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4 Simple Guidelines to Provide Outstanding Digital Customer Experiences

By Michael McLaren

Digital transformation looms large for many brands and businesses, who know the process is important but may be less sure about how to tackle it. The end customer is increasingly empowered, the pace of innovation is faster, and expectations of exquisite experiences have risen accordingly. How do brands integrate these digital advances and rapid cultural change into a cutting-edge digital customer experience strategy?

All the best practices in contemporary customer experience tie back to putting the customer at the center of your business. Marketers cannot expect to trick or cajole consumers into purchases; they need to provide thoughtful, engaging, convenient and delightful experiences that keep customers coming back, all at a time when it has never been easier for them to research and switch to competitors.

Four simple guidelines brands and businesses can implement to succeed in this era include building a customer-centric product discovery process, deeply understanding consumer values, crafting personalized experiences, and pursuing useful innovation.

Build a Customer-Centric Product Discovery Process

Customers are firmly in control of their engagement with brands. They are increasingly doing all their own homework — checking out peer reviews and price comparisons, uncovering brand truths, and exploring the full range of options available to them. This customer control is happening in both B2C and B2B.

The marketer's job, then, is to design a simple but elegant product discovery process that can rapidly engage, readily satiate the customer's curiosity, and educate them about your product and brand, well before any one-on-one conversations take place.

To meet this expectation, brands need to forge digital connections with customers in the places where they are. No single brand is going to take the place of social platforms like TikTok, LinkedIn or Facebook. But brands need to be present on those platforms, supplying engaging and educational content that earns attention, which helps them win share of voice and stand out when it comes time for a purchase. Developing rich content for each platform helps to engage with shoppers; mostly importantly, brands need to be speaking with them, not at them.

The most advanced digital experience providers will transform their owned digital assets into places worth visiting. This is what the tech giants have done by launching robust content programs. Through immersive experiences like AR features that allow customers to visualize products in their homes and gamification that turns shopping into a fun activity, brands and retailers can earn their shoppers' attention — and dollars.

Consider Consumer Values

Younger people are becoming more influential decision makers in the marketplace, specifically millennials and gen Zs'; values affect their buying decisions. When it comes to analyzing the values of brands, they are not just looking for alignment but authenticity and transparency.

Brands who want to appeal to younger consumers need to reckon with the shifting values of their customer base. You can't expect to utilize exploitative labor practices, put out some aspirational ads, and get away with it. Define your core values, consider how they match up with those of your key audiences, and take action to ingrain those values into how you run your business.

For example, if you stand for diversity, do you have a diverse workforce? Women on your board? Not every brand needs to adopt the same values, but every brand does need to embrace and embody the values they attest to own.

The key is to think about marketing as an exchange. You can't logically persuade people to become buyers or pummel them into submission via relentless retargeting. You need to build your marketing program based on engaging, two-way interaction, which means considering the values that shape your customers' decisions.

Craft Personalized Experiences

Contemporary customer experiences must live up to what we might call the Amazon effect: businesses' ability to recognize what customers want and need, as well as the cadences at which they buy, and make helpful recommendations. This is the digital equivalent of an in-store shopping associate who recognizes regulars as they walk through the door and makes helpful suggestions based on their personal style.

Businesses need to be able to create highly personalized experiences that make shopping relevant, easy, and enjoyable rather than difficult, impersonal and transactional. What's more, they need to do this in a transparent manner that starts with asking the customer for permission to collect their data and use it in ways the customer appreciates and approves. That way, the business knows how to delight the customer without overstepping, and the customer will learn to look out for and recall the data-driven advantages the brand provides.

Pursue Useful Innovation

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. The north star for innovation is to pursue projects that customers will truly find valuable and useful. Anytime you review a product or process change, think, will my customer really find this educational, engaging, or convenient?

Finally, get the most out of digital transformation initiatives by implementing the principle of co-innovation: continuous and collaborative innovation. Continuity means recognizing that digital transformation is an ongoing process, not a discrete action that can be taken and then left behind. Collaboration means knocking down silos to allow, for example, sales, marketing, product, technology, and external partners to foster a single view of the customer and create holistic, customer-centric experiences.

Brands that are fast followers or status quo keepers will fall behind in the fast-paced game of digital customer experience innovation. Those who relentlessly ask how they can pursue useful and valuable innovation will stand out and delight their customers.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Michael McLaren is the president of Bounteous.