Evolve Beyond Omnichannel To Delivering Unified Experiences

What does “omnichannel” really mean? And is it a viable strategy for customer experience professionals?

For customer experience professionals, omnichannel — the popular buzzword used to describe a company’s efforts to wrangle a consistent experience across all channels — is already legacy thinking that represents a limited approach for designing and delivering services. Instead of thinking about all channels, companies should focus on designing content and services delivered in specific touchpoints — the touchpoints that align with customer needs and the business' strategic goals.

This requires new thinking about the ways that customers interact. Companies must:

  1. Understand target customers and their real goals. Using ethnography and other exploratory techniques, customer experience professionals can get to the bottom of how customers operate and what they really care about, which ultimately determines what they need and where they need it. 
  2. Design services first. In a recent conversation with a large financial institution, we learned that the bank does not have separate touchpoint teams. Instead, it has a deposit team, for example, responsible for all related services and deployed appropriately across relevant touchpoints.
  3. Deliver in the right touchpoints for target customers. Giffgaff, for example, doesn’t have phone support. Its model is based on an active community populated by a very specific type of user.
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Build Enjoyable Experiences

We’ve probably all heard some story about over-the-top customer experience in our day. Like the story about the family on vacation at the Ritz Carlton, Bali. The family of a child with a severe food allergy was on vacation. The food they’d brought for their child spoiled en route. When they arrived, the manager of the hotel consulted with his executive chef who was unaware of any shops on the island that stocked the specialty items that had spoiled. But he did recall a shop in Singapore, where his mother-in-law lived, which stocked food the child could safely eat. So what did he do? He called his mother-in-law had her get the items and jump on a plane to Bali. For those of you who are curious, that’s a 3-plus-hour flight!

Stories such as these stand out for obvious reasons. But they don’t scale. That’s why companies need to focus on delivering great experiences, day in and day out, with products and services that meet customer needs, are easy to use, and are enjoyable.

It’s this last piece — enjoyability — that’s so hard to pin down. Why? First off, enjoyability is subjective. What one person thinks of as fun, another person thinks of as foolish. Skydiving, anyone? (I’ve tried it and think it’s kind of cool, but maybe it’s not your thing.) What’s more, many of the things that we think benefit customers, such as providing seemingly unlimited product configurations or service choices, are actually the opposite of enjoyable because they cause anxiety and hurt the decision-making process. And to top things off, it’s hard to sustain an enjoyable experience from start to finish. Ever been to a theater to watch an otherwise-satisfying movie only to be disappointed with the ending? How about being treated like royalty when considering signing up for a service only to be disappointed by how you were treated once you became a paying customer?

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Are You Prepared To Meet The Needs Of Your Hyperconnected Customers?

Today’s customers are highly empowered, hyperactive, and incredibly distracted by all of the options available to them for connecting with the things and people that matter to them most. These customers come to you with highly complex goals that they themselves cannot always accurately define — goals for which they don’t necessarily follow the seemingly logical linear paths you’ve laid out for them. As customers multitask their way through stages of information gathering, evaluation, purchase, and servicing, they connect with multiple outside sources that influence and transform their goals if they don’t hijack them altogether.

Gone are the days of the funnel when companies could lure customers with big promises and push them through a set of steps that would lead to purchase. Today, customer processes are far more complicated than ever, and while many firms believe that the purchase is the endpoint of an experience, for many customers, it’s just the beginning. Instead of taking a fragmented approach, firms need to look at the broad customer journey and understand how they can meet their customers’ needs when and where their customers want to interact. They need to understand their customers’ context and weave together a unified experience that matches the expectations customers have of the brand according to their in-the-moment needs.

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Introducing Forrester's Digital Customer Experience Improvement Playbook

Firms are increasing their focus on and investment in digital touchpoints. Why? Because digital touchpoints are critical parts of the customer experience ecosystem that offer your customers access to your firm anytime, anywhere. But when these touchpoints aren't optimized to reflect the way customers want to interact, firms:

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It’s Time To Develop Your Digital Customer Experience Strategy

Today’s digital landscape is complex. As companies use digital interfaces to engage with customers and foster long-term relationships, customer interactions are spanning an increasing array of touchpoints, with customers often crossing multiple channels in the pursuit of a single goal. While this new reality is riddled with challenges, it’s also ripe with opportunities for companies that have a strategic plan for digital customer experience.  

In a recent report, and subsequent Mashable article, I made the case that companies need to develop and execute digital customer experience strategies. As opposed to digital marketing strategies that focus mostly on what a company will provide and where, a digital customer experience strategy determines the “what” and the “where” based on the “who” and the “how.” That is, a digital customer experience strategy balances company goals and strategy with user expectations (the “who”) and describes the intended experience (the “how”). This, in turn, guides specific investments based on what customers need and a well-thought-out way of delivering on those needs that leaves a lasting positive impression.  

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Differentiate Digital Experiences By Building A Strong Brand Personality

Ever wonder why most digital interactions fail to engage users? In part, it’s because users can’t easily decipher who they’re dealing with. Instead of actively developing unique experiences that support how they want their brands to be perceived, companies chase features and functions that others have implemented. At best, the result is bland cookie-cutter experiences that leave users uninspired. At worst, brands can seem downright schizophrenic to users who get unpredictable experiences as they move from channel to channel.

It’s not easy to create a strong emotional bond through an interface because it’s difficult for users to see the people behind digital interaction points. Instead, they see a mere screen or a system. But people are far more predisposed to creating connections with other people than they are with an interface. That’s why firms need to pay attention to the brand personality they’re trying to convey and make their digital experiences feel more human. Of course, the solution isn’t just to plaster your website with happy faces or buzzwords. Instead, firms can take a more systematic approach and follow the principles of Forrester’s Emotional Experience Design framework. Here are a couple of ways for firms to establish brand personality:

  • Match visual designs across channels so that users can easily recognize the brand as they cross interaction points.
  • Keep in sync with the brand attributes that they want people to associate with them by creating content that conveys brand messages and by crafting the right voice to further convey those messages. 
  • Adopt a human tone that lands in the right place in between robotic, just-the-facts approaches and overdone marketing speak that comes off as fake.
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Brand Experience Workshop: Learn The Tools Of Website Brand Experience Reviews (April 4th, San Francisco Marriott Marquis)

Ever wonder why websites offer such lackluster brand experiences? Want to know how your site can help you differentiate your brand?

If you care about how your brand succeeds online and are attending Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2011, I encourage you to consider attending our Website Brand Experience Review Workshop on Monday, April 4th (the day before the forum), at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis.

During this one-day session, I will be presenting insights into the dos and don’ts of creating website experiences that effectively build brands. Attendees will learn the same methodology Forrester uses to evaluate how well sites build brands as published in reports such as “Best And Worst Of Brand Building Web Sites, 2008,” “Best And Worst Of Financial Services Brand Building Web Sites, 2009,” and "The Best Of Website Brand Experiences 2010." 

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The Online Change Of Address Nightmare

At some point in our lives, we all go through the challenge of moving, and it isn’t a whole lot of fun, even when it should be. You have to find a place to move, make offers, secure loans and income verification… all that fun stuff that you swear to yourself you’ll never go through again because it’s such a hassle.  For me, it’s not the boxes, the upheaval of routine, or even the challenge of dealing with all the administrivia that seems to pop up just when you think all the paperwork is in order. No. What I dislike most is changing my address for subscriptions, financial accounts, and other services.

At some point we all have to go through the basic task of updating our personal information with a company. It’s simple self-service task, right? You log in to your account, click on a link that says “change mailing address,” input your new information, and move on. You may even get a reassuring email confirming that your information has been changed.  It seems so simple — and in this day and age it should be. But why, then, do companies make it so hard to change your address online?

In the past week I must have gone through the process at least 20 times and found a range of problems including:

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Why Your Website Still Matters

The explosion of smartphones and tablet computers has companies frantic to build useful apps for serving their customers. Forrester agrees that companies should be building ways for customers to interact with them at the time and place that’s most relevant to them.

But in the frenzy of the moment, too many companies have let their sites languish. At Forrester, we predict that, contrary to what you hear at conferences, websites will not be passé anytime soon. Just as call centers didn’t die when websites came online, websites will remain critical interaction points for specific types of activities such as those that require heavy form inputs, detailed research that spans multiple sources/formats, initial company contacts, and infrequent support requests. And when the website (or any channel of choice, for that matter) fails, the consequences can be costly.

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Users Can't Always Tell You What Their Real Goals Are, But The Right Kind Of Research Can

Lately it’s become en vogue to talk about how to “surprise and delight” your customers. And why not? If companies are competing on experience, they need to find ways to impress and engage their customers. Figuring out how to do this is difficult but doable.

I recently had the pleasure of editing a report that Vidya Drego wrote that outlined three categories of customer research techniques: exploratory, evolutionary, and evaluative (read or download the report here). That process led me to think about my own research on Emotional Experience Design, which asserts that in order to engage their customers, companies have to craft interactions that address real goals, craft a cohesive personality, and deliver the right sensory experience. It’s this first principle of addressing real goals that I’ve looked into more deeply in a new report called, “Mastering Emotional Experience Design: Address Customers’ Real Goals.” Here are a few examples of companies that address real goals by extending value beyond the functional needs of a single interaction:

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