Mobile and closing the gaps in the digital customer experience


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We’ve all heard the statistics. Smartphone adoption is above 60% of the population in US and still rising, mobile payments continue to grow at a beyond exponential rate, mobile is the device over 30% of Americans reach for within 15 minutes of waking, mobile apps are the best way to reach your customers, mobile optimization can increase conversion by 160%. The list goes on. Thrumming behind this consistent commentary is the persistent drumbeat that mobile is essential if you want to connect with your customers.

Though it’s very easy, amongst all the usages statistics, to lose sight of the fact that it’s not just about building an app or mobile optimization. Or even about the obvious advantage of being able to connected to customers wherever they are. The reason why mobile is so critical is more fundamental than this. It’s about how mobile devices are uniquely placed to bridge multiple gaps in the customer experience; between the digital and physical worlds, between steps in the customer lifecycle, and between customers and your employees. Before we get to that we need to take a step back and look at how the role of digital in the customer lifecycle has evolved.

Closing Gaps

Looking at the evolution of devices (see figure below) the obvious change is in how we access the digital world. From a highly fixed experience, with a fixed device and fixed line internet, through to highly mobile experiences with wireless internet and smartphones.

Figure; the evolution of digital in the enhancement of the customer lifecycle (i.e. browse, purchase, support etc.).
The changing role of digital devices in the customer experience

However, it’s not the mobility of our access to the digital world that’s important. Certainly it’s a key enabler, but how it helps to close multiple gaps that makes is so essential;

  1. Closing the gap between digital and physical; in recent years sensors have helped to convert physical world data into digital data (e.g. location, product information, physiology, preferences etc.) enabling new connected and personalized experiences to be created. Smartphone apps have become the visualization bridge between the digital and physical. In the future, this gap will close even further as we move from using devices to access the digital world to having it overlaid on the real world through augmented reality (e.g. next generation Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens).
  2. Closing the gap in customer experience steps; having a portable, connected computer allows you to combine, simplify or even remove customer steps to make them virtually frictionless. Consider Uber as an example; request a car (it knows your location already), type in the destination (the driver receives this and automatically gets directions which avoid the worst traffic), when you reach the other end you just leave (payment is automatic). Almost completely frictionless and completely enabled by mobile.
  3. Closing the gap between customers and your employees; mobile devices and sensors in-store allow employees to deliver even richer customer experiences. From knowing what’s in or out of stock, customer preferences, or simplifying checkout. Take Burberry’s clientelling app, that provides real-time access to inventory, customer profiles and preferences to enable store assistants to provide a highly personalized experience regardless of which store in the world customers visit.

Mobilizing the Experience

Getting mobile right means applying four main principles;

  1. Designing for people, not for your business; it’s very easy to fall into the trap of designing for your business goals (increase conversion, reduce costs, increase revenue etc.) rather than the needs of people (e.g. simplify, personalize). This is particularly important given the relationship we have with mobile devices. This is not an extension of the desktop or another internet enabled device that you just happen to carry with you. It’s highly personal and unique to each individual.
  2. Consider the other people in the equation, your employees; investment needs to be made to provide employees with the right skills (more on this here) to manage new technology and ensure they’re as connected as customers; an area where businesses are falling well behind customers.
  3. Design for the next iteration, not the past one; many businesses design for a “Mobile Internet Apps” age rather than the more more human-centered age where we are in now (and which will only deepen as we move into the “Augmented Reality” age which is coming next). This often means taking a leap of faith and investing in technology where the benefits are not 100% certain (see this post for more on this), but in time where new entrants are already building momentum to disrupt your business, it’s one you need to take now.
  4. Innovate and iterate your way to success; putting mobile in place is complex as you navigate the tightrope between emerging technologies and legacy systems, and try to predict how people will use something that’s highly personal. An iterative innovation approach, akin to that used by start-ups, reduces risk and enables early benefits to be delivered.

Considered together, mobile is much more than apps, it’s about recognizing that the best way to enrich a customer experience is to work out how you can digitize key points of information that you can then combine and represent in a way that’s contextually aware (i.e. based on “where” you are from lots of different vantage points; where you’re physically located, where you are as a customer (loyalty), where you are physiologically, where you are emotionally). Ultimately if we remember that there’s a person holding the mobile device we’ll be halfway to creating something that delivers mutual benefit for customers and businesses.

Ben Gilchriest, Ph.D
Ben is focused on Digital Innovation, helping companies get the most from emerging technologies. He identifies breakthrough trends early and then works with leaders to optimize their corporate strategy to take advantage of them. In all cases this begins with understanding customers. He's founded multiple business ventures, and held leadership roles in management consulting and digital transformation programs. Ben regularly work with some of the world's leading academics, thinkers and tech. start-ups to both define these customer trends and develop new ways for companies to adapt to them.


  1. Mobile platforms and applications are indeed on the rise and a lot of businesses have realized that having a mobile app for their product/brand or service can be extremely rewarding. Moreover, integrating mobile support has become crucial, especially when most customers engage with companies using mobile platforms. I’d like to dwell a bit on customer support. Having support built within the app can be more convenient for both the developer and the app users. Both parties can interact without having to leave the app and issues can be resolved quickly. We have recently launched a support desk devContact ( that performs these exact functions. The developers and companies that have integrated this solution to their apps have confirmed that they have witnessed a happier and more loyal app user base. Great post!


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