By Yen Liu, Vice President, Information Technology at Essex Property Trust

Hindsight is 20/20 and as luck would have it, we launched Essex Property Trust’s new website just before Covid changed the world. As more work-from-home opportunities emerged, millions reconsidered their quality of life and made a decision to relocate. Essexapartmenthomes.com provides residents across the Western United States with an easy-to-use and efficient way to find their new home, from real-time information on unit listings, to pricing and availability, and self-service scheduling of virtual property tours.

The pandemic has impacted work and life across the board, including an extraordinary pace and scale of change in digital experience needs and expectations. In a short amount of time, the COVID-19 crisis has brought about years of change. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and internal operations by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years. McKinsey further reports that companies with future-ready, digitally optimized business models that were positioned for this acceleration have pulled further away from their industry peers, while those with legacy business models have fallen further behind.

Essex was fortunate. We’d already been improving our website and digital experience strategy when Covid arrived and tested every decision we'd made. Our new DX platform was transformative even without the changes wrought by the pandemic. But the lessons learned from Covid’s impact on digital adoption underline the need for digital experience and technology leaders to embrace digital transformation today, to meet the unforeseen challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

Five future-proof DX strategies

What’s abundantly clear is we need to constantly renew and innovate to improve the customer’s digital experience. Successful DX leaders forge stronger relationships with customers and prospects through building better connections and engagement, and by enabling, swift, smart, and efficient marketing operations.

The following issues are all too common, and solving them is critical to marketing efficacy:

  • Outdated websites with sub-par stability, performance, or SEO are fatal to a business.
    So is lacking mobile support, or a hard-to-navigate customer experience. Statistics show that 90% of customers report having poor or non-existent mobile support. The majority of customers won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile. And if a website isn’t mobile-friendly, 50% of customers will stop visiting it altogether, even if they like the business.
  • Complex tools and processes reduce competitiveness.
    By simplifying and improving ease-of-use with marketer-friendly systems, organizations reduce reliance on IT for website changes and updates. A recent Forrester report  reveals the change in prioritization of operational efficiencies, which has risen four places to be firms’ top reported driver of digital transformation at 39 – followed by improving the customer experience and growing revenue1.
  • If nothing else, expedite the introduction of creative and in-demand features like self-service to increase customer appeal and efficiencies.
    Gartner reported that 65% of CIOs saw an increase in the use of self-service by customers in 2020 after the pandemic. Another recent survey found that the desire for self-service is stronger than ever, with 45% of customers more likely to use self-service today, and 82% willing to use self-service moving forward.
  • Understanding and empathizing with customers lays the groundwork for meaningful interactions and successful business outcomes.
    Leverage customer journey mapping to visualize the customer’s experience interacting with your brand. By better understanding your customers, you can better deliver on their expectations, and by understanding the customer journey, companies can stay a step ahead of the customer to lead them on the path for a great experience and quality products and service.
  • Don’t underestimate the benefits and value of personalization.
    Not only will customers move on within seconds without it, but personalization can also reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50% (McKinsey). According to Instapage, marketers who use personalized experiences see their sales increase by 20% on average, while Hubspot reports that personalized calls to action convert 202% better than non-personalized CTAs.

Our strategy is to stay ahead of the curve by ensuring our DXP provides the technology foundation as well as the vision, future thought, and leadership that solves today’s challenges and opportunities. It’s also nimble and flexible enough to accommodate unexpected or last-minute changes and enables continued improvements to stay ahead of customer needs and expectations.

The latest version of Sitecore Experience Platform (XP) hits the spot, enabling self-managed content and marketing, A/B testing, the ability to customize to our needs, and personalization – all of which are essential to continuously improving and optimizing the website experience. With a scalable, cutting-edge digital experience platform, we can develop and evolve a website that acts as a personalized gateway to the content visitors need for an engaging and efficient customer experience. For Essex, that includes real-time information on apartments, pricing and availability, and self-service ‘book a tour’ functionality – all of which we introduced with our new platform.

Constant innovation is key

New demands and challenges drive innovation, and we are always on the lookout for opportunities to extend our digital platforms. Our next steps at Essex include enhancements to individual community sites and augmenting features to further improve resident engagement and personalization opportunities. We are also looking at how we can better service our other markets by expanding the advanced features on our consumer site to also support our commercial customers.

Delivering a standardized, consistent, and personalized experience to relevant audiences increases stickiness, retention, campaign and promotion response rates, and customer loyalty. Navigating and tracking the customer journey across the website enables a better understanding of customer needs and interests. With better customer behavior data and heat-mapping, we are highlighting bounce rates and why and where visitors exit pages.

For businesses such as ours, where we need scalability and flexibility, managed cloud hosting is also beneficial. We did not want to maintain nor have resources dedicated to supporting a fully operational data center for our website. With Sitecore Managed Cloud we quickly set up and deployed a digital platform with minimal infrastructure investment.

Results reinforce best practices

Set against a tough two years for every business, Essex has the foundation to be forward-thinking with a highly effective and efficient digital marketing platform that supports a best-in-class, visually elevated, and easy-to-use website. It delivers modern, engaging features, and a consistent customer experience. Internally, marketers have an easy-to-use platform to make content updates, launch campaigns, and create new layouts consistently faster without requiring much technical support.

With a contemporary website that is personalized for visitors, supports new self-service features, and is easy for marketers to use, we are dramatically improving our business. Improved conversion rates at Essex echoes research by McKinsey that reveals 15% of retailers saw a 100-300% increase in new customer customer conversions through personalization, and 41% saw a 50-100% increase in cross-selling revenue. Our experience also bears out McKinsey’s findings that when retailers personalize their content they can increase revenue 10% or more, with many retailers notably increasing their customer traffic – as we did at Essex, where more relevant and targeted content helped increase site visitors, lower bounce rates, and resulted in fewer page exits.

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, we face an increasing, inevitable, and ongoing shift in customer attitudes, expectations, and demands. That challenges us all to constantly re-establish, regrow, and renew our organizations to deliver relevant, targeted customer experiences that drive better business success.

1 Forrester Research, “Forrester Infographic: The State of Digital Transformation in Financial Services, 2021,” 1 July 2021; Oliwia Berdak, Luis Deya with David Hoffman, Corrado Loreto, Sam Bartlett