As the world becomes increasingly dominated by technology, many traditional boundaries have begun to blur. One example is omnichannel retail. Google analysts observe, “The line between online and offline shopping is growing increasingly blurry. Seventy-three percent of customers now describe themselves as ‘channel agnostic.'” As a result they note, “Marketers must adopt an omnichannel mindset to be ready for people’s changing behavior, both today and tomorrow, and to deliver a frictionless customer journey across all channels.” Numerous pundits insist today’s consumers are looking for more than a guided shopping journey — they want a shopping experience. Forbes Business Council notes, “One of the most important pieces of any company’s sales process is the customer experience.” And, since the majority of shoppers use some kind of online touchpoint during their shopping journey, customer experiences often include both online and offline activities. Helen Lin, Chief Digital Officer at Publicis, told Google analysts, “Omnichannel is about convenience — providing a seamless experience wherever the customer is.” As the business landscape becomes more complex, what people mean by “customer experience” has also become a bit fuzzy. In today’s world, the terms customer experience, customer service, and customer care are difficult to separate.
Online Customer Experience
Tiffany Rolfe (@tifko), global chief creative officer at R/GA, suggests that online customer experiences should include a number of factors — all of them beginning with the letter “e.” She explains, “The ‘e’ in ecommerce now stands for so much more than ‘electronic.’ Ecommerce is (e)ngaging, (e)xperimental, (e)thical, (e)quitable, and ultimately, an (e)cosystem. Brands that want to get ahead in the post-pandemic global economy will need to cater to these factors.” When it comes to customer experience, engaging with customers is a must. Rolfe writes, “Ecommerce has transcended beyond simple transactions. With companies like Amazon making repeat shopping as easy as clicking ‘auto-replenish,’ brands now see the necessity in imaginative and engaging shopping experiences.” She told Google analysts, “The role of the brand is about helping customers become their ‘next-best selves’ by providing valuable experiences that empower them to live happier, more fulfilled lives.”
Prior to the pandemic, there was a clear trend by younger generations to favor experiences over products. Brands can take advantage of this trend by ensuring they are providing experiences when selling products. The starting point for better customer experiences is listening. Seth Page (@sethrpage), Chief Operations Officer and Head of Corporate Development for ThroughPut Inc., explains, “Listen first and foremost. Revisit what your customers’ biggest pain points were and identify their challenges before utilizing your product or service. Confirm the results you’ve helped them achieve. Review what hasn’t worked and where the experience may have fallen short. Refine your solution across multiple customers to achieve the biggest impact. Reiterate this process for continuous improvement.”
Another important step, according to Abigail Aboitiz, Managing Partner at 247 Health Solution LLC, is mapping your customers’ journeys. “Mapping the customer journey to visualize the path to purchase is key,” she writes. “This visualization allows you to access the location and give input on different areas to focus on what matters most to customers, what they want to achieve and what the organization can do to meet their needs.” Adam Povlitz, CEO & President of Anago Cleaning Systems, agrees that mapping the customer journey is a good idea. However, he believes brands need to go one step beyond mapping. He explains, “Be a customer of your own business and experience it completely from beginning to end. Ask questions and change directions multiple times as a potential consumer might. Many times, something as inconspicuous as a poorly designed customer site or cumbersome process flow is enough to turn off potential customers from an otherwise well-run business.”
Improving Customer Experience
According to Kevin Daly, global head of Verint’s Experience Management Business, many organizations are impeded in their efforts to attract and retain consumers because they have no clear direction. “Many organizations,” Daly explains, “invest heavily in tracking and improving the customer journey to support customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS), but they still struggle to make a measurable impact because they lack certainty about where and how to prioritize improvements and deliver the insights necessary for stakeholders to do their job effectively.” He adds:
“Though it is important to move to a companywide, unified approach to [customer experience (CX)], it is equally important to fully understand CX challenges. Every organization is unique, but most of them struggle with CX in the same ways: They aren’t listening everywhere (i.e., despite the flood of information coming in, a lot of valuable data is left unused); they can’t analyze data intelligently (i.e., scarce resources make it impossible to pull actionable insights from their CX program; they aren’t prioritizing the best actions (i.e., finding problems is easy, but identifying fixes, product changes, and strategies that move the needle on CSAT and NPS is rare; and, there’s no companywide CX commitment (i.e., teams are disconnected, insights are siloed, and executive interest waxes and wanes. And CX is not getting easier. Even as CX grows more important every year, the landscape is becoming harder to navigate.”
One area brands might not immediately think of exploring is lost customers. David Qu, Global Vice President and Corporate Officer at Joint Commission International, suggests, “One strategic way to critically look at your customer experience is to study those customers who left your platform or dropped your subscription. Conduct a focus group or one-on-one conversation with those customers. They will reveal critical learning and insights for you to think differently in order to innovate your product or change your customer service to improve your customer experience.” Cognitive technologies (aka artificial intelligence) can help with many of the challenges just described as well as provide many other benefits. According Google analysts, “Customers increasingly expect brands to offer novel technological solutions that enhance the shopping experience.”
Apps are one area to consider. Google analysts assert that apps can increase engagement and promote brand loyalty. They write, “Apps are one way to be ready to engage with your customers today, and to set the foundation for long-term relationships.” One of the primary benefits of having customers use an app is that it can provide a brand with valuable first-party data. With cookies going away and privacy laws cropping up around the globe, establishing a way to collect first-party data is becoming critical for monitoring how consumer behavior is changing. As Google analysts explain, “The first-party data [apps] allow brands to collect can help spot trends and generate more customer value. Studies show that app customers are more loyal than non-app customers with the same retailer.”
Other technologies to consider are virtual and augmented reality. According to Google analysts, these technologies can help consumers visualize “where and how a product could fit into their lives.” They add, “Shopify found that products advertised with virtual reality or augmented reality content saw a 94% higher conversion rate than products without that content.”
Google analysts conclude, “The most prescient brands think holistically about the customer journey, offer novel and compelling cross-platform experiences, and continually reinvent the shopping experience for the better.” Cognitive technologies will continue to play a significant role in making that happen. Business consultant Kate Yuan observes most online interactions between companies and consumers are now handled using artificial intelligence. She writes, “There’s a lot of hype and promise around Artificial Intelligence tools. While many of those promises are still a long way off, customer experience is an area that can benefit from AI right now. Whether your business model is B2B or B2C, providing a highly personalized, truly exceptional customer experience is one of the most important things any enterprise can leverage AI for in 2021.” Remember, however, that even though technology is playing an increasingly important customer experience role, the desired outcome is often an emotional connection between companies and customers. Caroline Lee (@Carolin60166620), Co-founder of CocoSign, suggests, “Inculcate an emotional connection at every step and allow your team to build a personal connection with the customers. It helps in building brand loyalty and trust amongst users. A positive connection encourages users to spread positive word-of-mouth for the brand.”
 Staff, “New Customer Experiences,” Think with Google, October 2021.
 Forbes Business Council, “13 Strategic And Effective Ways To Critically Analyze Your Customer Experience,” Forbes, 25 August 2021.
 Tiffany Rolfe, “The ‘E’ in ecommerce is changing, can your brand keep up?” Digital Commerce 360, 18 October 2021.
 Forbes Business Council, op. cit.
 Kevin Daly, “Building Better Customer Outcomes With a Customer Experience Quality Framework,” MarketingProfs, 19 October 2021.
 Forbes Business Council, op. cit.
 Kate Yuan, “3 ways artificial intelligence (AI) can improve your customer experience,” The Enterprisers Project, 3 February 2021.
 Forbes Business Council, op. cit.