The Importance of the Digital Customer Experience
A good customer experience (CX) is critical to every business. It starts from their first interaction and culminates long after their first purchase. It’s what compels users to share your brand with family and friends, helping your business thrive and grow.
This idea has been a mainstay for brick and mortar establishments going back centuries, and it continues to apply to businesses in the digital space.
The digital customer journey might involve different channels of communication than traditional methods, but the same principles still apply. This journey is measured by the customer’s feelings towards a brand as they navigate their relationship with it, starting from the acquisition phase and moving towards a purchase. A positive experience will lead to repeat buyers, which means more sales and a better ROI.
Guiding customers through the best possible experience with your brand is not a walk in the park, but it’s certainly attainable if you can put the necessary pieces in place. It begins with a business’ digital transformation and culminates in the improved customer experience. The ultimate result? Long-term brand success.
Customer Service vs. Customer Experience
The terms ‘customer service’ and ‘customer experience’ sound like they should be synonymous, but the former is really just a component of the latter.
Customer service refers to the act of ‘servicing’ a customer. It focuses on the day-to-day human interactions between representatives of your organization and the customers you serve. This includes conversations over the phone, via email, through chat bots, or directly in-person.
Customer service includes just about any customer-facing encounter. Everything from sales to offering help with a product, even addressing complaints or servicing returns.
Do these day-to-day interactions impact the overall customer experience? Absolutely. That’s why customer service is a vital component of the customer experience.
Customer experience is the sum of all parts, with customer service being a big piece of the puzzle. Customer experience includes all the interactions your customers have with your brand, from customer service interactions to the way they consume content, and ultimately their purchasing habits.
Here’s another way to differentiate the two terms. Service is geared towards solving issues at the moment of need. The representative is answering a question or helping the customer get to the next step along their journey. Meanwhile experience is a much broader, more holistic feeling aimed at creating lasting impressions and even lifetime memories.
Your customer’s experience is the sum of their interactions with your brand, including their moments of being served by you directly. A positive customer service experience will go a long way towards improving their overall customer experience, so taking the necessary steps to improve the quality of your customer relations is crucial.
How Valuable is Digital Customer Service?
Customer service is a valuable skill especially in the digital space. When a person’s only interactions with a business happen online, there’s an inherent lack of personability at play. They aren’t able to walk into the store and be greeted by smiling faces.
Nonetheless, it’s still possible to provide a personal touch from a digital storefront. Online businesses can support their customers by having fast response times on their websites. Even if using a chatbot system, help needs to arrive quickly to show customers that you care. Upon arrival, the tone should be one of empathy and understanding.
44% of customers say they are working harder to solve a problem than the customer service team they try to contact. A simple way to get in their good graces is to respond to issues right away, before they exacerbate.
By improving response times and training your employees to use active listening (hearing out customer complaints without interrupting), you will position your brand in a way that favors a more positive customer experience.
How Digital Transformation Affects Business
89% of companies claim to have adopted a digital-first business strategy or plan to do so, but digital transformation is a scary term.
Many people think that digital communications make it more difficult to interact with and share information, but it doesn’t have to be. Digital transformation can actually impact businesses in many positive ways.
More Digital Channels of Communication
In the old days you had to either call a business by phone or physically walk into their storefront to interact with their team. In the digital space, there are myriad ways to communicate with customers.
Communications can happen through social media accounts, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Myspace (just kidding.) Facebook specifically allows users to connect with brands with a direct messaging feature, essentially providing a direct line of communication with the organization’s customer service team.
Brands can also communicate with customers directly from the comfort of their own website. Modern responsive website designs allow people to reach customer representatives within a couple of clicks, regardless of the customer’s screen size or device type. Many sites incorporate a chatbot that automatically pops up whenever a user enters the site. This helps the user feel an instantaneous sense of acknowledgement.
Video is another effective channel for reaching customers on a more personal level. Brands can host ‘ask me anything’ (AMA) sessions on their website or YouTube page that allows customers a forum to ask questions in real-time. These events can take place around product releases, holidays or current events, or they can be general town halls where thought leaders connect with their consumers. Video provides a face to your brand and product line that consumers will find valuable. In an era where so much social interaction is done through digital devices, any opportunity to show faces is a positive step towards better personability.
Lower Operating Costs
Digitization also leads to lower operating costs. Without a brick and mortar storefront, your team can be located around the world which means you can work with skilled team members that fit into your budget.
There’s also the benefit of using enterprise technology. There are many popular CRMs that aid in all facets of business management from digitization of documents to automation of mundane management tasks. Many of these technologies assist in digital strategy as well, including sales and onboarding processes as well as team collaboration tools.
Once the areas of operations, management, and strategy are completely digitized, the brand is able to streamline many key tasks which help improve their ROI.
Retail brands are using data and AI to revolutionize their customer experience, providing a more engaging and accurate shopping space. Digitization gives brands more precise insights into the desires of their customers, which can help them tailor the online experience accordingly.
AI technology encompasses several components, among them are data mining, natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning.
Data mining is the collection of historical and current data in order to make better modeling predictions. This can aid in building user profiles that help companies better understand the demographics of their purchasers.
Digitization means that every aspect of a person’s purchase can be analyzed. You can track when they create an account, make a page view, sign-up for a newsletter, or leave an abandoned shopping cart.
Digital transformation allows brands to track all of these important elements and learn more about their users like never before.
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
One of the most intriguing components of AI technology is natural language processing (NLP). This gives computer programs the ability to understand human language in spoken or written form.
Businesses have heaps of text-heavy data saved, but they need a way to process and make sense of it all. NLP gives them a way to parse through it all and generate pliable solutions in less time.
Natural language processing is used in digital customer service environments everyday to field requests and guide customers towards solutions. AI chat bots are able to accurately comprehend what the customer is asking for and then send them to the right channel for assistance.
NLP can also be used to decipher broken English or slang terminology, parse out the correct meaning, and provide the necessary response.
Machine learning goes hand in hand with automation to help companies streamline many tedious and time consuming tasks to free them up for the most important things that move the needle in their business.
Supply chain management is one of the biggest beneficiaries of ML. When information no longer has to be entered manually, it not only frees up time but it requires fewer employees to oversee the task.
Information can also be extracted automatically and come equipped with useful insights that require almost zero manual output. Teams no longer have to spend (or waste) hours on end to gather valuable insights from datasets. Machine learning streamlines everything.
Document digitization is another blocker for many businesses. The need to digitize hundreds or thousands of decades old documents in order to consolidate it online has held many organizations back from undergoing a full digital transformation.
Thanks to machine learning, the process of document digitization is much more doable than many business owners thought was possible. ML-based software can identify objects from scanned documents and piece the information together, including a host of symbols, cursive writing, and even misspellings.
The identification of non-text elements is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of machine learning software, where geometrical objects, shapes, and lines can be identified.
Using Digital Transformation to Your Advantage
Digital transformation can be highly beneficial to your business, even if you aren’t utilizing AI and machine learning on a daily basis.
Digital customer engagement can be improved just by utilizing the proper channels at your disposal. From social engagement to website interactions, there are many ways to help your customers along their journey.
Digital customer experience metrics are also much more thorough and easier to track than many traditional marketing metrics. You can use digital analytics tools to track just about anything and collect the valuable insights you need. There are free tools that allow you to improve your understanding of user behavior by tracking the digital customer acquisition channels for your website.
Google Analytics is the staple when it comes to free tracking. They make it easy to highlight your conversion metrics and track the success of paid, organic, and social campaigns. Best of all, you can set the goals any way you’d like so you can track exactly what matters most to your digital marketing efforts.
These insights will essentially help you in measuring the customer experience, ultimately leading to more conversions and more repeat customers.
Defining the Customer Journey
Improvement to the customer experience can only be done if we can accurately define the customer journey. This starts with customer experience mapping.
A customer journey map is a visual representation of the customer’s relationship with your brand. It reads like a story, beginning with the acquisition phase and showing the top channels where this acquisition is likely to take place.
By visualizing this map, you are ensuring that your brand is not missing out on interaction opportunities with any prospective customer. Decision makers are also able to gain better insights into the blockers or consumer pain points that are encountered along the way, and they can use this knowledge to deliver a better customer experience from start to finish.
The map should start by depicting all of the primary consumer touchpoints including social media channels, website visits, emails, or calls to the business’s sales or marketing team. The mapping process can target one prospect across several touchpoints, like someone who previously interacted with your website and is later retargeted through a social media ad.
Mapping the customer journey will give you a better grasp of your different buyer personas. These segmentations are useful for optimizing the customer onboarding process as well as crafting future remarketing campaigns.
Most importantly, these maps provide order to your buyer journey. You can see where each point of interaction occurs so you can focus on improving those micro moments.
Customer Experience Mapping for SMBs
There’s a misconception that the digital customer experience exists only for enterprise level businesses, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Small and medium-sized businesses also have to adapt as their customers become more digitized.
Even consumers who are in need of local services like plumbing or roofing tend to find these companies on their mobile devices rather than calling or walking into their storefront. Those small businesses need to have an omni-channel presence to meet the needs of the modern consumer.
Customers expect quality service on whatever channel they prefer. Some may choose to call you over the phone, others like to email you, and others prefer to leave comments on your brand’s Facebook page. By having an active presence on each of these channels, you will show customers your ability to meet them on their terms.
Components of a Successful Digital Customer Experience Strategy
Positioning your brand for long-term success means creating an effective digital customer strategy. What are the main components that go into a successful customer experience strategy?
Understanding the digital customer experience
First, make sure you have a solid grasp on the concept of digital customer experience and how that impacts your business. This can be tricky for brands that haven’t set up a heavy digital presence yet, but you want to at least be able to recognize the steps involved. Understand that this customer experience involves a roadmap of interactions starting from brand discovery, leading to a purchase and beyond.
Defining the customer journey
Remember that the focus of a customer journey is not strictly on the transaction, it’s about the way your customers feel before and after completing a transaction.
Let’s use an example. Say a customer walks into your local clothing boutique and your salespeople guide them towards the perfect dress. When they make the purchase, they are given an additional 20% off their next item for following the store on social media and sharing it with a few friends. The customer views this deal as a steal, and they go on to post positive reviews all over the internet including Yelp, Google Maps, and the brand’s Facebook page.
Because the customer was given such a valuable experience, they went on to boast about the brand entirely on their own. They help the brand acquire new customers and grow its social following along the way.
In that example, your primary touchpoints include your customer service team (in this case in-store), social media channels, and customer reviews across digital platforms.
To begin your customer journey mapping, list out all the likely touchpoints in your customer journey both direct and indirect. Everything from walking in your store to visiting your website, following on social media, leaving reviews, or even contacting your customer service team via a chatbot.
From there, it’s time to determine which buyer personas are most likely to hit the specific touchpoints. This information is gathered through extensive testing, remarketing campaigns, and UX analysis (heatmapping and user flow analytics).
Targeting the proper digital channels
All of that upfront research will make it easier to target your most effective digital channels. You can then start to invest more resources into improving and optimizing these channels.
You then need to put the right analytics in place to track the progress of these digital channels and measure their long-term effectiveness.
Over time, you’ll notice different levels of engagement within different digital channels. For example, you may find that a lot of people are liking your Facebook page but once they start purchasing items they are communicating more with your email marketing campaigns. You can use these insights to communicate better with your customers and ensure the best level of service at each step.
Implementation involves surrounding yourself with the most highly skilled digital team members, from SEO to paid advertising, digital sales to reputation management. Everyone needs to be in sync for this process to work most effectively.
This delegation allows business owners to hand over the more unfamiliar digital tasks to specialists, while they can focus on the other important stuff that moves the needle for their day-to-day operations.
The implementation of your digital customer experience strategy isn’t a set it and forget it process. You must continually monitor the success of the various digital channels and touchpoints where your consumers are most active.
The success of digital campaigns can fluctuate on a regular basis, meaning that constant evaluation must take place to ensure success.
The use of Google Analytics and other tracking platforms is paramount for understanding user behavior and optimizing your campaigns accordingly. For example, if you were having success acquiring referral traffic from a specific channel and it suddenly goes away, you need to be able to diagnose the problem and potentially find a better channel to replace it.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the ways we measure digital customer experience.
How to Measure Customer Experience
Understanding customer behavior is one of the biggest challenges for any business, but it’s also the most valuable thing a business can do for its bottom line.
Because of this, success of a digital customer experience campaign should be constantly evaluated for continual improvements. Here are some of the top areas where success should be measured.
Data should always be measured against your top competitors. There are a bevy of social media monitoring tools as well as general website tools that can help you piece together a competitor analysis.
You’ll want to understand metrics like keyword rankings, social posting schedules, social follower growth, and paid ad spend to learn more about your brand’s successes and inefficiencies.
Customer satisfaction level
This metric is a little bit harder to gauge, but it’s possible if you ask customers the right questions. Following any purchase you should send over a follow-up email asking for their feedback, a review, and you can have them take a brief customer satisfaction survey to learn more about their specific experience.
Tools like SurveyMonkey are a must for any email marketing campaign.
Analyze customer loyalty through metrics like ‘new vs. returning visitors’ in Google Analytics (people who visited your site for the first time versus those who repeatedly visited) and the all-important customer lifetime value (CLV) metric.
Customer lifetime value is typically calculated based on their average purchase value multiplied by the average purchasing frequency, then multiplied by the average customer lifespan.
Sum of customer interactions
Measuring the totality of customer interactions shows you when and how they are interacting with your business. This should include an analysis of customer behavior at every touchpoint, before and after a purchase is made.
A great way to view this data in Google Analytics is using their “conversion path” analysis feature. You can see the steps taken for an average consumer to reach the point of conversion, and gather insights about the role of each channel.
The Future of the Digital Experience for Customers and Organizations
What does the future entail? You guessed it, a lot more digital.
The importance of providing a satisfactory digital customer experience will only increase moving forward thanks to the evolution of customer expectations towards the digital realm. Customers now expect nothing but the best from their digital experience and it applies to nearly every business type.
Gone are the days when local mom and pop shops can conduct all of their sales and marketing via word of mouth. Your brand needs a strong digital presence that is sensitive to each customer’s needs.
By selecting the right channels and assembling a talented team, your digital customer experience will place your brand firmly ahead of the competition as we continue headfirst into the all-things-digital age.