Accelerating the Evolution of the Online Experience

NEW YORK — At the second day of Forrester Research's Customer Experience Forum here at Grand Hyatt New York, one keynote speaker kick-started the morning with a brief history lesson on a seemingly unrelated topic:the evolution of the automobile, a timeline stretching from the first London Steam Carriage in 1803 to the Benz Patent Motorwagen of 1886 and all the way to the Mercedes Benz vehicles of today.

The point?

"New forms of technology start by imitating old forms, then evolve to their true forms," stated Moira Dorsey, a Forrester vice president and research director. "It took 50 years for cars to take on the form we know them by today, and another 100 years to evolve. That's a principle holding true for the Web today."

The underlying principle may be the same, Dorsey said, but the pace of evolution is not. Online experiences have really only existed for the past 16 years, she noted, but the current explosion of cloud computing and technological innovation is telescoping the learning curve by an order of magnitude, from a century down to roughly a decade.

Dorsey focused her address for the 600 attendees into three questions:

  • What trends will shape the online experience in the next five years?
  • What are the attributes of tomorrow's online experience?
  • What should you do to get ready?

The trends that will shape the online experience in the next five years, she said, are largely a reflection of the shrinking capability/mobility gap. Until recently, sufficient capability could mainly be had only with a personal computer, while mobility and portability were best served by a cell phone. With the explosion of smartphones and netbooks, consumers are increasingly able to get all the benefits of the Internet wherever and however they choose. "You can't talk about [the] future of online experiences without talking about [the] interfaces we use on devices, which are already multiplying," she added.

Dorsey also noted that, according to a Forrester survey of online consumers in the United States, consumers seem attuned to innovation:

  • 70 percent prefer rich interactions over page-based ones;
  • 52 percent want to be online anywhere;
  • 49 percent visit social networking sites;
  • 34 percent are interested in buying a netbook as second or third personal computer; and
  • 24 percent use desktop widgets.

"We know technology is going to continue to evolve, consumers are interested in adopting technology, and competition will continue to grow," she said. "Which tells us one thing: Online experiences have yet to find their true form."

Regarding the attributes of tomorrow's online experiences, Dorsey tied back to her automotive motif and turned the word "cars" into an acronym. Experience, she said, will become:

  • Customized: individuals gain more control over information they receive online and the form in which they receive it;
  • Aggregated: the content, functions, and information that consumers get online will come from different sources yet be unified at a common destination;
  • Relevant: information will be available on any preferred device and will, at any given moment, in real time, be germane to the user; and
  • Social: instead of disparate networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), all information will be integrated into one online experience.

Dorsey warned the crowd to get ready for the burgeoning online evolution that consumers will increasingly expect. "We all know building a good experience on a Web site has been tough to do," she said. "Well, things about to get more difficult because we have to build online experiences that are much more complex [and] span devices, sites, and applications."

Tackling the steep learning curve as quickly as possible, Dorsey said, is critical. To that end, she shared with the crowd five design techniques that she said are integral to creating successful online experiences:

  • multichannel personas,
  • virtual ethnographic research,
  • atomized content and functionality,
  • an incubation environment, and
  • what Dorsey called "mad design skills."

"These are the kinds of advanced design technology we're all going to need in order to go from the Benz Motorwagen Web sites of today to the Mercedes Benz CLK online experience of tomorrow," she said.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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