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Three rules to build your digital experience strategy

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It's simple: Good customer experience—the perception people have of their interactions with your company—keeps them coming back again and again and is often a differentiator.

Increasingly, customers' experiences with brands happen via digital touchpoints, making the digital customer experience a key differentiator. Why this focus on digital experiences? A litany of reasons, but in developing our "digital experience playbook," Forrester's programmatic end-to-end framework for addressing your digital experience initiative, we found the following to be most important:

  • Customer engagement is increasingly digital. The expanding digital ecosystem of websites, mobile apps and social communities is enabling more timely and convenient interactions that fit nicely into the lives of today's consumers and set ever-increasing expectations for how a firm must engage with its customers.
  • Digital competitors threaten. Forrester calls them "digital disruptors" ... companies that threaten to make you irrelevant by using a digital wedge to "steal" your customers. Born-on-the-Web competitors now permeate virtually every industry, driving down costs, driving up product flexibility and offering compelling experiences. The next generation of upstarts is being born on the smart phone, tablet and digital TVs.
  • Digital experiences pack more punch. Whereas ads strive to drive consumers to interact, media-rich "immersive" touchpoints enable experiences that bridge the gap from awareness to conversion to long-term relationship. Digital channels and touchpoints can produce huge returns from relatively small investments.
  • Mobile makes digital pervasive. Our research shows that 1 billion consumers will have smart phones and tablets by 2016. Enough said. You have to be there.

What's your digital experience strategy? Most firms still don't treat the design, creation and execution of digital customer experiences as strategic, but rather as a special category of marketing-led tactical projects. To take digital experience to the next level requires business and technology leaders to collaborate on a digital experience strategy that follows three rules.

Rule 1. Design dopamine digital experiences.

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and reward. If you like something, your brain releases dopamine, making you want more. It might seem extreme to suggest that application development professionals need to understand brain chemistry. But total customer power means that ho-hum experiences are not good enough. Firms must deliver dopamine experiences that customers love ... that they crave.

Customers look forward to the opportunity to use your app to accomplish their goals when the appropriate context arises. For example, someone shopping for a new television may anticipate using his or her banking app to check balances and get instant financing.

Your app should be so useful and usable that customers are completely immersed in their experience. That doesn't mean that they necessarily spend huge amounts of time using it, but when they need it, they are all in. Video games are an obvious example that may offer customers a flow state experience that makes them cut everything else off.

Achieving customer goals is a prerequisite to achieving customer satisfaction, but it is not enough. Customers must also feel positive emotions that are appropriate for the context they are in. The positive emotions could range from ecstasy to relief. It is not just about achieving goals; it is also about how easy and how fun it was to achieve them.

Design dopamine experiences that make customers feel that way, and they will want to come back for more.

Rule 2. Be everywhere.

It is not enough to design dopamine digital experiences. You must also deliver those experiences whenever and wherever your customers want or need them. That means developing applications for whatever digital channels, or "touchpoints," are appropriate for your customers, whether on the Web, in smart phones, tablets or kiosks, or embedded in cars, appliances or even clothing. Wherever customers are, you must:

  • Design experiences for the channel and context. Context is king when it comes to experience design. Context describes the environment in which users might utilize the application and the features that would be most useful and desirable to them in that environment. There are five important contextual elements to design for: location, locomotion, immediacy, intimacy and device. (See downloadable charts.)
  • Build shared backend services, processes and data. Design and expose a service application programming interface (API) to support multiple digital channels. That API must support all the services needed to support the requirements of the customer experience, such as content services, transaction services and business processes. Design the services to support the entire customer experience across all channels and touchpoints. Following that approach will position you for success in the era of app Internet architecture, and make it possible for your apps to work in concert to deliver an end-to-end customer experience everywhere your customers demand it.
  • Trojan-horse your apps or services in other firms' app experiences. Being everywhere sometimes means embedding yourself in other firms' apps. For example, FedEx offers an API that allows other developers to embed shipping services in its app. Dun & Bradstreet offers an API that allows developers to embed credit-check capabilities. Websites such as ProgrammableWeb.com provide directories of thousands of APIs.

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