Reshape Customer Experience by Leveraging Digital Trends and Design Thinking

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The rise of new digital tools (like mobile, live chat, omnichannel support, self-service, social media) and a broad array of IoT devices (like activity monitors, beacons, smartwatches) and emerging technologies (like AI, AR, Machine Learning, VR, 3D printing and so on), has exponentially increased the number of customer touchpoints available to marketers.

On the other hand, chats, stories, and statistics grab today’s customer’s attention, and they get influenced by other people’s reviews and opinions and feel compelled to share their experiences of encounters with brands. Also, the customer experiences often trickle over from one industry to an entirely different sector, termed as “liquid expectations.” The rise of “always – connected” customers and their liquid expectations, has led to a common misunderstanding that businesses must rush to adapt themselves as “digital first.”

However, my research confirms that a haphazard adoption of digital technologies, tools, and trends is typically worse than doing nothing at all. This does not imply that your organization should wait and watch, but you do need to recollect the lesson of the tortoise and the rabbit if you want to remain a serious player. The key is to realize; it makes sense to walk slowly and steadily in the right direction, rather than run off track or take frequent breaks along the journey.

The consistent winners of the digital race are often not the early adopters of new technology, but the ones who do the due diligence to suitably integrate digital into the organizational strategy to achieve future goals. The winners adopt a new mindset and recognize that digital is best used not as a substitute for traditional marketing and/or strategy frameworks, but amplify them with an integrated strategy. The two should coexist, swapping roles across the different touchpoints of the customer journey.

In order to make this work and explore/exploit opportunities in the turbulent environment, organizations will have to redesign and change the way they do business and revisit their business model. It is time to think of digital tools and trends as “software” which requires the organization’s intent to become an agile and customer-centric as the “hardware” and the forward-thinking leadership mindset as the new “operating system” to provide the environment to process large data-sets and make timely decisions. While technology is necessary, management disruptions such as lean management, design thinking, value creating mindset and breaking the departmental silos with cross-functional teams are enablers of the digital transformation process.

Most notably, before leveraging any digital tools and trends, company executives have to understand and analyze the customer journey to re-imagine the desired future-state customer experience. Only then can marketers identify low-hanging fruits and critical touchpoints where digital channels and trends can make the most significant difference to the customer experience.

Optimize the customer journey experience
However, let’s take a step back, to understand and decode the customer journey to make better-informed decisions when leveraging digital trends.

For this, you need to gather deep customer insights, which should not be confused with a typical stereotype campaign data view. The necessary shift in mindset is understanding that the starting point for data collection is individuals, events, and interactions over time, and not the executing media at a given time.

The key is to ensure that all these interactions across different touchpoints are in one place, so you get a better sense of a customer’s needs. This requires investment in systems that recognize every individual customer, irrespective of the channel they use to interact with your company at the same time. An example is a customer can be using a tablet and filling out a form on your company’s website, while simultaneously talking to a customer service representative on the phone.

Sharing relevant data from multiple channels is the raw material required to extract a meaningful context and insight, enabling you to be not proactive but also preemptive. Translating data into insights is a complex process due to the staggering volumes of data that can be collected by marketers today. Despite data privacy rules, today’s companies have access to a mind-boggling amount of information from the ad clicks, internet cookies, search, social media sentiment, POS data, interactions with call center and more. The data faucet has become a firehose. It can be very challenging to ferret out insights amidst all the noise.

Realizing the customer experience outlook
Taking a people-centric approach to reshape the customer experience and gain a competitive advantage is not an unassuming task. It involves meticulous attention to every facet of the diverse touchpoints along the customer journey to deliver experiences that are always personal, always meaningful and relevant, and always delightful.

Optimizing customer experience using consumer journey approach requires:

Business strategy
Embrace design thinking to encourage a collaborative and creative experimental approach to deliver value to customers and reshape their experience
– Discover how existing customers and new users see, think, feel and act as they engage with you
– Create customer segments based what customers need, want and expect at each touchpoint
– Take an in-depth look into existing business processes and functions to evaluate where emerging technologies and trends can be applied, to find answers to business challenges, minimize manual interventions, experiment new touchpoints and provide speed and precision to augment and extend human capabilities.

Continuously analyze captured data
Integrate customer data from offline and online sources, and build the capacity and capability to analyze the granular lowest-level data to
– Create data constructs to examine changes in consumer needs and market forces to facilitate consumer journey insights and decisions
– Pinpoint cross-channel inefficiencies
– Detect opportunities for self-service optimization
– Spot issues impacting both customers and operations
– Focus on advanced targeting and approaches to experiment

Define problems
Know what the customer pain you are trying to prevent is and the significant gain they will achieve while keeping in mind the technical feasibility and business viability and prioritize
– Unpack assumptions and challenge perceived limitations imposed by existing processes or technology

Explore solutions
Focus on identifying resolution and management
– Ideate – Develop diverse points of view and hypotheses for your ideas and questioning the status quo.
– Rapid prototype – Embrace digital tools to create designs and customer-facing prototypes to arrive at the Minimal Viable Experience.
– Test – Develop scenarios for testing ideas and designs using real-world environments and gather customer feedback.
– Evaluate and refine – By analyzing the results, you can visualize the advantages of ideas and determine their validity before iterating to develop the final solution.

Execution
The crucial step to improve customer experience is to move beyond digital data analysis and measurement and focus on actual orchestration by
– Providing comprehensive playbooks that guide the cross-functional teams in prioritizing experiences, optimizing messages, and mapping out seamless interactions across different channels.
– Pivot if needed – In the Age of the Consumer, change is the new normal. Be prepared to adapt quickly and pivot on the fly.

With this systematic approach to gather insights and to act on it, companies can formulate a customer experience strategy to attract and retain customers and stay competitive in the digital era. To do a quality check, the three main criteria to evaluate the strategic insight is:
Novelty – Obviously, you do not shout “Eureka!” unless you have conceived something entirely new that does not exist or a novel approach to an old problem
Credibility – The foundation should be a genuine customer challenge or pain derived from qualitative and quantitative data
Actionable – The link to business goals should be evident, even if specific next steps are a matter for debate.

Final Thoughts

All your customer wants is to connect with your organization to meet their needs. It is not about a channel or a touchpoint or leveraging a robust loyalty program. It is about making a connection with the customer, and make them come to you, rather than your competitors. So, it is up to you to “Make it easy, seamless, ubiquitous and channel-less.”

Hence your “digital transformation,” initiatives, should focus on “optimally using digital data to transform the customer experience.” However, as mentioned above, the right enablers need to be in place. The end goal is to offer a superior customer experience and be better able to generate growth in competitive environments. Accenture, Amazon, Disney, GE, Google, Facebook, IBM, Infosys, Netflix, and Starbucks are great examples that show how companies can strategically leverage design thinking and digital trends to engage customers effectively at the essential micro and macro moments that matter.

The article was first posted in Marketerstouchpoint Blog

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