10 Ways to Drastically Improve Customer Outcomes in Search

Search is notoriously difficult to get right. With Google continuously shaping consumer expectations regarding search, consumers today expect more from search than ever before.

In a bid to keep up with rising customer demands, brands are increasingly settling for low-maturity deployment of search products—which results in search that is technically functional but fails to deliver an experience that is as intuitive and seamless as your customers have come to expect.

Consequently, customers are left feeling frustrated and confused, and they are left with the distinct impression that the brand they’ve come to trust doesn’t understand or care about their needs.

Like so many other areas of enterprise innovation, the key to success when it comes to improving customer outcomes in search is to think about innovation in terms of inches rather than miles. Deliberate and thoughtful improvements guided by customer needs as well as business objectives do add up—and your customers will take notice.

When considering the replacement of a poorly performing search experience or legacy search technology, consider how improvements in these key areas can fundamentally transform your customer outcomes in the search

 

1) Understand customer intent

Search is one of the most transparent interactions customers have with your digital presence, so leverage insights wisely. If you have search analytics fully enabled, you should be able to identify common search intent clusters, known pain points, and customer feedback. These data are hugely valuable and, when leveraged correctly, are packed with actionable insights.

That said, it’s not always easy to identify trends within these data sets, so leverage external search experts to understand when poor outcomes occur and how they can be optimized for better outcomes.

2) Know what the competition is doing

Search doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and your customers are inevitably influenced by what they’re experiencing with the other brands they do business with. While it’s important not to become too preoccupied with “catching up” with your competitors, take into account how their search outcomes compare to yours—and how that might influence their decisions.

3) Don’t mix apples and oranges

When your customers search for a person versus a product on your site, they expect different experiences tailored to that particular search term. Yet many enterprises’ search technology treats people, locations, products, services, and everything else on their website in roughly the same way, despite these all being fundamentally different entities.

Take a note from Google, which uses a Knowledge Graph to match a query against entities in the real world. They also create the illusion of a single, seamless search experience by combining several different individual search apps, optimized for content sources such as web, images, and maps, behind a single search box. Taking a similar hybrid approach to search can more closely tailor your search experience to the needs of your customers.

4) Champion “blue sky” thinking with customer journeys

Your customers are looking for more than merely relevant search results. To provide truly meaningful search outcomes for customers, think about customer journeys across all of your collections. What are the most common intents for each? How is location important when searching for a particular product or service?

Beyond great results, consider how other elements—tailored specifically to a customer’s search-specific needs—could elevate outcomes and delight customers in the process.

5) Get search stakeholders on board

Truly transformative opportunities for search technology often languish in the IT pile, left to be dealt with another day by another employee. To see search truly thrive in an enterprise setting, getting marketing and business stakeholders on board is critical.

Identify someone within your team with a CX mandate to take ownership of search innovation—or you might as well remove the search box from your online presence entirely!

6) Don’t just buy “the best”

A common trap for enterprise leadership is simply assuming that by replacing legacy technology with the “best” search product (according to the analysts), everything will work seamlessly. Of course, the opposite is often the case—and that’s because an optimized search experience for your business is not something that you can buy in a box or in the cloud.

Search technology today is a commodity, but no product contains a magic wand. The trick is to get the basics right before considering how additional technology can further optimize your search experience. Consider how open-source technologies can be a cost-effective element in your overall search strategy.

7) Diversify your budget

Though commercial search products and open-source technology can do a great job of improving search outcomes, they might not be enough on their own. Instead of throwing money at technology, consider splitting your budget between tech, search expertise, and perhaps most important, knowledge transfer. This will allow your team to more accurately map search technologies onto real problems facing your customers, which is the recipe for great outcomes.

8) Gather great analytics

It’s not enough to simply gather data about your customer’s search experience for a rainy day. Deploying a strategy that identifies trends and opportunities—and does so by gathering as much data as possible—is crucial. Common search terms and zero-result searches are essential, but there’s so much more you should be evaluating.

9) Don’t underestimate the power of continuous optimization

If the goal of a great data analytics strategy is to create as many valuable, actionable insights as possible, the true success of that strategy hinges on how well those insights are used to improve customer search outcomes. Lights-on, business-as-usual IT monitoring and distribution of the latest analytics to the team just isn’t enough.

Get expert advice and schedule regular sessions to understand exactly what those analytics are revealing—and how to prioritize enhancements—to keep up with changes in customer behaviors and preferences.

10) Define a road map

Even the most straightforward deployment strategies for new search technologies will fall short of expectations if clear milestones aren’t put in place. Work with experts who know the common pitfalls and opportunities in this type of engagement to maximize your ROI by incorporating improvements such as artificial intelligence.

Once you’ve started down the path to a better search experience for your customers, keep going. The key to a great search experience is to first get it right and then continuously iterate and optimize. This is what allows the likes of Google to consistently deliver exceptional search outcomes.

At the end of the day, search isn’t just the implementation of a piece of technology. We believe that the right approach to search is initially technology-agnostic—with a key focus on the right outcomes for your business, customers, and internal teams alike. Only after you have implemented the right approach can you continue to elevate the customer experience and capitalize on new search technologies faster than ever before.