The Future of Online Customer Experience

New technologies follow a pattern. They start by imitating older technologies before they evolve to their true forms. The first automobiles looked like horseless carriages. It wasn't until the Vintage Era of the 1920's that cars evolved to a form that we'd recognize today with features like front-engines, enclosed cabs, and electric starters. Televisions started off copying radios - they looked more like an armoire with a small screen stuck on the front.

In the process of working on my latest piece of research, it became clear that the Web has followed a similar pattern. Early sites imitated a much older medium - paper. And even though 'web page' still dominates our thinking, online experiences have begun to evolve away from the page-based metaphor. In the next 5 years, the evolution of online experiences toward their true form is about to take off at a much faster rate than in the previous 5 years.

Consider that today's default Web platform - a browser running on a PC - is rapidly giving way to diverse online environments. The types of devices we use to connect to the Web are proliferating. In addition to the growth of netbook adoption, there are new devices like the Chumby and the Energy Joule. Portable devices are rapidly getting more powerful - as a result, the tradeoff between mobility and capability is shrinking. And even as the hardware evolves, the interfaces on the devices we use to connect to the Web are becoming more and more customizable. And the reason any of this matters at all is because consumers are already adopting these technologies.

So what are the implications of these trends? What does it mean for the future of online experiences? At Forrester, we've concluded that the resulting online customer experiences of the future will be:

  • Customized by the end user. Consumers will not only control what they get online, they'll control the form that they get it in to a much greater degree than they do today.
  • Aggregated at the point of use. Content, function, and data will be pulled from different sources and combined at a common destination to create a unique experience.
  • Relevant to the moment.This customized, aggregated content will appear on the device that's best suited to the customer's context at a given point in time.
  • Social as a rule, not an exception. Social content will be integrated into most online experiences, not segregated into today's blogs, micro blogs, and wikis.

If you like acronyms, then you'll appreciate the fact that this spells CARS. And if you're wondering what CARS online experiences will look like, there are already companies which are providing this type of online experience. Take a look at some of the online experiences we've identified in our research like: Wikitude, Nationwide's Accident Tool kit for the iPhone, Livekick, or the ShopSavvy mobile app.

This report provides a framework for customer experience professionals to think about how to build their firms' online experiences of the future. Over the next few months, Forrester's Customer experience research team will continue to explore this topic with a series of reports. Next up is a research on the future of Rich Internet applications as well as reports on best practices for each of the elements in the CARS framework. Please let us know your thoughts on the future of online experiences and what you see as your biggest challenges in building them.


re: The Future of Online Customer Experience

Interesting post! I heard a story on NPR just a few days ago about this very topic; notably calling the internet the "Splinternet". The interviewee announced that the "golden days" of the internet are over, and now each end user now has free reign to customize at will, losing that communal feel of sharing information in the same format.

Looking forward to reading your research!

re: The Future of Online Customer Experience

Very true. It is good to see the way you have have simplified this and made it easy for adoption. this applies to the service experience as well.

re: The Future of Online Customer Experience

When you are right, you just are. As the paths via which consumers engage rapidly evolve, the cost of not knowing how any interactions via these sophisticated multi-touch experiences perform is a clear, ever-present and growing risk to online purveyors of goods and services. Every provider of stuff wants to deliver a fresh experience that captivates customers and keeps them coming back for more. As the trends outlined here unfold and consumers increasingly control what they get and the form that they get it in, an extraordinary insight into customer experiences will be ever more important – but harder still to achieve. It is also worth remembering that the underlying technologies and environments that deliver the stuff that consumers will be able to pull from different sources and combine to create that unique experience; are also rapidly evolving. Do you feel lucky? Or would you rather be intimately aware of how customer interactions with your services are behaving and why; so you can consistently deliver an optimal experience across all channels today and tomorrow? You can explore this point of view further at

re: The Future of Online Customer Experience

love to see this discussion! It’s great to see you all working through the issues and also, it’s great to see recommendations for testing. In the end, it’s what your actual users do and prefer that should be your biggest driver in making these decisions.

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