Hold the (cell) phone.
Despite all the talk about the importance of mobile, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the merits of optimizing mobile experiences, most companies and brands are still failing to capitalize on mobile technologies — and losing the potential to benefit from what is arguably one of the greatest opportunities for customer experience innovation.
That's the surprising conclusion of research being released today by San Mateo, Calif.-based Altimeter Group, a research firm dedicated to helping companies understand and act on technology disruption.
In a report entitled "The Inevitability of a Mobile-Only Customer Experience" (registration required), co-authors Brian Solis and Jaimy Szymanski warn that many companies and brands are still underestimating and underinvesting in mobile.
What's more, they conclude, clearly defined and unified mobile strategies remain largely elusive to most executives and strategists, who tend to view mobile as the latest “bright, shiny object" rather than both a means and an end to incredibly improved customer experiences.
It’s a recipe for disaster, they argue — and an imperative for companies and brands to address right now if they want to remain relevant, competitive and continue to survive.
A Call for Action
"Mobile is no longer the second screen, it’s the first screen," Solis explained. "Mobile is the first device consumers go to when they enter the customer journey. But most brands and agencies treat mobile as a bolt-on to a bigger digital strategy or campaign. As a result, mobile customer experiences are fragmented and siloed."
Solis, a principal analyst at Altimeter, and his colleague, Szymanski, a senior researcher, said the future belongs to organizations that invest in mobile-first programs.
Research shows that some 90 percent of consumers move between devices to accomplish a goal, using an average of three different screen combinations each day, they noted.
"Mobile is also going to become more pervasive with smart watches and other wearables becoming part of the customer journey too. Brands and agencies need to own mobile, make someone accountable for the mobile customer experience and more so, move away from a mobile first approach and embrace a mobile only philosophy to keep customers on task while on the small screen," Solis told CMSWire.
Altimeter Group conducted qualitative research and analysis through a series of interviews with mobile leaders, digital strategists and chief executives at organizations prioritizing mobile initiatives among digital efforts. From last August through November, Solis, Szymanski and analyst Rebecca Lieb interviewed 23 industry stakeholders about their experiences in adapting mobile strategies to the new digital customer experience.
"We went in to better understand the strategies and best practices companies were applying to mobile. We ended up learning about challenges and opportunities for mobile that many strategists haven’t yet considered," Solis said.
The bottom line: "Mobile only CX is the next big thing but it takes champions to make the case and visionaries to design the future of customer experiences via digital and also mobile to keep up and get ahead of mobile customers," he added.
Mobile First – or Last?
While even prominent brands tend to underfund and understaff mobile strategies, there were some notable exceptions. Solis said brands such as Starbucks, Intuit, Zappos, Sephora and others not only get it, but are changing internal models and aligning greater resources to better concentrate on the mobile and digital customer experiences, both independently and complementary.
But others have apparently failed to embrace the mobile imperative, he explained:
While 'mobile first' is a well-accepted mindset, it’s open to interpretations. Mobile means different things to different people. For example, a mobile CX strategy could just be a single purpose app. It could also be part of a marketing campaign. Some approach mobile strategy from that of just making a website responsive or adaptive to mobile screens. It’s all of these things, of course. But as consumers become mobile only, brands need to think about mobile only customer journeys, too."
Solis and Szymanski discovered that many strategists responsible for mobile fail to realize both the opportunities and challenges mobile presents as part of the consumer lifestyle. Instead, they focus too much on the technology itself and lose sight of what the intended customer experience should or could be.
"This lends to mobile falling into the trap of 'mediumism' or placing inordinate weight on the technology of any medium, rather than amplifying platform strengths and conveying empathetic value propositions to create desired experiences and outcomes," the report cautions. It continues:
Technology is an enabler, not the solution, and thus mobile is a facilitator for desired engagement and transactions based on changing needs, expectations, and goals of mobile customers."
Too Risky to Ignore
The greatest risk facing companies is irrelevance among increasingly digital and mobile consumers.
"Customers today put up with fragmented mobile customer journeys because they have to. But at some point, other companies will re-imagine mobile CX and will start wooing customers away from competitors," the report notes.
Sephora, for example, is already uniting formally disparate teams to create an integrated customer experience. "All brands need to think about mobile this way to stop forcing consumers to multiscreen or channel hop," Solis said.
Mobile first and mobile only strategies increase conversions, improve satisfaction and loyalty and drive greater outcomes and return on investment, he added.
4 Steps to Mobile First CX
To win among mobile- and digital-first customers, Altimeter suggests that organizations focus on learning more about customer frustrations, expectations and behaviors specific to mobile. Specifically:
When done in parallel to other digital investments, mobile (in each of its forms) becomes an experience unto itself. Accordingly, strategists must apply those insights to architecting an ideal mobile state. Only then can customer-driven mobile strategy truly become part of a company’s DNA and produce results that include increased engagement, lead generation, sales, Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer retention, acquisition, loyalty and more."
The researchers outlined four essential steps to customer-centric mobile strategies.
The report notes that mobile centricity requires information about customers and their mobile behaviors, and then uses that information for mutual gain. But 2013 Forrester Research found nearly half of today’s marketers (43 percent) don’t know their customers’ mobile behaviors. As a result, they "can’t effectively architect mobile experiences that contribute to creating loyal relationships or producing advocacy," Altimeter concludes.
Once strategists map a foundational picture of their mobile customers’ journey and create personas that accurately depict real life mobile lifestyles, then they can architect the desired mobile state. But it's important to remember that all mobile devices and their related experiences are not created equally. The report stresses that "Strategists must design for the channel (web, app, etc.) platform (smartphone, tablet, or other) and unique behaviors for each."
It further notes that mobile is a diverse ecosystem that requires dedicated understanding and design. But since "mobile, through the sum of its parts, will become the standard for hosting the customer journey," companies that invest the time, resources and effort to understand will create "incredibly improved customer experiences."
More significantly, "consumers will reward your work accordingly."