Delivering next-generation digital customer experiences
Updated: November 11, 2020
Learn which key digital customer experiences your brand should focus on delivering now, and get expert insights on the cutting-edge enterprise tools of tomorrow.
Delivering next-generation digital customer experiences
For brands to succeed in 2021 and beyond, they won’t just be doing content marketing, and they won’t just be creating websites. They’ll be serving customers throughout their entire lifecycle. Digital experiences help brands capture greater revenue by driving preference, increasing customer loyalty and enabling higher pricing.
The demand for these kinds of experiences is driven by several factors. First, customer expectations are rising, due in part to digital disruptors who raise the bar not just for their own industry, but across the digital landscape. Second, the number of digital channels and devices keeps increasing. Third, customers expect the brand experience to carry across channels, with meaningful touchpoints at all stages of the customer journey.
This increased demand coincides with new trends in how brands deliver digital experiences. Mobile is a dominant digital channel, eclipsing traditional websites in its ability to deliver content to the consumer. Brands are also focusing on creating digital-first, direct to consumer experiences, rather than treating digital as ancillary. This trend has spread beyond digital native companies: large brands like Nike and Ralph Lauren have accelerated their shift away from traditional retail channels.
Enterprises need to make delivering digital experiences a core competency in order to stay relevant and competitive. The only sustainable competitive advantage in the enterprise digital experiences will be the ability to build faster than the competition. Experts agree: “How companies deliver digital experience and customer experience are essential elements of future success — and will propel the best-in-class businesses,” states CMSWire.
This article is your guide to understanding modern digital experiences, and to choosing the next generation of tools that will help deliver them. Learn which three digital experiences your business should focus on delivering now, and get expert insights on the cutting edge tools that are helping top brands shape the digital experiences of tomorrow.
What is digital customer experience?
Digital customer experience is the sum of all digital interactions that occur between a customer and a brand and the resulting impression those interactions make.
Modern digital experiences use technology to augment or expand our human experience. “I think of digital experiences as being digitally mediated ways of communicating,” says Amelia Winger-Bearskin, an artist, technologist and developer evangelist. She has spent her career exploring the bleeding edge of technology. And while technology has rapidly evolved from things we imagined in sci-fi movies to practical devices that fit in our pocket, the driver behind this adoption is the value it can add to our human experience.
Another strategy is to make the technology totally invisible, so the user only has a faster and easier interaction with the front end. The technology runs quietly in the background, facilitating the experience. With both strategies, the focus is on adding value to the customer experience.
To create digital experiences that drive value throughout the customer lifecycle, it’s imperative that brands focus on understanding the experiences their customers want, and then choose the best technology to deliver each experience. Leading brands do this by choosing API-first tools that work well together and give developers the components they need to create any experience.
Three key categories of digital experiences
Consumers interact with hundreds of brands every day. These experiences shape their expectations — not only for a specific brand or industry, but across the board. Digital disruptors raise the bar for everyone and consumers show little mercy for brands that can’t keep up. Brands need to keep an eye on digital leaders and disruptors — Amazon, Sephora, Glossier — to identify new digital trends that resonate with consumers.
Personalized experiences that reduce friction
Customer attention spans are short. Leaders in all industries should focus on making their user experiences more convenient. This doesn’t just mean making incremental UX changes. The best brands are fully reimagining what the ideal experience can be and using new technology to deliver it.
Synchronizing communications across channels is challenging for many companies. It requires the ability to identify users’ preferred channels and the ability to customize messaging and cadence based on previous interactions, regardless of which channel they occur on.
As more companies master these challenges, users become less tolerant of companies that send generic messages via email, phone and text. For example, agile project management software Atlassian wanted to deliver personalized support content across its various channels, beyond its existing external support website. Atlassian restructured how it delivers its help content by creating a widget that appears in-product and assists customers at the site of the issue. “We’ve long thought that the most effective place to get people help content is in the product where they need it,” says John Collins, senior content designer.
As Atlassian reimagines how it delivers more personalized content across channels, it moves farther from the legacy systems it used in its early years. “We recognize that shapeless content is hard to do intelligent things with,” adds Collins, “That’s a major change for us as an organization. We really recognize that as powerful.”
Other companies know we’re attached to the convenience of our ever-present smartphones. Travelers expect to book, check flight status, check in, change seats, upgrade and board a flight using nothing but their phones. Uber and Lyft disrupted a long-established industry with an app. Apple’s new credit card integrates with iPhone apps enabling users to pay, track and view the location of purchases with their phone.
Novel technology is now the norm
Think about the evolution of ecommerce sites. Many brands were skeptical that people would pay for goods online. Then, Paypal normalized online payments and ecommerce sites quickly became table stakes for retailers, many of which were not digital companies.
“Digital experience is no longer limited to the domain of born-digital companies or outlier enterprises in specific industries. CIOs must ensure that their organization puts as much effort into understanding how people interact with and experience digital technology as they put into tracking technology itself,” says Brian Prentice, research vice president at Gartner.
To stand out, brands need to give customers everything they expect — localization, personalization, consistency across channels, intuitive interfaces, beautiful design — and something more that they don’t think they can get elsewhere. It’s not enough to deliver the digital experiences we see today; brands need to experiment with novel technology that could be the new standard tomorrow.
This puts tremendous pressure on digital delivery pipelines. Canadian grocer Loblaws built nine digital experiences in the past seven years, but to stay competitive they expect to accelerate that pace to deliver 150 more digital experiences in the next two years. This meant streamlining their backend operations and choosing the right tools to support them.
Digital throughout the customer lifecycle
The new digital experience starts with the first customer interaction, customers expect that digital experiences will support them across their entire lifecycle: Research, learn, compare, buy, receive, set up, operate, troubleshoot, review, extend, repurchase. Repeat.
Investing in better tools to build a more unified customer lifecycle pays off. Breaking down data and content silos enables companies to more deeply understand their customers and deliver the touchpoints they need, at the right time, on their preferred channel.
Luxury audio-visual company Bang & Olufsen understood that they needed to deliver better experiences that catered to each customer’s unique journey. Powered by Contentful and Commercetools, B&O merged their two websites into one. Now customers could learn about and purchase the latest products in one place.
After shifting from a monolithic ecommerce and content software to a bespoke service stack, Bang & Olufsen saw a 60% increase in ecommerce conversion rates, and a 13% increase in average order value.
Many companies already have the content they need to provide digital experiences throughout the customer lifecycle, but it is housed in knowledge bases, help documents, product specs and other disparate systems.
The future of enterprise digital customer experiences
The future of digital experiences is likely to be an entirely different landscape of integrated content and functionality. Brands will combine different technologies to understand customers at the molecular level, and to deliver superior digital products and experiences.
Traditional brands will need to catch up and build digital competency in-house as the trend shifts to digital-first direct-to-consumer experiences. To stay competitive, brands need to explore new technologies and accelerate their ability to deliver the new digital products and experiences their customers will demand.
As brands think broadly about how to best deliver their ideal digital products and experiences, these four technologies are worth keeping on the radar.
Mobile isn’t new, but the technology keeps getting better. Consumers expect to access everything they need via their mobile devices. The next generation of digital products, like the new Apple credit card, integrate with smartphone features and commonly used apps to deliver blended digital experiences that aren’t constrained to a single app. Being mobile-friendly can no longer be an afterthought or a phase two.
Forrester predicts that mobile will be a vital part of future digital experiences: “Tomorrow, mobile will be a digital experience choreographer, creating blended experiences from an ecosystem of developers and vendors building on shared data to address mobile moments. The primary interaction may be on a mobile device, but it won’t be constrained to it. Rather, these blended experiences will include anything that an individual can connect to — wearables, cars, homes, and gaming platforms. These experiences will require a shift along three key dimensions.”
Delivering blended digital experiences through mobile devices will require businesses to break down content and data silos and expand their ability to deliver to multiple platforms and channels.
Brands should think about how AI can meet us where we are and then expand what is possible. For example, some businesses are using AI to unobtrusively improve digital experiences by predicting user intent and then triggering relevant content to assist them.
Gartner identifies this type of AI-powered “agent interface” as one of the top digital experience trends for 2020. “Agent interfaces employ artificial intelligence (AI) to predict what users intend to do from user input and other contextual cues. This information is then used to assist by either easing or automating the execution of those efforts. Agent interfaces represent a whole new paradigm of human-computer interaction and have broad implications that will greatly influence how enterprises interact with customers, offer services and provide tools to employees.”
Thinking about and experimenting with how AI can enhance your user experience will help your business move faster as AI becomes more prolific.
Extended reality: AR/VR
While the nomenclature is still evolving, extended reality — including augmented reality and virtual reality — is rapidly becoming part of our digital experiences. Consumers will expect more physical products to include AR as part of their shopping experience.
Amelia expects companies to dig into haptics, creating better sensors and controls so that people can use their body to interact with digital systems. “AR is seamlessly and flawlessly integrated into your lived experiences. It uses your voice. It uses an overlay with your eyes over what you’re seeing,” she explains.
In the future, brands could receive and respond to input through AR devices.
Fingerprint and facial recognition, once novel technologies, are now widely available. Facial recognition payments are on Gartner’s list for top trends for 2020: “This is a digital experience trend emerging in China, which will disrupt the widespread use of QR code payments and further diminish the use of bank cards and cash.”
Of course, it’s not just the financial sector that needs to watch this trend. The biometric identity company Clear is already helping passengers speed through security at dozens of airports and stadiums in the United States. In some stadiums, Clear customers can even use their fingerprint to pay at concession stands.
How to meet future demands of digital customer experiences
To meet the demands of future digital customer experiences, companies need to replace restrictive legacy systems with extensible, API-first tools that work well together in custom technology stacks.
Custom stacks deliver what legacy solutions can’t
Digital experience stacks decouple functions that are typically tied together in monolithic systems. Best-in-class tools for each function — content, data, payments, inventory, etc. — are integrated into a customized stack.
Brands focus on selecting extensible tools with high-quality, well-documented APIs. Developers use these APIs to create a digital-first ecosystem of tools that can deliver a broad array of experiences. All the layers work well together but can also be swapped out to fit the needs of each project. This provides flexibility and limitless possibilities at the project level, while offering consistency and unity across the enterprise.
With the digital-first shift and the advent of new systems to support it, there is a big opportunity to solve a core set of next-generation problems for customers and to extend that platform for partners through high quality APIs.
Ready to deliver cutting edge digital experiences?
Delivering enterprise digital experiences that are fresh and synchronized across all devices and touchpoints requires building a digital experience stack where you can add the best services for the job while keeping content flowing consistently.
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