man walking through brightly lit store
PHOTO: Xianjuan HU

Customer experience is the ultimate competitive differentiator. When done right, it can boost sales and improve a brand’s overall value and public perception. If done poorly, it can lead to early extinction.

Whether directly or indirectly, customer experience drives every metric that indicates whether a company is competing successfully. The integral link between customer experience and organizational success has not changed, and it never will.

But the definition of customer experience has changed. Substantially. Companies must now be cognizant of the digital customer experiences they provide as more people interact with their brands through smartphones and computers. In fact, it’s increasingly commonplace for customers to engage with companies solely through digital interfaces.

The Evolving Digital Customer Experience

In recent years, the definition of the digital customer experience has evolved dramatically to include customer journeys that involve interactions with systems connected to the internet of things (IoT). That is new and unfamiliar territory for many companies. The IoT customer journey differs from the traditional digital journey in two crucial ways: It’s more complex and less intuitive.

  1. More complexity: Where the traditional digital journey involved engaging with just a program or an app, the IoT customer journey adds a layer of complexity as customers interact with both a digital application and a hardware device.
  2. Less intuition: When using traditional digital interfaces, people are typically guided through the process by the applications they’re using. But with an IoT interface, interaction options through the hardware device can be limited, because some actions require a more robust visual interface, requiring a switch to the app to carry out certain functions. Customers may be confused about what they can and should accomplish through the hardware device and what they can and should accomplish through the application.

Optimizing the IoT customer journey means designing and testing IoT interactions that mitigate, or even eliminate, those problems.

Related Article: Welcome to the Brave New World of IoT-Powered CX

Designing User-Friendly IoT Interactions

The design stage of an IoT interaction is where the seeds of success (or failure) are planted, which is why teams should focus on optimizing functionality, ease of use and communication.

Functionality will differ for each IoT device. However, identifying the must-have features and determining which ones will be used most often is a critical step.

Apps should always be designed with ease of use in mind — and that goes double for apps that will be used infrequently. While the design stage provides a clean-sheet opportunity to optimize ease of use, developers should be prepared to make regular tweaks during the lifetime of the product in order for it to maintain its integrity. That is especially true in light of the fact that some ease-of-use issues won’t become evident until the product has experienced substantial real-world use.

That leads us to communication. To a degree, communication combines aspects of both functionality and ease of use, but it should also be considered a stand-alone component of design. How the user communicates with the device, how the device communicates with the user, and how the device communicates within the ecosystem are all are aspects that should be thought through carefully during design.

Related Article: IoT's Impact on Customer Experience? Immediate, Significant, Unavoidable

Testing Your IoT Interactions

Because IoT interactions are cross-platform, testing needs are different from those of traditional customer experience systems. Quality assurance (QA) teams should focus on three key areas: the app, the hardware device and the interaction between the two.

Functional testing of the application isn’t likely to present much of a learning curve; most organizations have been developing and testing software applications for decades. Similarly, testing the basic functionality of hardware components is a fairly straightforward process.

But most organizations have limited experience testing the interface between an app and hardware. Depending on the complexity of the hardware device, testing can be a very involved process, which is why companies should add other testing options to their usual QA processes. One of those options involves crowd-testing, in which a diverse group of people in real-world scenarios test the interface between the app and the hardware. Crowd-testing helps companies ensure that their users always receive the expected response from the hardware device.

Related Article: 3 Areas Where IoT Will Improve the Customer Journey

Don’t Just Test Whether It Works

Testing whether it works — the functionality of the app, the hardware, and the interaction between the two — is certainly important. But for IoT interactions, it’s just as critical to test how it works, focusing on the quality of the user experience.

Comprehensive usability testing must encapsulate the entire user experience, ranging from out-of-the box first impressions to day-in, day-out usage. Performing a longitudinal study would be appropriate for most IoT devices, measuring the initial learning curve, gauging first and ongoing user impressions, and prognosticating long-term likelihood of use.

Know the Customer

At the most elemental level, providing a great digital customer experience is all about getting to know the customer. In the age of IoT, this process involves learning more about customers at a granular level: which foods they prefer to keep stocked in their smart refrigerators, how their smart thermostats can best adjust to their daily schedules, when to use the “pots and pans” setting in their smart dishwashers, and so on.

Designing and testing IoT interactions appropriately will help companies to better know — and support — their customers.