Successful Headless Solutions Answer Customer and Employee Needs Alike
Customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction are intertwined— so why do we only focus on the former and ignore the latter?
Businesses want profits. We don’t often state it so baldly in this industry, but sidestepping it doesn’t stop it from being true, so may as well be frank.
All too often, talk about being user-centric and having a user-first mentality is followed by pretending the interest in those things has nothing to do with growing businesses or increasing profitability. And not only is it disingenuous, it’s silly and self-defeating, because the truth of one doesn’t negate the importance of the other. If anything, it helps. Acknowledging the importance of profitability drives us to find more user-oriented solutions, since happy customers are a crucial component of ongoing business success.
The risk when we focus so singularly on the end user experience is that we’ll miss ways we can drive customer satisfaction that happen earlier in the journey — parts they may not even directly touch. Happy customers don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist as part of the whole ecosystem of a business. And a crucial player in that system that often gets overlooked is the employee. Happy customers result from happy employees, and you need both to work to drive success for a business.
So yes, businesses want (and need!) to be profitable. And finding solutions that deliver what customers value most is a key component of that. It’s why we prioritize employee experiences as part of the customer journey, which itself is a big part of why we’ve been working with headless solutions for over a decade.
Headless Solutions: What are they and why do we love them?
We’ve written before about headless solutions and why we’ve been working with them for over a decade, but a quick review of what they are can’t hurt. “Headless” simply means the backend and frontend components of a digital experience exist and operate independent of one another. Headless architecture is what has been powering some of the best experiences on the web for the past 10 years, and it’s what’s enabling the omnichannel experiences, quick content publishing, and developer flexibility that are defining the technology landscape today. It’s as simple (and as infinitely complex) as that.
We love headless at Myplanet because it allows us to develop unique, memorable experiences for customers while allowing the business to deliver a consistent brand experience at every touchpoint. And with a headless framework in place, there’s a single source of truth for content that then pushes to all channels, with a middle API layer that allows for developer flexibility in a way the alternatives just can’t match currently. Simple, effective, and scalable — we mean it when we say there’s a lot to recommend headless as a way forward.
That said, headless solutions aren’t a silver bullet. Employees, especially, can face a number of challenges if a headless solution is implemented without due consideration. But when effectively deployed, they offer incredible opportunities for businesses. And if the potential challenges an employee may face are addressed up front they can actually ease employee burdens instead of adding to them.
So let’s dig into headless solutions, their potential challenges, and how they can improve employee experiences and company bottom lines.
Headless for Employees
Before we can establish how a headless solution will help employees, we need to know what kinds of difficulties and obstacles they face in their day-to-day work — sometimes because of headless solutions. In our experience, there are three main challenge areas employees face in headless environments:
- Process Challenges: A lack of understanding on customer context. What platform will the customer consume their content on, and what are the content requirements for each?
- Tech Challenges: A lack of certainty surrounding multiple systems and interface touchpoints. Each piece of partner software employees interact with has its own quirks, intricacies, and complications, and needs to be learned and understood to a high degree to be used effectively.
- People Challenges: A lack of communication between content, commerce, and other teams working on the backend. Multiple stakeholders and users of the software, all with differing priorities and pain points.
Having identified these three primary areas of concern, we can flag key issues upfront and highlight potential solutions that will address the concerns for each as we implement.
Process: The Challenge of Context-aware Content
“One of the biggest challenges when dealing with content is centralizing content creation.” — Caitlyn Tuzzolino, Senior Marketing Manager, Amplience
Through headless we are able to serve content to any channel on the presentation layer (voice devices, web, mobile, smartwatches, etc). This centralization of content is, as noted earlier, one of the major advantages of headless solutions. But it also poses a set of new challenges to content creators and managers.
While headless offers an API-first approach and a central source of content and commerce, each of the front-end solutions it serves requires specifically calibrated content to deliver a consistent brand experience, and this can be hard on content creators.
Take a lengthy paragraph on a website, for example. A significant chunk of text like that might make sense when viewed on a laptop, but it won’t work very well for a voice interface. Hearing a smart speaker read out reams of copy is obviously a poor user experience. So we know that repurposing the same content, exactly as-is, creates a burdensome experience for customers, which can lead to abandonment of their efforts — something a business wants to avoid at all costs.
This is one of the trouble spots in headless. While a headless approach might allow teams to generate content in a device agnostic way, as the example above shows, this may not lead to the best customer experience. The question then becomes: how do we take advantage of the ease that headless solutions offer for repurposing content, but deliver it to customers in a more device-specific way?
The answer is context awareness. We need to look into solutions that allow teams to model content in a way that’s available to all stakeholders and accounts for the context in which it will be used. It’s not actually about thinking content-first, as we’ve heard so much about over the last few years, but thinking context-first. Which means we need to understand the content restrictions of the platforms we’re designing for.
What is the context? How will our content be consumed? And what can be done to mitigate the challenges in delivery? These are the questions we need to ask and address up front to ensure we’re protecting employees from needless additional work.
Not long ago we worked on an application for CNIB designed to make event calendars more accessible for both end-users and content managers alike (there’s that customer/employee connection point, again). Using a headless framework, we needed to understand not just what kinds of information their users were after, but how they would be accessing and consuming it.
A calendar-based application, like the one we built, is a particularly sticky challenge. When you look at a calendar on a desktop, you can take in a lot of information at one time. But smart watches have significantly less real-estate and voice can only deliver one piece of information at a time, so to give consumers the experience they wanted in its end state, we needed to design a workflow for employees that ensured the most essential pieces of information would be delivered.
We followed a process that should be followed in any content assessment, but especially when headless is involved:
- Determine the most important pieces of information. This requires extensive research (not only end-user interviews, but ideally observation, analytics analysis and data assessment, and possibly speaking with customer service reps or reviewing call logs to determine where the highest volume of trouble seems to be focused).
- Determine how users are accessing this information. Covering off every single option isn’t possible (or at least, those results won’t last long in a rapidly changing tech landscape), but you can get a solid sense of which form factors to prioritize and which ones to at least consider as you design out your experience. If even 2% of your users are using a specific form factor, plan for it in your content creation.
- Start with the minimum. If you know which pieces are essential, you can begin to craft an outcome that gives people what they need. Embellishment can be hard-coded in to the more robust experiences if desired, but core content should be driven by needs, not wants.
By identifying the most important informational needs up front, we were able to structure a back-end content authoring experience — powered by voice — that put essential information front and center following a simple author flow. In doing it this way, we made sure the voice access was a seamless, enjoyable experience for creators and end-consumers. That same information can populate a more content-heavy experience, accessible to users if they want it. But no matter how they access information, we designed an initial experience that wasn’t bogged down by an overload of information.
Though it eases the process down the line, this kind of planning still requires a lot of manual input upfront. Which is why we’re looking to a future where AI-powered solutions to assist with these challenges, on top of the critical thought at the outset (something that will always be necessary).
Already, we’re seeing tools that can parse text and synthesize the information, applications that take a large chunk of text and turn it into a more manageable piece of content for a voice device or VR experience. Tools like this will play a huge role in the experiences of the future. They’ll help reduce the workload on employees and ensure they can devote their time to creating the quality content customers are looking for, instead of wasting time managing the delivery of it.
Technology: The Challenge of Multiple Microservices
“Some large multinational corporations we spoke with have been facing problems with turnover of development staff due to increased frustration and pain working with legacy systems.” — Daniel Strazzula, Research Manager, Contentful
Headless operates with an enormous amount of developer flexibility because of its middle layer API. This is a boon to operations, make no doubt about it. But if it’s not managed correctly, it can lead to a lot of additional load for the teams managing the content and administration of the services you integrate with.
Regardless of scale, employees of an organization with a headless solution will have several touchpoints. Inevitably, a variety of microservices will be operating in tandem — a service for commerce, a service for content, a service for search, etc — and employees will need to interact with each of these pieces of software to deliver content to the presentation layer. Partnering with best-in-class providers for specific services helps ensure all aspects of the experience are top tier. But just as centralized content has advantages and disadvantages, this can be a double-edged sword if not managed properly.
Content creators and administrators have one major goal: to deliver high-quality content to customers. With so many factors at play regarding the end state of their content, this is already a demanding task. Spending additional effort to figure out how to use each and every microservice to achieve this goal is an unnecessary burden for teams — one we see regularly in our work. To tackle this challenge, we need to unify the technologies in use and simplify the process for employees.
“You have to think about the ease of use for the business individuals, but also allow freedom and flexibility for our customers to extend the platform. A lot of our focus has been on how to improve the platform to be integrated with many different technologies easily to support headless CMS.” — Caitlyn Tuzzolino, Senior Marketing Manager, Amplience
The solution we recommend is a single, smart interface. The ideal situation when there are so many services at play is to have one portal, for example, that brings all those services together. By integrating them into one functional hub for staff, we create an employee experience that ranges from intuitive (easy to use workflows) to assistive or agentive (offering recommendations or insights that guide more effective decision making and drive business results) or even autonomous (acting without human input, relieving them of mundane tasks for optimization and execution) and eases individual work load significantly.
Instead of being tasked with managing the various components at play, a unified solution equips employees with just one tool to use, and more importantly, just one tool to master. It frees up valuable time and energy that can then be devoted more fully to delivering the content that customers want. And as we know, when customers are happy, profits tend to rise.
With years of complex, multi-layer projects under our belts, we’ve become experts in delivering these smarter interfaces for employees. And there are services in the wild that are starting to bridge the gap, too. Myplanet partner Contentful recently launched the App Framework, which provides a roadmap for how to manage the variety of services teams need to integrate with today as they work on multi-channel, multi-device experiences.
People: The Challenge of Communication
Hopefully by now you’re sensing a theme: when we make the work of employees easier, there are significant trickle-down effects to customers, which boomerang back to businesses in the form of growth and profitability. By tackling the functional challenges of day-to-day work, we will see positive gains for businesses — and that’s something we’re all interested in.
But it’s not only in the functional aspects of their work that employees are facing challenges. Operationally we know there are difficulties as well. For a headless solution to succeed, and for the challenges listed above to be effectively addressed, we need a communication and information distribution strategy. Because in the end, technology and process must come together to create a seamless experience for employees, so they can focus on delivering good content to customers.
To properly tackle the challenges employees face every day, we need to create truly cross-functional teams. Teams that focus on one specific microservice or task within the content creation process simply won’t work in a headless environment. The advantages of a headless solution — the extensibility, flexibility, and openness it offers — will be lost if the teams running it operate in silos. We have to redefine the way we manage ecommerce and content teams.
“This may also involve changing product development process to enable digital teams to actively collaborate and become more agile compared to old-school, cascaded processes.” — Daniel Strazzula, Research Manager, Contentful
Effective change management, which this would typically require, is a crucial area of the work we do with our clients when introducing headless solutions and multi-partner, platform-level solutions. Ensuring teams can communicate and operate as one is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to successfully implementing a headless solution.
It’s no secret that businesses want profits and that in order to achieve that aim, they need happy customers. But there is a direct correlation between customer experiences and employee experiences, especially when working in the ecommerce space.
A headless solution can reach more users and it offers real opportunities to add value to their experience of a brand, but headless solutions come with the potential to negatively impact your employees. To reach the full potential a headless solution offers, therefore, there must be a simultaneous transition of both the ecommerce platform and the employee experience.
By moving to a context-first approach driven by content, investing in smarter interfaces that allow employees to focus on content creation instead of worrying about their technical know-how, and by rethinking workflow management to allow for cross-functional teams that communicate and collaborate, we can reap the benefits headless solutions offer while safeguarding against the potential pitfalls.
The end outcome of these changes will be an improved employee experience that delivers meaningful content and brand experiences to your customers on any channel — and happy customers equal profits.
We’ve been working with Headless CMS for over 10 years at Myplanet. Talk to us about how we can help improve your customer and employee experiences and grow your business.