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Customers need to have great experiences when they interact with an organization's digital presence. But what can businesses do to improve digital experiences? A new report from Forrester Research lays out ten specific things.

The report, “Top 10 Ways to Improve Digital Experiences,” points out an obvious but nonetheless overlooked fact: “great digital experiences don’t happen by accident” but must be designed. 

From the customer’s point-of-view, the goals are pretty clear: the report unsurprisingly notes that customers simply want experiences that are enjoyable, easy and useful.

Thanks, David Letterman

In David Letterman fashion, these Top Ten best practices for improving digital customer experiences are presented in reverse order.

10. Flex Your Analytics and Operational Data, so a factual basis can be established for understanding where visitors go inside a website or app as well as what they do. The report highlights the example of Lands’ End, which analyzed data about cross-channel behavior. It found many customer service calls related to finding the right size for an article of clothing. Call center volume was reduced 20 percent when contextual help about product sizing was added to the website.

9. Conduct Expert Reviews of Web, Mobile and Tablet Touchpoints There’s user data and then there are “heuristic reviews,” where experts — who can either be users meeting the characteristics of targeted users or usability experts — try to accomplish specific customer goals. The customer’s goal isn’t “give me a brand experience that is consistent across channels,” of course, but is more focused on the order of “buy a set of bath towels.”

The report points to accepted categories of evaluation criteria for users’ responses — value, navigation, presentation and trust — and includes the most common questions in each category. Under “value,” for instance, a common evaluative question is “does the landing page(s) provide evidence that the specified user goals can be completed?”

8. Reach Out to Real Customers, expands on No. 9's intent to get feedback from the people who are encountering the digital experience, except here the data is derived from surveys, customer feedback forms, emails, support calls, chat sessions and social media posts. A large Canadian pizza chain, for instance, found that fewer steps — and therefore fewer choices — were preferred by many customers during online ordering, as long as they could easily go back and make revisions.

Within this step, Forrester includes the advice to “test designs with users to uncover specific usability problems,” employing a prototype if the project is still in development. This appears to repeat step No. 9, except that perhaps the research firm is suggesting this for works-in-progress instead of 9’s emphasis on existing sites and apps. But in practice, having real users or experts pretending to be real users, is essential whether you are developing a new site/app or trying to figure out how effective an existing one is.

Forrester also recommends the creation of persona — detailed fictional characters who represent customer types and who can then be used to lay out a customer journey of goals, steps and needs across the experience. Among other things, the customer journey will show the digital touchpoints where this character will need to interact and what needs to be accomplished at each one.

7. Adopt Proven User-Centered Design Process that involves customer research, idea-generation and iterative prototyping.

6. Take Advantage of the Inherent Characteristics of Digital Touchpoints, providing the sane advice to use the features — and the size of the screen — of your targeted device. These can include interfaces that are optimized for a touch tablet screen or real-time data in a mobile app that changes content or offers based on location.

5. Get Outside Help When and Where You Need It, including not only tech help but also specialists for, say, researching customers in their native environments.

4. Plan for the Post-Launch Reality, an often overlooked need to plan for how those great features and customer feedback are going to be monitored and maintained over time.

3. Bolster Your Company’s Brand is a common focus of many companies looking to enhance the digital experience. But this distills the general wisdom down to such essences as understanding your company’s positioning or supporting brand attributes in what is seen and done.

2. Measure Digital Touchpoint Performance Against Business Metrics offers the sound advice to figure out business objectives, ways to get there, how to measure customer response from all digital and non-digital channels and return on investment.

And the No. 1 best practice: Unify the Overall Customer Experience. This is a hot topic, as companies and their agencies try to present a unified experience across channels, which often means a data consistency about the customer’s interactions and a consistency of feelings about the brand.

This report should become a standard guide for developing digital experiences, as its 30 pages are chock-full of examples, specific advice, measureable criteria — and ten highlighted main points. While it is directed at providing a guide on how best to handle digital experiences, the report really also serves as a model of how to present a useful, quickly scanned and valuable research report.