custexpThe debate over who should oversee shaping digital customer experiences is as old as the internet. With the rise of headless technology, it has just reached a turning point again. Since the 2000s, online trading steadily gained traction - initially in the B2C and later also in the B2B sector. With the rapidly growing number of websites, systems were needed to efficiently manage all kind of information and data, heralding the birth of the first generation of web content management and e-commerce platforms. However, just after a few years, it reached its limits, because the control of these systems was entirely with the IT department. Marketers and merchandisers had to make a request to the developers every time they wanted to edit or create new web content, which was inefficient and unsatisfactory for both parties.

New technologies require flexibility

The software manufacturers responded with the monolithic suite approach that included content management functionalities with which anyone could design websites without major training. Around 2010 the World Wide Web reached a new stage of evolution: mobile devices, apps and video content were the new favorites of Internet users and competed with the traditional website. Since then, new technologies have emerged that can be used to create an even better digital experience. Regardless of whether it is responsive design, chatbots, virtual reality or digital voice assistants, the list is constantly growing. And that's not all: the subject of personalization is also becoming increasingly important to provide offers that are relevant straight away. With a monolithic e-commerce suite, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. Integrating new sales channels and technologies demands a high level of integration effort from the developers every time - and it is not uncommon for the marketing team to discover afterwards that the popular hot trend does not knock the socks off the selected target group.

Customer experience as knockout criterion

Especially, since in today's digital world, with its enormous change dynamics, the customer experience is developing into a decisive competitive factor: Millennials take a smooth digital user experience for granted since this generation expects good customer service based on modern technologies. And the more that’s true for the following “Generation Z” - people born between 1995 and 2012. According to a survey conducted by Adobe among this age group, the majority has no problem sharing personal data with companies for a better customer experience, making clear that ignoring such new developments isn’t an option.

Why the IT department must give up control

Providing companies with the necessary flexibility is the goal of the so-called headless approach: in a headless commerce system, the front end is only loosely connected to the IT back end via an interface and can be designed independently of it. Thanks to the API structure, it is easy for developers to quickly integrate new touchpoints and end devices, however, the marketing team is unfortunately ignored in this pure headless approach. But there is no getting around marketers and merchandisers emancipating themselves from IT. After all, they are the ones who are closest to the customers, their ideas and needs, together with the service area - and it is them who have their own performance measured against key figures.

A useful working basis for both sides

A head-optional approach, as a logical further development of the headless principle, enables exactly that: the API-based architecture allows user-friendly tools for front-end design to be connected that are also easy to use for business users. On the one hand, marketing teams receive all the functionalities they need to implement consistent, personalized, and inspiring customer experiences independently: content editing and preview modes, personalization options, promotion of search results and product categories, A / B testing and analytics are just a few. In addition, marketers gain a solid database on which they can build their customer-centric activities, because all user information and interactions from all channels come together in a single backend. On the other hand, IT developers also benefit from such a system because they can concentrate on the big picture and are no longer constantly interrupted by marketing inquiries such as “Can you quickly adjust the landing page for me?”. Anyway, the fact that chatbots, digital voice assistants and the like can be flexibly integrated, definitely makes work easier for IT staff.

The fact is that the speed with which companies need to implement innovative and personalized user experiences has never been faster than today. At the same time, the amount of data is growing immeasurably, which is why it is important to channel the data sensibly and make it strategically usable.

If you want to continue being successful under these circumstances, you have to take one thing into account: you need an IT architecture that places control of the customer experience into the hand of the marketing team, while the development team retains control of the backend structures without having to deal with everyday questions regarding frontend design. This way, everyone does what they can do best.

By Daniela La Marca