• October 1, 2015
  • By R "Ray" Wang, founder, chairman, and principal analyst, Constellation Research

Designing the Digital Customer Experience

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Today's customer experience initiatives often start with a design-thinking approach and a great deal of journey mapping. Organizations map out the journeys for a set of personas; teams of experts design the most relevant experiences for each persona; experts study the challenges customers face and identify solutions to emerging problems. In many cases, these efforts improve the overall experience and help brands and organizations achieve greater customer satisfaction, higher levels of engagement, and greater lifetime value.

Yet these efforts often fail within 18 months—sometimes in fewer than six. Why? Customers are fickle. They get bored. They feel trapped by limited options. The result: a lot of investment with some initial positive results, but then a big void as customers change their preferences.

In conversations with hundreds of customer experience professionals, we've found they often encounter the same challenge: the dynamic nature of the customer journey, which often more closely resembles a choose-your-own adventure than today's prescribed approaches.

In fact, Constellation Research sees five common design points, in increasing maturity, that deliver more intelligent choices:

1. Ad-hoc. Customers approach a random experience with no design points.

2. Prescribed. Design-thinking-led, the prescribed approach considers the multilinear paths a customer may take.

3. Guided. Built for choice, the guided path lets users take a choose-your-own-adventure approach to the experience.

4. Self-learning. Using predictive algorithms, self-learning identifies the common and most likely experiences based on historical interactions.

5. Intention-driven. By applying machine-learning algorithms, the intention-driven approach understands what is most likely; moreover, intention-driven also provides additional options to identify exceptions, based on contexts such as role, relationship, time, weather, location, temperature, heart rate, sentiment, or intent.

As organizations realize they are no longer selling products and services but delivering on experiences and outcomes, the shift to delivering on a brand promise requires the ability to deliver mass personalization at scale. This is the heart of the digital experience.

Delivering for a customer segment of one will require a few foundational concepts:

Choose-your-own-adventure type of journeys. With no real beginning or end, expect these systems to work like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book. Funnels fall aside as customers, partners, employees, and vendors jump in across processes, make their own decisions, and craft their own experiences on their terms. Journey maps must account for infinite journeys and support customer-centric points of view.

Continuity of experience. A customer may start an experience on a mobile device, carry it with him to the car, jump into it at the office, and then come back to it at home. Regardless of channel, device, platform, or situation, context and personalization are carried through. Customers do not expect a disruption of the experience, and they do expect relevancy.

Intention-driven design. Currently, the fashionable approach is a predictive one, using past history to predict future patterns. Intention-driven design tests for shifts in patterns by setting up hypotheses and awaiting the results. If we know a person always gets a specific type of coffee at the same time every day, that’s predictive. An intention-driven system will test to see what type of coffee is purchased based on time of day, weather, relationships, location, and even sentiment gathered from heart rate or actions. The test comes from an offer, or from studying shifts in patterns and behaviors. This self-learning and self-adjusting capability is powered by cognitive computing.

To begin taking a dynamic approach to the digital customer experience, Constellation recommends that technologists take these steps:

1. Start with an assessment of your business model design points.

2. Take stock of existing technologies and place them into one of the five systems.

3. Conduct a delta analysis of the business model requirements and the existing systems.

4. Determine which core platform investments to make in a build, partner, or buy decision matrix.

5. Pilot out new platforms and identify the technology road map to support the business model design.

R “Ray" Wang is the principal analyst, founder, and chairman of Constellation Research. He is the author of the business strategy and technology blog "A Software Insider's Point of View." His latest best-selling book is Disrupting Digital Business, published by Harvard Business Review Press.

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