The unified, blended, single customer experience

We need to stop thinking about digital as its own thing.

It’s part of a much wider customer experience, and we need to make sense out of the blurred lines.

Digital transformation is not a movement from one state to another. There is no end game for the impact of digital on our customer experiences: we will inevitably be in a constant state of flux. We’ve lived through a change where familiar services have moved online and we’re are at the point where many of the services we use are either partly or wholly digital. Now we have entered a new era of a transformational stage in customer experience: the blending and blurring of the online and offline worlds. This has created gaps in the user’s experience which means companies are failing their customers, and not matching their expectations. Whether they’re applying for a new passport, transferring money between bank accounts, or buying their groceries, this issue can make or break their opinion of a service.

There are for sure some simple structural factors that can cause this. For a user to change their phone takes 15 minutes on the high street; for a company to install new technology – either for their online users or offline visitors – it can take months or years. This means that companies without millions of pounds to throw around can struggle to keep pace with user behaviour and expectations. Rather than looking to some kind of definitive technological turning point, finding ways to make the most of the emerging technologies in an agile way can work. Museums and galleries for example have been quick to find ways to integrate social media into their core offer, without reinventing the entire experience.

But even when digital projects are started, many are effectively set up as “digital for its own sake” rather than genuine service design, which could harness the true power of digital. This can be because of the silo-isation of digital in many companies, and the devolution of digital responsibility to those teams, rather than a unified approach across the business. In an era where users switch seamlessly between the “real” world and the digital, shouldn’t we consider the holistic user experience? Ultimately, shouldn’t we be looking to create ideas, powered by the appropriate digital or offline tools, that answer user challenges? We have run some really interesting hackathon sessions, bringing together people from very different disciplines, to solve problems starting at the highest, conceptual level, before then using our individual strengths to design a practical solution. This way of working can work in-house or with an agency partner.

When you treat online and offline separately, you can either skew towards a traditional, offline experience with digital “bolted on” in clunky ways, or the opposite – a kind of “digital whitewash” where otherwise powerful, compelling and meaningful offline experiences are lost. For example, online retailers who refuse to take phone calls, or forget the importance of a human touch when it comes to delivery. (With online grocery shopping, for example, the friendliness of the delivery folk is just as important as the UX of the website.) This again is helped by bringing teams together to design solutions and ideas. Experts in different fields should be able to collaborate with enthusiasm and imagination, and be open to thinking outside their usual suite of tools.

Similarly, there are human behaviour factors which until recently have been ignored in web design. Digital psychology now takes into account these aspects of our nature, and encourages a new way of thinking about digital more in line with our natural tendencies as people, not just “users”. If you don’t consider this side of things, you run the risk of designing services which although efficient, are mistrusted or misunderstood by the people meant to be using them, creating slow uptake or outright failure. (Anyone scanned a QR code recently?) Proper user testing is crucial – but it can also be powerful to involve customers or users right from the start to design the solution.

A real understanding of these factors can help companies to truly realise the potential of their customer experience. It needs to be a singular, unified experience that matches that demanding wants and needs of the contemporary human. We ignore this at our peril.