Anyone else fed up with being told that they are living in a ‘digital world’? Unless this really is all part of some super realistic Matrix style virtual reality I am pretty sure that the world I inhabit is a physical one. Even for the most tech savvy among us, only a relatively small amount of our daily lives is actually spent purely in the digital world. We might shop and purchase goods online but unless we are consuming non-physical services – media, software, services etc., we receive and consume or use what we buy, offline. In fact, the majority of interaction with goods and services still happens offline.

Let’s take supermarket shopping for an example. You may spend 30 minutes selecting and purchasing your goods on your laptop, tablet or phone but from the point at which you press ‘confirm’ your online experience ends (with the exception of those panicky attempts to move your delivery slot when you realise you will be stuck on the M25 for at least another hour). The rest of your experience is very much offline - from delivery and returns to the consumption of your goods.

If you ask retailers what their priority is when it comes to investment, a lot of them will tell you it is in customer experience. When you look a little closer however what you will find is that the area that gets most of the money will be digital channels. Whether it is website improvements, investment in social channels or analytical tools to make sense of the wealth of data digital channels (all of which are hugely valuable), in the rush to create a perfect online experience, many companies are in danger of ignoring the offline.

Relearning old lessons

The importance of delivering a consistent experience across different channels is not a new one. Omni-channel and multi-channel are concepts that have been around for years. When they first came to prominence however the focus was very much on making sure the online experience matched the offline. Now some would argue that we have gone too far the other way. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be investing in digital channels but organisations need to remember that digital interactions rarely exist in isolation and a great online experience can easily be ruined by a poor offline one. If we go back to our supermarket for example, the area that annoys people the most is not their experience online, it is the quality of produce when it arrives. We have all experienced the joy of getting three bags of shopping all of which needs to be eaten in the next 24 hours or the head scratching substitutions.

Fundamentally the danger here is that organisations forget that customers are actually real people. With terms like UX (user experience) we are turning customers into ‘users’ which has the effect of dehumanising them. They become faceless nameless entities leaving data trails across our systems. This isn’t to say that UX isn’t a valuable part of the mix – it is – but the ‘user’s experience’ will not begin and end online.

It doesn’t have to be difficult

Getting the virtual and the physical to work together does not have to be complex; it starts with the understanding that they both need to be considered as integral parts of the same solution. It simply comes down to the effective capture and relevant use of information, something that, in some industries, has been working to good effect for years. Airlines like British Airways have always rewarded frequent flyers with free upgrades to keep them loyal; local restaurant owners know the value of remembering where regulars like to sit and village stores have been putting goods aside to make sure their best customers can get what they need for decades, if not centuries! In the modern world, tucking a newspaper under the till has been replaced by loyalty schemes like Nectar or store specific cards like the Boots Advantage Card. Loyalty cards are effective but they lack one important element and that is the personal interaction and it is there that you can see the real value in bringing the digital and physical together.

Let’s take the example of delivery – an area where your experience of a company can be ruined pretty quickly. Software services like Metapack give retailers an easy way to offer their customers a wider variety of delivery options to suit their lifestyles. ASOS and Marks and Spencer are great examples of companies that have realised that a great online experience has to be complimented by the services customers get offline and by using logistic aggregator / software companies such as Metapack they can ensure the experience doesn’t fall down at the point of delivery by offering multiple carrier and enabling click and collect options.

And it is not just at the point of delivery that we can bring digital and physical together to improve the overall customer experience. The Burberry app alerts the store when a shopper has entered and they can immediately access information about who they are, what they have bought, how they like to shop, right down to whether they like a glass of champagne while browsing.

Customer experience is about more than just what happens online and this must not be forgotten when investing in technology and processes that are designed to improve that experience. Organisations need to avoid putting all their eggs into the digital basket and take a step back before investing to ensure that they have considered what happens when the customer turns off their laptop, phone or tablet. The fact is our physical and digital existences are intertwined now to such an extent that we move between the two many times every day.

Companies need to consider how they use technology across every element of customer interaction and how what they get from one element can be used to inform another. To do this effectively they need to ensure any technology provider they partner with can also think beyond digital.


By Alan Walsh, CEO of Amido

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