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APIs and Data: Journey to the Center of the Customer Experience

Dec 17, 2013

If you think you’re in full control of your customers’ experience, you’re wrong.

Customers increasingly have taken charge—they know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. They are using their mobile phones more often for an ever-growing list of tasks—be it searching for information, looking up directions, or buying products. According to Google, 34% of consumers turn to the device that’s closest to them. More often than not, they’re switching from one channel or device mid-transaction; Google found that 67% of consumers do just that. They might start their product research on the web, but complete the purchase on a smartphone.

In the digital economy, it’s getting much harder to understand customer behavior, know what they want, and delight them at the right time and on the right device.

Many companies have instrumented their websites to track customer visits and behavior, but lack the same sophistication and depth when it comes to understanding mobile behavior. They struggle even more when attempting to understand mobile behavior in the context of the associated web behavior. This problem is compounded when you add new devices and digital channels to the mix. Instrumenting every app or website on every channel to transmit clickstream data, and then correlating the data after the event, is clearly not feasible.

There’s a better way to track and understand customer behavior across channels in the digital world; the solution is simpler and cleaner than one might expect. It lies in APIs.

Painting a picture of your customer

The first thing to recognize is that every app is made up of a series of events or interactions. For example, a mobile shopping app consists of a flow of interactions: you log in, view product details, add items to your cart, start the checkout process, and place an order. In the digital world, each interaction is powered by an API. APIs carry data about what customers do. By tracking and analyzing this API activity and data, you can develop a picture of your customers’ behavior.

The beauty of this approach is that it scales to all digital channels, now and in the future. So every time your users interact with any of your apps on any device on any digital channel, the API powering that interaction generates data, and analyzing this data helps you paint a picture of customer activity. Because you’re capturing data from the API, you’re aware of what your customers do when they interact with you. This, in turn, gives you an excellent vantage to influence their behavior in real time.

Understanding cross-channel behavior

In this model, understanding and influencing cross-channel behavior becomes easy, too. Each user interaction requires authentication behind the scenes, allowing you trace a customer’s events across channels. If all your APIs are using a common API management platform such as Apigee, then this identity data enables you to correlate interactions within and across channels.

Let’s examine a hypothetical but real-world example to showcase how APIs can help increase conversion rates for retailer. Say you are a retailer who operates an ecommerce site, a mobile app, and physical stores. The diagram below shows these three channels and the customer’s journey across them. As customers navigate across the web, their smartphones, and your physical store, they leave a trail of interactions. For example, on the web, they log in, view details for items they like, and then add the items to their shopping carts. You can also see the name of the API that powers each interaction. For example, “/login” is the API that enables the user to log in.


A customer journey across three channels


Context, location, and relevance

Each API generates data that can richly describe who customers are, what they are doing, and additional metadata such as location. You can use this data to understand how a particular customer traversed the web, the mobile channel, and the store, and build a unified view of that customer’s journey across these three channels.

Because you’re aware of each interaction as it occurs, you can introduce special offers wherever they might accelerate the conversion. If you’re using the a big data platform such as Apigee Insights, you can make these offers contextually relevant by combining API data with other relevant information, such as location, prior purchase history, or nearby store sales.

The diagram below shows the API data. You can see that the same customer (in this case, identified as customer “101”) interacted with you on the web, mobile, and in store. At each step, you have rich insights into the customer’s activity—for example, you can see which products were viewed, the customer’s location, and so on—at that particular step and from their prior actions. You can use all the available information to offer the customer a 15%-off mobile offer. And, because you know it’s the same customer picking up the item in the store, you can offer them additional relevant products when in-store, increasing retail sales.


API data across a three-channel customer journey


Whether you’re embarking on your digital journey, or currently well into it, make sure you are fully leveraging the wealth of customer information available at your fingertips thanks to APIs.


image: Mikey Jones/Flickr

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