The Importance of a Seamless Consumer Experience
By Samuel Greengard
Among the many remarkable things taking place right now is the explosion in digital devices. Today, the typical consumer carries two or three digital devices. Expect that number to rise in the months and years ahead.
All of this has profound implications for CIOs and IT. Although many executives understand the need to communicate across channels, particularly in areas such as marketing and customer service, the thing that's too often overlooked is that each channel isn't a discreet entity, it's part of an overall approach to customer and partner relationships.
Right now, customer relationships, especially at retailers, don't adequately span devices and channels. For example, I may start shopping on my iPad and then end up at my desktop computer or laptop. Then I may pick up my smartphone. While certain games and software applications are entirely stateless (think Evernote)—no matter which device I pick up they display the exact same screen, data and information—most businesses haven't come close to replicating this model.
Customer accounts, cookies and other tools are only part of the equation. Amazon does a reasonably good job of tracking recent browsing history and allowing customers to create wish lists. The concept, however, must go further. Last year, when I was shopping for a new car, I discovered that many of the online configuration tools didn't work particularly well on an iPad and, worse, I couldn't always save the configuration, or a partial configuration, for future use on another device.
The Holy Grail is to identify a customer and connect all the data points with business processes and internal data from CRM and transactional systems. This means getting smarter about using geolocation data, social media feeds, big data and cloud computing—along with integrating conventional media such as print, television and radio. Mobile apps such as Shazam and social media sites like Twitter can help bridge the gap between channels (and QR codes can also play a role). However, success also requires a connect-the-dot mentality that hasn't traditionally been part of IT or most other departments.
In the end, it's essential to break down organizational data silos, make customer data and product information available across systems, integrate inventory and connect transactional databases. Businesses that create a seamless browsing, buying and service experience across channels and devices will be far better equipped to conquer the unique challenges of the digital age.