Editor’s Note: This guide was written in partnership with Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO, founder of Experience Investigators™.
A seamless customer experience (CX)—aka an omnichannel customer experience—has been the expected norm for years. When engaging with brands, customers expect an effortless transition from one touchpoint to another, whether it be digital channels, in-person, or both.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown all companies through a loop, making them reconsider their approach to delivering seamless customer experiences. There is now a large emphasis on digital experiences and redesigning in-person ones.
Digital transformation is not only happening, in many ways it’s happened. From large-scale, global enterprise organizations to small businesses on Main Street, brands are now offering more digital connections with and for their customers than ever before.
More than 50% of small business owners report relying on digital tools to communicate with customers, find new customers, and sell products and services during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report by Google and the Connected Commerce Council. And a whopping 96% of enterprise leaders in a study by Econsultancy and Marketing Week agreed with the statement: “The lockdown has increased the priority of digital transformation.”
Digital transformation can sound intimidating. But its goal is simple: focus on the customer. How can the digital experience provide the best customer experience? And how can you measure if the changes your organization is making are working for the customers you serve?
In this guide, we'll cover how to rethink your omnichannel CX strategy for 2020 and onward as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Digital experience is customer experience, right?
Yes, digital experience (DX) is definitely part of your customer’s experience. For the sake of this guide, we’ll be defining digital experience and customer experience in the following ways:
Digital experience, or DX, is the way a customer interacts with the entirety of the brand’s digital channels within the customer journey, including but not limited to things like mobile devices, online experiences, chatbots, and more.
Customer experience, or CX, is the entire experience a customer has with a brand. This includes their interactions, emotions, and perceptions, regardless of the media or channel.
Customer experience has come a long way. And it can be argued that it’s changed even more dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic than at any other time.
These changes have included more ways for customers to gain access to products and services, especially around digital experiences. It has also meant dramatic and unexpected spikes in customer needs. These phenomena have led to more choice for customers in some cases and increased frustration in others.
The role of digital experience in the new normal
Customers want seamless experiences. They should have the ability to move between channels and report any issues, ideas, or kudos along the way. Customer experience design needs to incorporate the digital experience changes and provide a more effortless journey for customers.
Consider one of the most in-person customer experiences there used to be: fitness.
Customers would sign up in person, attend classes or hit the gym in person, and typically were required to cancel their memberships in person, too.
Eventually, progressive leaders in the fitness industry started connecting tech with the fitness community. Orangetheory Fitness started connecting individual heart rates via personal monitors to a smart display in classes, where everyday athletes were encouraged to get into individualized “zones” during class.
An elite runner and a power walker could be side by side on treadmills and have the personalized experience of hitting their individual zones because of the connected technology and the digital experience.
On the flip side, many other fitness brands stayed the very in-person course. Membership dues and class fees were just for access to the physical space and instruction, and little else.
Now, because of COVID-19, people all over the world are connecting to fitness apps that record data using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and proactive reminders to stay active. Those in-person classes are now offering digital versions for those who are staying at home. The future of the fitness industry is moving to a hybrid model supporting the in-person community and digital connection.
Peloton, one of the leaders in connected fitness, reported their lowest net monthly churn of connected fitness subscribers and a year-over-year increase of 89% in total revenue for their 2020 fiscal year. They claimed this was due to the increase of people purchasing its fitness equipment and tuning into its live classes from their home.
Why was the brand successful? Peloton’s digital experiences tap into both the individual, personalized needs of members and the social, community desires. This combination created a winning customer experience.
Nordstrom is another example of creating successful, hybrid experiences for customers in this new normal. Instead of just providing the shop online, pick up, or delivery model, Nordstrom pivoted their service offerings in innovative ways to meet customer needs.
Customers can still rely on personal shoppers for style advice and product recommendations, even without going into the stores as they had in the past. Now, stylists can create a digital style board and send it directly to a customer’s mobile device. The customer can choose what to buy and have it shipped to a store, their home, or to Nordstrom’s new Nordstrom Local stores. These small locations are designed not to sell, but to serve. Customers can go there for alterations by on-site tailors and style advice from on-site stylists. Some locations offer nail salons and clothing donation collection. Their order pickup sales, thanks to these digital strategies, grew more than 100% in one quarter.
What can any business take from these examples of digital transformations?
Customer journeys that deliver what the customer wants, where and how they want them, should drive the digital experience.
The only way to know what customers want is to have a robust feedback program. Customers should be allowed to provide feedback throughout their journeys both online and offline.
Those brands who listen and act on that feedback will provide an overall customer experience to meet and exceed their needs. And digital experiences are an integral part of a great customer experience today.
Of course, there is no magic wand here—there are real challenges to creating a better seamless experience for customers.
Challenges to seamless customer experiences
Designing a seamless customer experience is challenging not just because of the new technologies and capabilities required, but because of the very way organizations are set up.
Our organizational charts, employee accountabilities, and teams are often barriers to a seamless customer journey.
Our processes, systems, procedures, and accountabilities are set up from an inside-out perspective. Brands often push customers through their journey, instead of helping and following the customer along the natural path they want to take. Need customer service? That’s a different department!
But customers have and continue to request more control of their experiences and on their terms. This translates into digital options to seek help, shop, make changes, control orders, and more on their time. This is what customers expect based on experiences with Amazon, Netflix, and Disney.
Business-to-business (B2B) customer experiences have lagged behind in these expectations. Instead, customers are still required to call for service, wait for offices to open, and in some cases, pay paper invoices through the mail with a check!
The good news is both B2B and B2C organizations are seeking to understand the customer’s journey. Brands are realizing how their own internal processes and systems are holding them back from meeting the needs of customers today. And there is an even higher urgency to do so since COVID-19.
Shoppers increased their comfort with online grocery shopping and delivery very quickly in 2020. Some customers were not willing to try online shopping because not picking out their own perishables was an obstacle they couldn’t overcome. Yet more shoppers tried online shopping for the first time, according to the Food Industry Association’s annual U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study. More than 20% of grocery store customers were shopping online for the first time just in March 2020, including for perishables. Suddenly the obstacle of the past was a challenge they could overcome.
It’s easy to think of ordering groceries online as a purely digital experience. Digital teams had to increase their ability to serve more customers through more channels. Inventory systems had to update faster. Mobile and online experiences had to be intuitive and easy for these new customers who had never considered shopping online before the crisis. Back-end communications had to notify local stores to collect specific items.
But this digital experience fits into the broader customer experience. That requires viewing the entire customer journey and designing around that.
A first-time online grocery shopper goes through several steps to receive those groceries. Let’s go through each below.
Step 1: The customer must first be aware of those digital ordering options, and how to access them. An app might be very well designed, but if a customer doesn’t know it exists, they won’t use it!
Step 2: Once they decide to shop online, they have other decisions to make. Will they drive to the store for curbside pickup or pay more for delivery? Are they confident their fresh produce will be selected in the right way?
Step 3: And the backend of the grocery delivery is complex. A real person has to shop for those groceries, whether in a storage facility or a real store.
Step 4: Then the groceries have to be packaged for delivery or pickup, which is another human job.
Step 5: Finally, it requires people to drive those deliveries around or carry them out to the cars in the parking lot. And how does that customer receive those groceries? If it’s contactless delivery, their experience includes how they’ll be notified and how exactly those groceries were packaged.
When these cross-channel journeys aren’t designed as one, customers don’t get that seamless experience that they expect. Customers might order online, show up at their designated time for curbside pickup, and then not know what to do next. If this part of the journey wasn’t designed in sync with the digital ordering journey, both the customer and the local store might be left fumbling for how to get those groceries into the car.
Customers change their expectations and behaviors over time, too, complicating these journeys and making an even stronger case for DX and CX to work together.
As more customers ordered groceries online, for example, they started appreciating the convenience and don’t necessarily plan to change back to shopping in-store, as reported in PYMNTS COVID-19 Brief Series. This means innovations around mobile and digital ordering, touchless payment options, and contactless delivery are here to stay.
And with the surge of drive-thru customers in the second quarter of 2020, fast food and coffee chain customers experienced higher wait times and longer than usual lines.
Taco Bell, for instance, reported drive-thru increases of 4.8 million cars during this time. To address this new customer need, Taco Bell and others are creating digital and mobile experiences to encourage more order-ahead options.
It’s safe to assume that in 2021, the drive-thru experience will look different by integrating more thoughtfully with the digital experience. Those customers who order ahead of arrival via the app or line can skip the drive-thru line and use dedicated curbside pickup space.
Expect to see more hybrid models of CX with DX like this one in experiences like pharmacies, retail, and banking.
So to recap, the biggest challenges to providing a seamless customer experience include:
The way organizations are structured internally, including a lack of cross-functional collaboration when it comes to customer experience.
Customers’ continued request of more control over their experiences and businesses’ lack of meeting those expectations.
The growing influence of COVID-19 on the role of digital experiences and what a seamless experience should look and feel like in this new normal.
For more on customers’ changing needs in 2020, see the Report: The Pandemic’s Impact on the State of Online Shopping Worldwide.
5 steps for delivering a great seamless experience
Creating seamless, customer-focused experiences relies on understanding the needs of customers throughout their journey, as well as understanding specific digital experiences to support those needs.
1. Understand your customer’s journey and their true goals
Do your customers have to find their way from one step to the next? How can your brand guide them from one phase to the next and anticipate their needs? What are their challenges?
Digital experiences can create more convenience with fewer time-bound issues like calling customer service and shopping during store hours. Identify how better DX can help customers overcome obstacles they already have.
Design the experience within the context of their larger journey. It’s not about creating a digital experience to order groceries. It’s about designing a customer-centric experience to order groceries in a convenient, safe, and trusted way.
2. Know your customers
Use customer personas to be inclusive in designing digital experiences. Many of those first-time online shoppers were seniors. They had to learn quickly and often without guidance. Are your experiences considering ways to educate and guide customers who may need help?
Customer research can speed up with digital experience options. Tools like hyper-targeted surveys allow for more A/B testing, as well as collecting specific customer feedback at key points in the journey. Results can lead to a better understanding of specific segments.
Your new-to-digital customers might need different options for notifications and support. Digital natives might want more control over the options on mobile and digital. Design the experiences to reflect who your customers are and the needs they have.
3. Pay attention to shifting customer expectations
Customers want more digital options like mobile, voice, and in-app support. They are seeking new ways to do business with traditional brands. Introducing a digital version of analog experiences isn’t enough. Customers want personalized experiences to meet their needs.
Nike, the iconic athletic shoe brand, gained 25 million new members through its many apps in the second quarter of 2020. These apps aren’t all about selling shoes and athletic wear. These apps are “activity” apps to meet the needs of those customers they serve. Nike Training Club and Nike Running Club are two examples of apps focused on helping customers with tracking activity, learning from experts, and accessing training plans and classes.
These apps create an emotional connection with customers, who see Nike as the expert brand to follow. That translates into better sales, specifically around e-commerce sales. In 2019, Nike partnered with the NBA and Google to offer an in-game sale. In that unique experience, viewers of the LA Lakers versus Boston Celtics game could “ask Google” to buy the Adapt BB self-lacing shoes in real-time. The requests were immediate and the entire inventory of shoes was gone in three minutes.
Innovating digital experiences around shifting customer expectations can build relationships, which leads to higher trust and more revenue.
4. Focus on the customer with a cross-functional team
Customer experience leaders and digital leaders need to work together to create a seamless, cohesive experience for customers.
And yet, many organizations still set up in silos and don’t share necessary insights and data. So customers suffer the consequences!
This is especially relevant when gathering feedback from customers. If your CX strategy isn’t clearly defined and understood throughout the business, then it’s easy to duplicate efforts, miss opportunities, and annoy customers.
Customer service might send a quick survey after an interaction with a customer. The social media team could send a Twitter poll to gather quick insights about product ideas. And the digital team might add a nifty in-app feedback form to find out what customers think about their updated design.
These are all relevant and important insights. Wouldn’t it be great if they were shared throughout the organization? Leaders can’t be expected to make changes they don’t know are important.
Ensure feedback is gathered according to a customer experience strategy and is shared with leaders who can be accountable for making the improvements.
5. Data, data, and more data
It’s very awkward for everyone when a customer must introduce themselves over and over and over again to the very brand that claims to know them.
Customers want their data to be used to create more personalized experiences for them. But they also want control of that data. That means creating easy, accessible ways customers can control their personal data and what it’s used for. Privacy statements are too passive. Customers want more options to turn the control on and off for specific uses.
Personal data dashboards or other customer-focused controls could help them feel more comfortable with how their data is being used. Customers will respond positively to personalized experiences, as long as they know they are in control of just how personal it is.
The Ask-Analyze-Act model
How do you know if your customer experience is meeting the expectations of your customers?
Use the Ask-Analyze-Act model, which is even more effective when used for both digital experience and customer experience overall.
What is it you want to know about your customers and how they feel? This depends on your goals.
Consider your overall Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and what actions you can take on the insights you want to gather. It is frustrating for you and your customers if you ask for information you can’t use.
Instead, focus on what measurement will help you achieve your overall goals. Let’s take the goal of “increasing customer happiness” and break it down.
Many organizations measure Net Promoter Score (NPS) to assess how happy customers are. Tracking this metric allows organizations to keep a pulse of customer loyalty overall.
Digital experiences allow for more granular, specific ways to measure how customers feel along their journey. Customers seeking help within digital channels are probably struggling with achieving their goal(s) within that digital experience.
Goal Completion Rate (GCR) can be measured with a short survey in the experience or by using analytics after the experience. If a customer didn’t achieve their goal, they are likely to be disappointed or frustrated.
Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is another way to determine if a customer is happy with a specific interaction or point along the journey. This is a good way to measure how a customer feels about the support they received in specific service experience, for example.
And Customer Effort Score (CES) can be used separately or in combination with these other metrics. For example, the short survey that measures “Did you meet your goal today” could also include a question about effort. “How easy was it for you to meet your goal?”
Ask both relational questions like NPS and transactional questions around GCR, CSAT, and CES to get a full picture of how your customers feel throughout their customer journey.
Now that you have measurements and feedback, it’s what you do with it that matters.
Look for patterns that show when customers are not achieving what they need. Goal Completion Rate results might point to a specific touchpoint where customers are abandoning the digital channel. CSAT rates after customer service calls might point to where Customer Service agents need more clarity or training.
Analyzing is important because, without that analysis, it’s difficult to prioritize and act on it.
Your cross-functional leadership team can be a big help here. Once you know where some of the issues are, it’s time to act on improving them.
Prioritize those improvements by how they’ll help the business goals, your customer experience strategy, and your customer’s experience. Then follow up and ensure those decisions have led to action. Who is responsible for those changes? Ownership is critical to getting things done.
Now that you’ve made the changes, it’s time to ask again. Are customers happier than they were before the improvements were made?
We’re living in a world of constant change and evolving expectations. Due to COVID-19, more than ever before, digital experiences should provide customers with a better customer experience overall through more convenience, personalization, choice, and safety.
Your customers want you to understand who they are, what they expect, and their overall journey. Commit to providing them with a seamless, customer-focused journey, no matter what channel they choose.
Learn how GetFeedback can help you exceed customers’ expectations—start your free trial today.