People waiting outside in a line outside of a Louis Vitton store.
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Since digital has become a thing, companies have tried to be successful at merging the digital world with the physical one. It doesn't always work and yet neither are going away. In fact, Salesforce found 75 percent of consumers expect a consistent experience wherever they engage (e.g., website, social media, mobile, in person). Organizations that blend physical and digital experiences will avert technological and in-person disasters because they provide consistency across digital and physical channels, experts told CMSWire. 

Recognize Digital Just Part of the Game

The first challenge is to recognize that digital is not the only switch that should be turned on in your customer experience program. “Digital is no longer the centerpiece of brand experience,” Fjord CEO Olof Schybergson wrote in his company’s report 2018 Fjord Trends Report. In an interview with CMSWire, Schybergson called that statement provocative. But it is also a “call to arms” that we don’t live any more in a world that has two parallel universes: the virtual world and then a separate physical world. “They should actually be thoughtfully fused,” Schybergson said.

It's not easy with the constant calls of digital disruption and digital experiences. “Digital has had a dramatic effect on how we consume, how we find things, how we connect as individuals, how we have we learned about things, how we go about our day-to-day work, how we educate ourselves and so on,” Schybergson said. He added, many organizations have become myopic on their digital efforts, and the end result has been fragmented customer experiences. The look and feel from the physical brand presence ends up being quite different from when you need someone on the phone or communicate in a digital channel.

Organizations need to stop treating their customer’s digital experiences and physical ones as separate. “Organizations shouldn't think about here's a digital channel and here's the physical channel and they're separate,” Schybergson said. “Instead they should think of digital as something that is infused across everything in organization.”

Related Article: One Scary, Digital Customer Experience Journey

Iteration and Testing are Essential

Matt Garrepy, chief digital officer for Solodev, said it’s only logical that brands would embrace the promise of what a mobile app or an automated digital process can deliver — especially to their bottom line. However, he added, “digital transformation can often shield stakeholders from the true impact to their customer experience if it’s not carefully and thoughtfully implemented.”

Garrepy cited Papa John’s Pizza, which saw more than 60 percent of their sales come through digital channels last year. That experience could not have been grown effectively without constant testing and iterating with consumer interaction and behavior, Garrepy said. “...the testing can’t end there; the experience must extend all the way into the physical delivery. Knowing who is delivering your pizza via the app, having a consistent brand experience with their customer service, and ultimately having your order delivered on time and cooked to perfection is all part of that seamless continuum of brand experience,” he added. 

Understand Your Customer Pain Points

Garrepy added that feedback channels must go beyond the usual suspects (i.e. Yelp, social reviews). Conduct customer interviews around their specific pain points for both the digital and physical touchpoints in an experience, which, he said, can reveal more tangible data that might help avoid larger issues in the future. 

Related ArticleDigital With a Soul: Building More Human Digital Experiences

Send in the Humans

IVRs, web experiences and chatbots can save money and streamline processes, however, they are often guilty of the “cardinal sin of customer service,” according to Garrepy, being inhuman. “People will accept a certain degree of automation, but when they need real help, they want real people,” he said. “Chatbots should always maintain transparency and never be presented as a proxy for real people. Give customers more choice: do you want to speak to a live service technician? And most importantly, have people ready to pick up a ‘chatbot fumble’ and recover the relationship.” In other words, people can bail out a digital experience from going bad fast. 

Make Decisions Based on Hard Data 

Are you moving an element from physical to digital to be “trendy” or keep in lock-step with a competitor? Don't. “Not a good enough reason to make the shift. Would it streamline a buyer’s process and alleviate stress on your employees? Much better reason to justify the investment. Ultimately, organizations need to weigh in consumer reviews of the process from their clients more than their employees — especially if the experience is something shared by both groups,” Garrepy said.

Don’t Overlook Challenges of Operationalizing the In-Store Experience

Kristie O’Shea, director of process management for Olson 1to1 (Part of ICF Olson), said removing friction during the in-store experience can be particularly daunting. Arm your front line store or retail associates with tools that can retrieve member data, history and preferences, etc. in real-time. 
“Brick-and-mortar shopping is on the rise among younger generations, but it’s contingent on in-store technology being engaging and fluid,” O’Shea said.

She warns that bridging the physical and digital divide requires a significant amount of work with the integration of your member and customer database. Associates must also know when and when not to engage a customer, and focus on assisting and educating rather than getting a sale. “This goes a long way in the experience,” she said.

Related Article: How Retailers Can Tackle 3 Big Data Challenges

Consider Your Demographic

Garrepy said brands should recognize if their biggest segment is Baby Boomers, expect to have a physical experience at the ready as backup, and ensure that the digital experience offered is simple, straightforward, and functional. Digital experiences must reflect the physical realities of the audience. Every website, specifically on mobile, should be ADA (the American with Disabilities Act) compliant. 

“As age begins to physically impact the Baby Boomer generation, having digital solutions that align with low vision, motor skill or cognitive challenges is key,” Garrepy said. “This audience is relatively tech-savvy, using mobile devices everyday; they will expect and demand their web experiences to accommodate their needs with features like larger text, bigger buttons, higher contrast and other ADA-compliant functionality. The brands that understand and align with this vital compliance will retain the most loyalty.”

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

“It's a challenge, regardless of what your background is,” Schybergson said. “And the ability for designers to traverse and think across digital and physical implications and touchpoints and so on, this is actually quite complex.” So he says to support those in your organization who may be stepping a bit out of their normal roles, Schybergson said. For example, signage designers used to their print formats and are now dealing with digital systems or digital designers that are used to sitting and staring at the screen all day are now walking around and observing how things are actually used in real life.