate partner runs the risk of missing the mark with enterprise customers.
Cognifide’s success formula: client empathy + consistent execution
It is clear from the feedback from Cognifide’s customers that the agency not only understands what makes for a great digital engagement experience, but can deliver those experiences consistently to different customers over time. Many other Cognifide competitors exhibit one or even both of those capabilities, but it rare to find one that can do so over and over again, across different client stakeholders, project types, industries, and geographic regions.
Cognifide particularly excels at “people skills”: the types of expertise that go beyond the expected table stakes of a digital agency like technology proficiency and solid project management. Cognifide customers feel like the firm “gets” them and appreciates the agency’s ability to understand their concerns and challenges.
Empathy was also the most common reason customers initially chose Cognifide as their partner in the first place, and is in the language customers use to describe what they value about Cognifide. One client appreciated the firm’s “ability to listen to, and understand, (our) needs, before making assumptions about what might be delivered.”
Indeed, this empathy ranked higher in importance than other factors such as Adobe’s recommendation, cost, skills and experience, and reputation. In fact, it contributed to Cognifide’s success over a mix of competitors considered, which included a mix of European and global providers and vendor professional services teams (including Adobe’s own). In particular, Cognifide’s empathy won over clients considering much larger agencies and global systems integrators and consultancies.
Customer service, however, is not enough: a digital partner has to be able to deliver on its promises. The ability to successfully implement, upgrade, and manage Adobe technology should in theory be a given capability for any premier or global Adobe partner. However, in reality this ability is not always present for all client projects. Cognifide’s customers consistently rated the firm’s technical and project management capabilities highly as well, even for the most complex projects. It is no surprise that due to this combination of empathy and consistent execution, nearly all Cognifide customers would recommend the agency to a friend or colleague.
Cognifide’s lessons for digital partners
DX technology projects are hard for digital partners and customers alike. There is no single blueprint for success, but the voices of Cognifide’s customers point to some key areas where digital partners can focus to improve their project win rates and successful implementations. Industry awards and flashy marketing are no substitutes for investments in a culture that emphasizes and rewards superior client service, effective project management, and technical competency.
Interested in learning more about VOCalis or other services that Digital Clarity Group offers to improve the success rate of complex technology projects? Contact us!