A good digital customer experience is a crucial part of your business strategy. But why? We explain what it is and how you can ensure you’re giving your customers what they want and how they want it in this blog.
The Digital Customer Experience Defined
Each interaction you have with your customers in a digital interface is part of your digital customer experience. Together, those front-office interactions — and the back-office services that support them — are important to your company’s overall customer experience, not only the digital portion.
That’s because today’s customers expect your company to be as modern as they are. While it was once enough to deliver digital customer experiences through smartphones and websites, customers increasingly want new-age interfaces. Virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR), holograms and more will be your future customers’ expectations — until they expect something else.
But don’t be misled. Investing in the latest technology does not guarantee great digital customer experiences. You need two other elements that are even harder to attain: understanding and empathy. That means knowing what your customers want, need and expect, plus putting yourself in your customers’ shoes at every point on their journey.
Components of a Great Digital Customer Experience
Delivering a great digital customer experience is a big job. Below are the six areas your organization must excel in to help customers know your brand, buy your products or services and come back for more.
- Channel flexibility. Your business must be able to seamlessly switch between customer channels without “losing” the customer’s content or data.
- Reachability. You must know what channels your customers prefer to use, and then make them available and reliable.
- Service convenience. You need clear, up-to-date content and data throughout every transaction, while making it easy for customers to get help along the way.
- Purchase convenience. You must make it easy for customers to buy your goods and services. That means good customer experience design as well as good content and data.
- Simplicity and ease of use. Your digital customer experience must be intuitive and simple.
- Personalization. You must customize your digital customer experience to serve people as individuals.
If that sounds like a tall order, it is — and it all starts with understanding your customers’ needs to build understanding and empathy within your organization. To get started, we can break learning about your customers into three areas: research, visualization and analytics.
Research: Gathering Digital Customer Experience Data
Today, it seems every time you go to the doctor, shop in a store or buy a new car, you receive a text or an email asking you to participate in a survey. The data gathered through surveys is quantitative data — numerical information companies can easily summarize and communicate.
However, quantitative research, such as the customer survey, has several drawbacks. First, it does not consider the full context of the customer’s interaction. Second, it also cannot reveal the context in which the customer completed the survey, which can influence results. Most importantly, it does not paint the full, end-to-end story of the customer’s journey you need.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, is all about context. In-depth customer interviews, for example, put the researcher face-to-face with the customer. This allows them to gain a nuanced and detailed level of customer understanding that helps you obtain one of the most important elements of all customer experiences: empathy.
Another type of qualitative research, customer observations, allows you to watch customers as they experience your product or service in real time. By offering a non-intrusive method of gathering information, you can see them acting without influence or prompts to help you answer key questions, such as:
- Where do they get stuck in the process?
- Where do they smile, nod their heads or express frustration?
- Are they able to overcome friction, or is it so great that they throw up their hands and walk away?
One challenge with qualitative methods is that they leave room for interpretation. Proper training of your researchers can help to overcome this challenge and yield the most meaningful results.
Visualization: Mapping the Digital Customer Experience Journey
Another form of qualitative research, journey mapping, helps you fulfill an otherwise overwhelming job — seeing and understanding the entire customer journey. As a well-known, proven method, journey mapping is a tool that all levels of your organization can buy into, but creating an accurate journey map is not easy.
Tracking Every Touch Point
Even a seemingly simple transaction — say, buying a product — has many touch points. Maybe the transaction beings with a pop-up ad. It grabs the potential customer’s attention, and they click on it. What happens after that touch point?
Imagine the customer arrives at your company’s generic landing page, their next touch point. Hopefully, you have at least categorized your products so the customer can scan a list in the correct category and select what they are looking for — another touch point. If you have not categorized your products, hopefully, the customer can search your site and find what they are looking for. This may generate multiple touch points, not all of them positive!
Now they found the product. What does purchasing the product look like? Do they have to place it into a shopping cart and then “check out” and enter payment information, or do they have the option to buy it directly? Can your site “remember” the customer for their next purchase? Do you have the capability to recommend similar products or additional products the customer may be interested in? How simple is that process?
Identifying and tracking all these touch points is challenging, but researchers and designers skilled at observing customer behavior can identify the ones creating the most friction. Scrunched-up faces, sighs, curse words, head scratches — these are signs of friction and proof that not all digital touch points have equal weight.
Determining Digital Touchpoint Purpose and Impact
The goal of your journey mapping exercise is to document a qualitative assessment of touch points, all of them culminating in a single outcome. Collectively, your journey map will make those touch points simpler, more relevant and more rewarding.
But within each outcome, certain touch points have greater purpose and impact than others. For example, you certainly want your “Pay Now” button and touch point to launch an easy, streamlined process. Other touch points closer to that magic moment, such as viewing similar products, have a purpose of driving sales, but they do not have the same direct impact on revenue.
Journey Mapping as Strategy
However, journey mapping to improve your digital customer experience requires more than tracking and analyzing touch points. You must go beyond the usual result of Post-It notes and diagrams by making journey mapping part of your strategy.
When used intentionally, journey maps don’t simply identify friction in the digital customer experience — they allow you to avoid friction altogether as experiences and expectations evolve. In other words, they help you plan for future experiences as well.
Analytics: Interpreting Digital Customer Experience Data
The hottest trend in customer experience research is advanced analytics of the data you gather from your customer interviews, observations, journey maps and other forms of qualitative and quantitative research.
Modern customer analytics tools use artificial intelligence and machine learning to quickly analyze your many valuable pieces of data. Automation allows you to instantly notify your teams of problems they would not have identified as quickly — or at all — with manual methods. In short, investing in analytics tools is an investment in your company’s future growth. See this Gartner report for reviews of the best customer analytics tools.
Common Digital Customer Experience Channels and Mediums
One important outcome of your research is which digital channels customers use most commonly do business with you. While customers now have access to a staggering number of channels, they may ease your mind by saying they expect to complete transactions entirely from their smartphones. But that answer is not as simple as it seems.
Smartphones, like PCs and laptops before them, enable multiple channels, too. Companies can push information to them through phone calls, emails and SMS text messages. Or users can retrieve information themselves through websites, blogs, social media, live chats and more. Here’s the bottom line: in the modern world, customers expect more control over transactions than ever before.
Expecting more control means expecting more choice, which means that “push” and “pull” channels can become intermingled. For example, a customer might go to your website to place an order (channel 1), engage with a chatbot to get answers to questions (channel 2) and receive an email confirming the transaction (channel 3).
Then, say the customer loses internet service and has a problem with the product. They may place a traditional phone call (channel 4), where they either find what they’re looking for through an automated call center (channel 5) or speak to a person (channel 6).
Imagine the customer’s frustration if information disappears as they navigate the various channels. On their own, each one may be great — but if they don’t work together, the customer may have to re-enter the order, identity, payment information and more.
Designing your digital channels to function exceptionally on their own is the hallmark of a “multichannel” approach. As customers’ expectations of control and choice continue to evolve, a more modern approach has emerged called “omnichannel.”
However, instead of thinking of how to make each channel the best independently, you must now work toward making them work together to deliver great customer experiences. Each of your channels can be extremely efficient alone, but customers may lose data as they transfer from one to another — which happened six times in the example above.
Instead, you need an approach that minimizes the risk of frustrating or confusing customers as they encounter various interfaces and channels on their customer journey. In digital marketing terms, you need an omnichannel approach.
Putting It All Together: Digital Customer Experience Strategy
To truly succeed with a great digital customer experience, your research, visualization, analytics and channels must work together as part of a comprehensive digital customer experience strategy. Your strategy’s goal? To put the customer at the center of every interaction.
Modern customers live in a modern world. They expect their experiences to be relevant to their needs and to engage them, even if those experiences deliver products in a traditional way. A defined digital customer experience strategy empowers you to play different roles, or archetypes, at each stage of your customer encounter. These roles include:
- Protector: You’ve probably seen the ads from a popular insurer that feature a character called “Mayhem” or “Chaos.” You protect your customer from the chaos of insecure data, lost information and getting ripped off.
- Caregiver: Empathy is the key in this archetype. It’s not enough to know what your customer is doing, but how they feel about it. You must always strive to see each touch point and interaction through your customer’s eyes.
- Magician: Magic makes things easy. Another popular ad features an “Easy Button.” When you integrate technology with your processes across your enterprise and your partners, magic happens: “Oh my gosh, the tow company is already working with my insurance company? I just called them!”
- Hero: You are the savior on the white horse who makes the customer’s day — and ensures they will call on you again.
By assuming these roles, you let your customer know you care about them and their problems. Your use of modern technology demonstrates that you can keep up with their lives and needs, which become more digital every day. This is an essential part of building your brand for the future, whatever it brings.
2022 Emerging Strategies and Trends
The only thing we know for certain about the future of the digital customer experience is that the digital component is not going away. The pandemic awakened customers’ eyes to the great potential for touch-free interactions, ordering more easily online and more.
Still, people crave human contact. That’s why in certain segments, especially retail, opportunities for hybrid digital/physical experiences are likely to grow. For example, future customers could have the real-world experience of touching a product, interacting with a holographic salesperson using virtual reality or augmented reality to ask questions about products, getting directions or even placing orders.
But new technologies only drive a need for more research, more visualization, more analysis. Digital customer experience technology is only helpful if it works with other tools, people and processes to create seamless experiences.
Tips for Improving Digital Customer Experience
The best way to improve your digital customer experience is to keep listening with a strategic combination of quantitative and qualitative research. While this blog has focused mostly on qualitative research, quantitative research — such as all those customer surveys you complete — plays a role, too.
Quantitative data captures a customer’s impressions at a point in time. The advantage of this type of data is that it makes analysis easier by removing the subjective, human component. You can quickly calculate and share responses. One of the most common forms of quantitative customer data is the net promoter score (NPS). The NPS answers questions like, “How likely are you to recommend this product to others?” It is helpful to measure how probable it is your customers will become your best advertisers.
Unfortunately, customers may not always complete a quantitative questionnaire close to their experience. They may be in a completely different state of mind at the time, which can color results. That is why qualitative methods such as observational research are also important. They answer other questions about the digital customer experience:
- What is the customer doing (or trying to do)
- How they are doing it
- When they are doing it
- Why they do it that way
- Whether they are completing the experience as designed or not.
Finally, as we have suggested above, do not assume that you have improved your digital customer experience simply by installing new technology. In fact, the opposite may be true. To make the best use of new technology:
- Determine whether customers want it.
- Understand where, how and when it fits into their journey
- Integrated it with your other tools, people and processes.
Get Professional Input
Improving your digital customer experience is a big job, and your organization’s previous experience with familiar tools like journey maps may give false hope. Even technologically mature organizations may struggle to adapt what they know best — their technology — to the people they may not know as well as they think they do — their customers.
A third party can help. However, do your due diligence. Thousands of companies promise to install a great technology or do great research, and many do. But ideally, you want a vendor who gets both the technology side and the people side to help you stay ahead of the always-shifting digital customer experience curve.