By Craig Borowski @HBR | Nov 9, 2015
Customer experience has been defined as the quality of all of a consumer’s encounters with a company’s products, services, and brand. While a strong customer experience has been shown to produce significant results—more customers, more sales, and more loyalty—many companies still struggle to identify the plan of action that will best achieve them. This doesn’t have to be the case. Leaders can reach these goals if they focus on something more specific: the digital customer experience.
Digital customer experience includes only those experienced through a digital interface, like a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Researching a product online, using a mobile app to find a store’s nearest location, searching for tech support information on a smartphone—these are all digital customer experiences.
This isn’t merely a subset of customer experience, and a good customer experience strategy doesn’t equate to a good digital customer experience strategy. Too many businesses get stuck searching for, implementing, and measuring the ROI of customer experience improvement initiatives, because the problems they’re trying to solve require a stronger focus on digital customer experience. Online and offline consumers are birds of very different feathers.
A customer’s experience in a physical setting is determined by a large group of factors, including how other customers are behaving (and whether there are any other customers at all), the environment’s overall atmosphere—its temperature, lighting, ambient noise, and music—and its physical location. Consumers recognize that some of these factors lie outside a business’s direct control, so they naturally set a lower bar for what passes as a satisfactory experience. For example, they don’t mind waiting a few minutes for service. Online, consumers are far less patient. After all, clicking a mouse is much easier than driving across town to speak to a manager. A study found that a ten-second wait for a page to load can make 50% of consumers give up and leave. Researchers at Microsoft even found that a website begins losing traffic to competitors when it takes 250 milliseconds longer to load. It seems that when people have a less-than-favorable online experience, they fault the company immediately. To consumers, there’s no satisfactory excuse for a poor digital experience.
Given how critical customers are in digital interactions, you’d expect more businesses to invest in highly polished digital experiences. However, a recent study we conducted found that over 90% of consumers have had one or more deal-breaker digital experiences when using a mobile device to search for customer service information. To avoid frustrating customers, limiting their lifetime value, or driving them to competitors due to poor digital experiences, businesses should focus on the following goals for an effective digital consumer experience strategy:
Consistency creates loyalty, and relies on internal IT. A consumer’s impression of a brand is like a mosaic. It’s made up of many individual touch points. When a consumer is faced with a big decision, say abandoning a known brand for its competitor, the overall mosaic impression is often what convinces them to stay. When companies provide inconsistent digital experiences— like the airline that gave me one Customer ID on its website, then required a different identifier when my hands were full at their kiosk in the airport—then the consumer ends up with a disjointed and confusing impression of the brand. Immediate frustration aside, over time these inconsistencies erode loyalty.
This consistency for the user requires consistent internal IT processes. Surprisingly, for many companies, consistency seems to be an afterthought. In fact, of all the companies that ask for our advice in choosing software for their service and support departments, 64% have no dedicated system in place. They typically have piecemeal systems, cobbled together from one or more task-specific applications. For example, companies use Outlook as their email client to respond to customer inquiries and then manually track those in spreadsheets. While this process can work on a small scale, it quickly becomes inefficient and unmanageable. Companies shouldn’t delay investing in dedicated software systems that can streamline and automate customer-facing processes—and reduce errors and inconsistencies.
Omnichannel support software also helps to create reliability. It prevents the issue of asking customers to repeat themselves. When a company’s CRM or service software doesn’t track all interactions and tie them together across all channels (email, phone, social media, live chat etc.) then the customer will receive a fragmented digital customer experience. If the live chat agent today needs the customer to repeat the details they already gave in yesterday’s email, the customer will notice the inconsistency; it feels like a betrayal of the customer’s time. Omnichannel support software, likeFive9 and Pega CRM, prevents this from happening, by centralizing all communications, streamlining the customer’s digital experience and, over time, building loyalty.
Visual consistency also matters. Consistency is required on many levels, including the surface. Apple’s product design is a shining example of maintaining a regular experience across a range of products. When I spoke to design and customer experience professional Adam Richardson, he pointed out how Apple creates common visual and functional patterns across its many different devices, which lets people easily migrate between them and keeps them loyal to the brand.
Opinion-gathering tools improve the digital customer experience over time. Companies have to be able to measure how customers feel about a product or service experience, in order to find opportunities for improvement. One common mistake occurs when businesses assume that customers will bring inconsistencies to their attention. While this does happen in brick-and-mortar settings, consumers online rarely have time for it. Instead, businesses need to actively measure how well they meet online expectations by asking online customers directly. This is best accomplished with survey software, like Qualtrics Vocalize, Zendesk, or Freshdesk.
Digital initiatives should complement existing customer journeys. Many companies clumsily add digital components to customer journeys that don’t directly benefit the customer or are superfluous to the company’s value proposition. At best, these additions fail to gain traction; at worst, they can make the experience more complicated or confusing and drive people away. For months now, a regional deli I frequent has been asking me to answer an online survey. With every meal I purchase, the cashier highlights on the receipt the web address they’d like me to visit to complete the survey. But my customer journey with this sandwich shop never had any digital components. Why would they expect me to go online and complete their survey now? “Digital” and “online” are not synonyms for convenient.
A better approach is to design an app that simplifies some aspect of the journey on which customers are already engaging. Save them time and effort; don’t ask for more of either. The Starbucks mobile app is a great example of this. It manages a customer’s loyalty points and lets customers place orders ahead of time, so they can skip the in-store lines. Customers love that the app saves them time. In an average week, seven million purchases are made through the app, accounting for 16% of all purchases.
Admittedly, digital is still only one part of the customer experience. But from what we’re learning from companies and their consumers, it’s the one most deserving of immediate attention and investment.
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