It's time to go beyond the idea of multi-channel customer experiences, according to a new Forrester report. Instead, the report says, think of seamless experiences.

The report, "Build Seamless Experiences Now," is one of many trying to get its arms around customers who use multiple devices, think nothing of moving between devices, and are always connected to the Net. Because of these growing habits of customers, Forrester says that customer experience professionals need to maintain a "continuity of memory and experience throughout the customer's journey."

Serial Engagement Patterns

The report cites Google as finding that 90 percent of consumers with multiple connected devices switch between an average of three different device combinations every day. Forrester parses this behavior into three types of what it calls serial engagement patterns:

  • Discrete interactions beginning and ending on the same touchpoint, such as a single session on a smartphone to make a restaurant reservation;
  • Continuous interactions across touchpoints, such as watching a Netflix streaming movie on one device and then continuing it from that same point on another device;
  • Sequential interactions that evolve from one touchpoint to another, such as recipe discovery at a food site, a smartphone shopping app from the same company, and step-by-step cooking directions from that company for a tablet.

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From the Forrester report, "Build Seamless Experiences Now"

Simultaneous Engagement

And then there's simultaneous engagement patterns, the most common of which is watching TV while using an Internet-connected device. The report said that slightly more than half of online adults in the US who use more than one device at the same time use them for activities that complement each other. That kind of behavior also comes in three flavors:

  • Collaborative interactions that integrate multiple touchpoints, such as the integration between a retail store experience and a Walmart mobile app, which together enable shoppers to scan groceries as they shop and then quickly pay at self-checkout registers;
  • Layered interactions that augment experiences, such as second screen software that complements a TV broadcast;
  • And what the report describes as "federated interactions" that empower other interactions, including Apple's AirPlay for streaming music and video from one device to another.

Information, Action

The report found that only 17 percent of online consumers in the US and the UK found it easy to switch between different channels for either action or information.

On the action side, this can mean impeding the completion of tasks that businesses want customers to complete. Booking a trip, for instance, could get interrupted and never completed.

For information, 68 percent of consumers expect that the information they give to an organization in a website, for instance, will be available in another channel, such as configuring product options on a website and those options being available to the retail store when you show up.

In order to build persistence across these channels, Forrester recommends that retailers focus on building experiences with continuity of memory and continuity of experience. Memory means that the business has the relevant information conveyed by the customer in another channel, and experience means that context is maintained across channels, such as an Amazon.com shopping cart available regardless of the device.

The Handoff

Forrester points out that customers do not see separate touchpoints, but only the company they are dealing with. To move toward a unified engagement with customers, the research firm recommends that companies document the customer journeys so that needs in different channels can be addressed, and that they think of new product or service releases as experiences across all channels.

This report is a welcomed addition to the research on how to remain a single brand experience when customers have so many different ways of interacting. Continuity of memory -- information supplied by a registered user in one channel being available in another -- draws on the consistent data platform that many companies are adopting. It’s the right hand knowing what the left hand does.

But continuity of experience seems like an area that needs an entire report in itself. If I move from filling out a website form on a computer, save, and then open the same account on a smartphone, it seems obvious I would expect to encounter the same stored information. But continuing an experience on another device, like picking up on a game console a game started on a tablet, seems to this consumer like a wondrous benefit, not an expected necessity.

What does seem to be essential is the hand-off. Next IT, for instance, has promoted the ability of its virtual agent technology to seamlessly hand-off a customer to a live agent channel when the questions become too difficult. The information I’ve given should remain the same, but the experiences of virtual and live agents still remain distinct. Perhaps Forrester can delve deeper in a future report into exactly what customer expectations must be met as users move between channels, other than persistent information, consistent branding, and a graceful hand-off.