The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the shift to online shopping in the retail sector, with total retail e-commerce sales in 2020 in the US up 44% over 2019. In order to take advantage of this likely-permanent shift in consumer behavior, smart retailers must ensure their organizations create end-to-end, high-quality digital customer journeys.
What is a digital customer journey? It's the online/digital path consumers take with an organization from the product/service browsing stage all the way through to final purchase. While no two digital customer journeys are exactly the same, they include things like:
- researching a product online
- reading an email about a sale on that product
- perusing an online catalog,
- messaging with a customer service rep or chatbot
- entering a credit card into an ecommerce platform
- sharing a review post-purchase on social media
Together, these online/digital interactions collectively encompass what has become known as digital customer experience. But how does digital customer experience differ from regular customer experience? And what does it take to deliver a superior digital customer experience to today's consumers? Let's take a look.
Defining the digital customer experience
Customer experience (CX) is defined as the sum of all of customer interactions with a organization's products, services, and brand on all mediums (online/digital and offline). Digital customer experience (DCX) is a component of overall customer experience and is defined as the quality of the interactions between brands and customers that takes place on digital interfaces, platforms, and touchpoints -- and there are many! The number of digital channels continues to increase, and according to research from McKinsey, customers use up to 12 channels and devices when shopping for an item before adding to their shopping cart. And every touchpoint provides an opportunity to either create a positive experience that increases customer loyalty or a negative one that pushes customers away.
A strong customer experience has been shown to produce significant business results: more customers, more sales, and improved customer loyalty. Bain says that companies that excel at customer experience grow revenues 4-8% above market, and Forrester found that "superior CX drives superior revenue growth in industries where customers are free to switch to competitors.” A Qualtrics survey found that over 65% of customers said that their experience on a website or app would be at least a very important factor in their willingness to recommend a brand.
So how can retailers ensure they deliver the high-quality interactions needed for a superior digital customer experience?
Tips for an effective digital customer experience strategy
To avoid frustrating customers or driving them to competitors due to poor digital experiences, retailers should focus on the following areas to optimize their digital customer experience strategy:
Put customers at the forefront of everything you do. Along their journey, customers will experience and engage your brand at multiple touchpoints. It’s important you determine what these touchpoints are for your unique business and how customers interact with each. By leveraging ‘customer thinking’, you can prioritize the most important journeys to optimize in order to maximize the value of your customers’ time at your touchpoints.
Integrate the digital customer experience internally and externally. All touchpoints need to be linked and consistent with one another – but companies are not always organized like this structurally. So, first gain internal alignment: key stakeholders across the organization must agree on the goals and plans for the digital customer experience. And eliminate departmental silos across your business by simplifying internal processes and integrating insights and data sources where possible.
Ensure your decision-making is informed by relevant data about your customers. A complete view of the customer requires pulling data from many sources, and making sure it’s as clean, current and as trustworthy as possible. Analyze demographic, operational, perceptual, behavioral and business value insights across multiple touchpoints to help drive all your customer experience decision making.
Personalize your customers’ experiences. Not only do personalized experiences boost revenue and loyalty, but customers increasingly expect them. Through a deep understanding of each customer, personalization increases relevance and engagement, thus delivering better digital customer experiences. The best personalized marketing starts with having actionable and accessible customer data.
For the best customer experience, online and offline must be aligned
More than ever, it's important that your digital customer experience strategy align with and work alongside of your strategy for offline channels (such as mail catalogs, brick-and-mortar, and direct mail). Customers expect seamless interactions from your brand and a connected customer journey wherever they are on their path with your organization (and on whatever the touchpoint).
So as you build out your customer experience strategy, don't do so in a vacuum. Take the time to identity your overall customer experience goals and develop a strategy that has incorporates all of your online and offline channels. And once you've begun to carry out your strategy, be sure to constantly monitor all touchpoints (online and offline) to identify any potential speed bumps or roadblocks that prevent a seamless customer journey or cause negative experiences. Only then will the promise of great CX (higher customer retention, more referrals, better sales) truly pay off.