10 Ways to Improve Digital Customer Experiences

Providing great customer experiences at every digital touch point is becoming imperative for brands. A report by customer experience consultant Walker found that 86% of buyers plan to pay more for better customer experience, and by 2020 CX will outweigh price and product in brand differentiation.

Providing great customer experiences at every digital touch point is becoming imperative for brands. A report by customer experience consultant Walker found that 86% of buyers plan to pay more for better customer
and by 2020 CX will outweigh price and product in brand differentiation.

Still, digital CX can be a real challenge for brands, especially while many still struggle to define where their customers are in the digital space and the best ways to connect with them. While many brands are still learning the best ways to reach and engage their omni-channel customers, and still creating a strategy to provide the best experience at every touch point, the question remains: What's the best way to tackle customer service in the
digital age? 

Brands need to be customer service experts across every channel—from e-mail to social to mobile and beyond—and can't afford to miss a beat. To help with this ongoing challenge, here are 10 tactics for improving your digital
customer experiences.

1. Remember that a digital customer experience is still a customer experience.

In their quest to improve digital experiences, marketers should remember that digital is part of a larger customer experience. Michael Hinshaw, managing director of customer experience consultancy MCorp Consulting and co-author of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, says some organizations try to deliver a customer experience
strategy that is specific to digital without an overall CX strategy, making consistency tough to ensure across channels.

2. Define your goals and objectives with digital.

One of the most important steps in improving digital customer experience is to clearly define what customers expect from your brand and the ways in which they'll use a particular channel. "Many companies build websites—they build mobile [platforms]—because everyone is building mobile, but they don't think about the context of the customers' utilization of that channel," Hinshaw says. "You have to understand not only your business objectives, you have to crisply define what your customers expect out of it and how to give it to them."

3. Understand customer service expectations.

Companies must meet, if not exceed, their customers' expectations. This starts with a clear understanding of what their customers are expecting from the experience. "Any experience—digital or in-store—is driven by the fact that all of us as consumers come into any given situation with an expectation of what's going to happen," Hinshaw says. "If you have an expectation going into an interaction, and that expectation is unmet, then the experience is going to be poor."  Mitigating this disappointment requires understanding what your customers expect in the context of your business objectives, Hinshaw says.

4. Use research to step inside your customers' environments.

According to Kerry Bodine, co-author of Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, one item often overlooked by companies when they are designing experience is research. Therefore, many brands don't have a deep understanding of what their customers really want and need. "We are accustomed as a business community to do things like surveys. We'll look at some operational data, maybe some online stats, but those types of things are good indicators of what's broken or what a particular need is. They're not great indicators of how an experience should be designed," she says. "Oftentimes, they will tell you some things that customers need, but there are often latent, undiscovered needs that you can't get at with a survey."

Bodine advises observing customer behavior in a natural setting. "One of the things that I recommend to people is that they do ethnographic research with their customers. Go to their homes or their businesses or to the shopping mall, the auto dealership or wherever it is they're doing business with you to understand what their behaviors and attitudes are. Observe them, talk with them one-on-one to get to a deeper level of insight than is possible with a survey or even a focus group that is contained within an artificial setting." 

She adds that many businesses want to overlook this step because it requires investments of time and money, but the return is a product or service that actually meets consumer needs and is informed by real feedback, which Bodine says, will generate money.

5. Get outside help when you need it.

When marketers are immersed in the details, it's difficult to see the big picture. It may be surprising to find out how few companies actually make the customer the center of the decision process. Arlington, Virginia-based business insights firm CEB surveyed nearly 800 marketers at Fortune 1,000 companies and found that, on average, just 11% of marketers depend on data for all customer-related decisions. This means customers don't have a voice in what companies are doing to meet their needs, Hinshaw says. He suggests bringing in a CX expert in digital experience design. "Organizations that bring in outside help [for] digital experiences ... have a significantly greater return on the investment because ... the fact is it's very difficult for companies to look at the experience from the
outside in."

6. Be transparent with your customers.

Transparency has become a hot-button topic. While marketers are swimming in deep pools of data, it's important for companies to be transparent about what they're collecting, why they're collecting it and what they're going to do with it. According to Macala Wright, a Los Angeles-based business and strategy consultant for retail, "The biggest thing around data is consumer rights and privacy. I think that it's OK to use data to improve services for your customers, but you have to be very transparent about how you're using it, what it does, what you're using it for and what the benefit is to them. If you're clear with them, most people are willing to give it to you."

7. Treat unsolicited customer feedback like it matters (because it does).

Feedback not only gives your customers a voice, but it can help your business better understand how to tailor and improve customer experiences. There's a wealth of information filtering in from omni-channel customers all of the time. "Customers are contacting the call center or they're sending an e-mail to customer support or they're out on a social media network or they're providing a product review on a third-party site," Bodine says,"and companies need to learn how to effectively mine all of those different parts of the full picture of customer feedback, all that unsolicited data." There are many tools out there; technology companies have sprung up to help companies make sense of that data, with things like natural language processing and sentiment analysis and things like that. That is a critical part that companies need to be looking at. 

8. Unify messaging across all digital platforms.

As customers are connecting with brands in ways that they never could before in digital, this presents great opportunities for both the customer and business. To get the most out of creating effective digital touch points, it's important to create what Forrester calls, "a unified customer experience," by creating consistent brand messaging across fractured channels. Hinshaw says that the digital customer experience shouldn't be looked at in a silo. "Today's consumer and business buyer don't look at the world through the lens of a digital channel versus center channel. They're going to bounce from digital to phone to in-store to sales rep and back again," he says.

9. Fit technology to your customers' needs.

According to Bodine, one mistake a lot of companies make is putting the technology ahead of their customers' needs. "Technology is really sexy and everyone gets really excited about it, but if that's your approach, you're just going to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out some way to attach the latest thing to you and then detach whatever the previous thing was that's no longer popular. Instead, you could say, 'OK, what do you really want to do, and how could we really add value into their lives?'"

10. Study emerging digital trends.

Finding new ways to connect and engage with customers is vital for improving digital customer service. "Companies that want to stay relevant are going to need to integrate apps [and] new destinations into what they're doing," Hinshaw says. "Millennials, like all of us, want to be spoken to and connect with brands in a way that we choose, not the way that the brands choose." According to Hinshaw, marketers need to ask themselves how they plan to leverage new digital platforms to engage with consumers without being intrusive.