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PHOTO: You X Ventures

Businesses have been scrambling in the last few years to realign their organizations around the ongoing shifts in the customer realm. Spurred by a combination of mobile ubiquity, channel proliferation, ecommerce acceleration, access to unprecedented customer data and more, we've seen organizations large and small rethink their existing approaches and experiment with new methods of consumer interactions. But without an overarching strategy, one-off experiments will not build momentum. So what goes into an effective digital customer experience strategy?

Establish an Ongoing Research Process

“Understand the customer and the industry,” said Jared Stevenson, J.D. Power digital solutions consultant. Companies need to work to fully understand what customers want and where the company stands.

“Digital is accelerating,” Stevenson added. “New technologies are launched daily and product cycles are shortening. A company needs a clear research process to stay up-to-date and relevant.”

Internal research is also critical, Stevenson added. Without knowing where it stands, a company can’t move forward. Doing a thorough internal assessment of digital products, teams, talent, processes, capabilities and governance is key to moving forward efficiently.

The research can help a company build a clear vision of where it wants to be in six months, a year, three years. However, Stevenson cautioned, iteration and flexibility is essential. Convenient experiences are inherently subject to the whims of new technologies; so it is necessary to build a plan with an inherent ability to incorporate new ideas, concepts and challenges.

Laura Stringer, principal, Ninth Fourth LLC, echoed this sentiment, recommending businesses establish two- or three-year visions and roadmaps, but emphasizing these should be living documents, due to the capricious and fast-moving nature of the digital world. The idea is to keep the experience always evolving, with longer-term vision guiding the changes.

Related Article: Specificity, Awareness, Inclusion: How Your Strategy Becomes More Than a Piece of Paper

Follow LEO: Listen, Envision, Output

LEO stands for listen, envision, output, said Chris McNeil, founder and CEO of Thaught, Inc.

Listen to the customers to understand what they are pulling for, McNeil explained. Listen very carefully to understand the “harmonics” of that pull — their higher-level thinking that they may not even be conscious of. Their values, beliefs and identity that relate to what they are consciously pulling for can help uncover what they would love but can’t articulate directly. Natural language processing will help with this interpretation.

Envision a better outcome than customer would articulate for themselves: one that hopefully satisfies values unmet by current offerings, McNeil added. Map the landscape of current marketplace offerings, and compare that with what the company learns in the listening stage to find unmet needs.

Then design an output that includes content and touchpoints that meet the customer’s needs through digital channels, McNeil added. “Digital last, not first. It’s about the customer, how they think and pull currently and how you can positively influence them to get more out of it from your offering and how you teach them to think about it.”

Related Article: 3 Customer Experience Strategies to Win Over Consumers Today and Tomorrow

Determine the Desired Level of Service

“A brand has to decide what level of customer service they deliver digitally and that all depends on their overall customer experience strategy and what level of connectivity the brand is striving to achieve,” said Jon Quinn, a lecturer at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “The base level is giving the customer what they want as conveniently and painlessly as possible. Amazon has built their entire business around this and is about to take it to the next level by testing making every day inexpensive staples like dental floss available to Prime customers with free one-day shipping.”

From there, build an informed recommendation model, such as next suggested purchase, Quinn added. Brands can take it to the next level by reminding customers of their needs. In this case, the customer is aware of their need, they just need to be reminded. For example, “connected” thermostats can send data to the brand to enable it to reach out to the customer and remind them it’s time to change their furnace filter.

“The ultimate digitally-enable service level would be automatic fulfillment,” according to Quinn. “Smart devices can ensure the accurate and real-time delivery of data to the brand and the brand can then fulfill the needs automatically."

The key is matching the right digitally enabled service strategy with the customer behavior and desires. If the customer knows what they want and don’t want to share too much about themselves, then simply responding to their needs is the way to go, Quinn added. If the customer is overwhelmed by the options and they are OK with sharing some data, then a curated offering would be a good strategic service-level match. 

“If the brand has strong customer data and the customer simple needs a reminder to act, then nudging them is all you may need,” Quinn said. “If customer behavior is predictable and they don’t mind letting us leveraging their data, automatic fulfilment works well.”

Related Article: 3 Ways Ecommerce Sites Can Avoid Being Creepy

Finally, Be Realistic

“The most important part about an effective digital customer experience is setting realistic goals and expectations, and meeting those expectations,” said Bobby Reed, CEO of Capitol Tech Solutions. The most critical part is properly setting, and then meeting the expectations — the old adage of under promise and over deliver.

Any digital marketing project needs to have realistic and achievable goals, with realistic measurements of success, Reed added.