Traditional vs Digital Customer Experiences: Where do they come together?
How many times do we choose to buy somewhere over somewhere else because there was a shorter line or the products were easier to find? How often do we decide to buy a product in a certain store because they helped us more and the attention was better than in another place? Our experiences influence our decisions, and this applies to the buying decisions your customers make. How does this translate to the digital world? How many times do we leave an e-commerce site angrily because we tried to do something over and over again and it did not work as expected?
Customer experience, simply put, is the feeling the customer has after interacting with a brand in any of its channels or in all of its channels. These interactions may include buying an item on an e-commerce site, picking it up on their physical store or calling customer service because there was a problem with it, among others. This idea or perception of the brand the customer ends up with is related to positioning: where a brand stands in the consumer’s mind. Customer experience is the result of all the points of contact the consumer has with a brand. If the customer is dissatisfied after his interaction with a brand because the bought item does not work properly and when they called Customer Support they did not get any help, their customer experience will be extremely negative. However, if the customer faced problems but beyond them, the brand made an effort to solve them, their customer experience is improved. User experience is sometimes an overlooked side of the equation –how it works– that can often make the difference between success or failure (Garret, 2002). Success does not mean everything has to be perfect and there are no mistakes allowed, as shown in the examples mentioned above, it means there is a constant intention to make your client’s experience as positive as possible. Two companies can make the same mistake or miss the same thing, but how they respond to it is what will make the difference between them, and most importantly, between their customers’ perception of them. Customer experience can be divided into multiple channels, depending on what it is related to: an e-commerce site itself, an e-commerce site as part of the brand’s digital strategy, their physical store, etc.
In the physical store there are several aspects that define the customer’s experience. These include the treatment the customer receives from the staff; how they find the items: if they are clean, tidy, easy to find, practically arranged; item’s availability; payment methods, waiting time, and items’ presentation such as packaging, are just a few that have a direct impact in the overall experience of a customer. However, they also include less evident aspects such as those related to the five senses: the smell inside the store, the sounds whether its noise or music, the design and decoration. There are also other aspects which are harder to control such as the customer’s return home, which is independent from the brand but still affects the person’s belief, memories, and everything associated with their interaction with it.
What does this mean in the digital space? In many ways, the situation is the same. For instance, there are aspects that depend on the brand and there are others that are out of the brand’s control. For example: if your website works properly but your user has a poor internet connection, this will negatively affect their customer experience, but this is something beyond your control. However, as the virtual world has its own conditions and characteristics, certain aspects from the face-to-face world translate to others. In the digital world customer experience is affected by many factors. One of them is the digital product’s functionality; whether it works properly, whether processes take the user in the right direction, and if it responds well. As well, it is affected by its loading times which can make the experience truly frustrating if the site is unresponsive. Moreover, it is determined by how easy to use and intuitive it is: Can the user find what he is looking for fast? Is the site intuitive enough? Are processes clearly explained? Can someone visiting for the first time do what he came to do with ease? Two aspects that are usually overlooked in the customer experience of an e-commerce site are the security and the trust they provide to the customer. These are key because when buying online one is providing payment for something under the promise that it will be delivered accordingly and that implies a significant risk. There is also the cybersecurity matter related to credit card theft, which can be really sensitive and can cause users to walk away from a site without a purchase for not trusting the company is legitimate, or can provide the proper level of security when handling online transactions. Everything the user sees in the site that transmits professionalism is also translated into security and trust, which may give them tranquility and increase the possibilities of buying online and continue interacting with your brand.
How does all of this come together? All of this experience affects how the users interact with the brand: who does and who does not buy their products or services, who ends up satisfied or dissatisfied, whether they recommend it to others, among other aspects. Even though experiences in a brick and mortar store and online are really different, they have many points in common, and they both determine the customer’s behavior towards the brand. If one goes to a physical store and there is an unbearable noise and the staff is rude to the customers, it is totally different than if one enters a site and a button does not work and therefore one cannot complete the purchase. However, in both cases they both have a negative customer experience as a result. Sometimes, when people talk about user experience in e-commerce, they do not evaluate important details. If these are not previously thought and solved, they are left to chance and they can negatively affect your client’s experience with your brand.
The importance of ensuring a positive user experience keeps increasing. Given the pervasive information overload, together with the expectation that everyone is computer savvy, the duty of designing a quality user experience is even more critical these days. Among all these advances, emerging new paradigms are stretching our understanding and definition of a primary mandate: to create an interaction design that will lead to a quality user experience (Garret, 2002).
Customer experience determines aspects such as if a client will choose you again in the future or if they will choose one of your competitors to avoid a negative experience they had with yours in the past. “… Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index tm) has proven that how a brand or product makes a consumer feel is the strongest driver of retention, enrichment, and advocacy globally” (Kodali, Lai, Stenhope & Truog, 2020, p. 2). Psychology says we base our decisions on previous experiences, so you must give your customers the best possible experience if you aim to make your brand solid and grow your sales. In the physical world, this means that if your store made them have a negative experience, they will go elsewhere to satisfy their need, maybe the store across the street or the one they heard about when talking to someone about what they needed. However, in the digital world, the competition is so much bigger than in the physical world because customers can buy on an e-commerce site from anywhere in the world if they ship to their country. This shows, more than anything, the importance of providing a positive customer experience. Empathy is key to ensure the best possible experience to your customers, you should put yourself in your client’s shoes from the moment they have a certain need, they investigate how to satisfy it, going through choosing your brand, entering your site, until the customer’s journey has finished. Is the customer experience you are providing your clients the best it could be?
Kodali, S., Lai, A., Stanhoe, J., and Truog, D. (2020, august 11). Vast, Fast, And Relentless: Consumer Buying Enters A New Era. Forrester, 2.
Garrett, J. J. (2002). The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web (1.a ed., Vol. 1). California, United States of America: Peachpit Pr.