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A Practical Approach to Defining the Digital Customer Experience in 2015

Guest Author

A decade ago, the digital experience meant simply having a functional website. We’ve seen how social media, mobile apps, and big data can enhance relationships and deepen the connection between businesses and consumers. With so many possible touch points, businesses run the risk of overwhelming customers with a hodgepodge of digital strategies gone awry.

Is there a magic formula to define the ideal digital experience or measure a successful customer experience in 2015? Pose this question in a public forum, and you’ll get hundreds of answers from consultants, analysts, and other self-proclaimed experts. For this post, we’ll keep it simple. We’ll look at three successful companies that epitomize first class experiences at various stages of the customer journey:

  • the service experience of Uber
  • the buying experience of Amazon
  • the research experience of Google

I’m a consumer of all three companies’ services and have been on the receiving end of their digital strategy.

The Uber Service Experience

Uber, an app that connects riders to drivers, may be worth $50 billion if its current fundraising efforts go as planned. For those who haven’t used Uber before, you might be wondering how the tech startup achieved phenomenal success around the world in just six years.

This is how it works: You download the Uber app on your smart phone and set up an account payable from PayPal. When you need a ride, you pull up the app, which immediately pinpoints your location on a Google map and indicates how long it would take for an Uber driver to get to you. The nearby vehicles appear on your map as car icons moving in real time.

You enter your destination, select your vehicle type, and from there, the app tells you the maximum amount you would pay for the ride. Your Uber driver’s face and first name pop up on your screen, along with the car model and license plate number. On your map, you can see exactly where your driver is at any given moment. Your time tracker also stays updated, so your app will indicate “x minutes away” all the way down to “approaching now.” Throughout the process, you’re 100 percent informed—even more so than if you had a friend picking you up.

The first time I used Uber I was in San Francisco and my ride came in two minutes. As I approached the car, the driver asked, “Are you Millie?” (Yes, he knew my name.) I didn’t have to rummage through my bag, looking for money. I didn’t have to explain where I was going or how to get there. I simply got in, sat on the shiny leather seats, and observed the new car smell. On the center console, the driver had arranged a tray filled with water bottles and gum—complimentary treats for all his passengers.

It’s as if the creators of Uber considered everything that might slow you down, require extra effort, advanced planning, or would simply trigger a question in your mind. Then, they designed a system to eliminate those burdens, avoid confusion, and give customers what they need: a ride on-demand.

The Amazon Buying Experience

It’s almost difficult to remember a world without Amazon.com because we’ve been shopping there for 20 years. In the digital age, it’s normal to have access to a huge selection of items that are competitively priced, knowing they will be delivered to your door. We expect to see product specifications and customer reviews.

But there are many more reasons behind Amazon’s explosive growth.

Motley fool chart Amazon 5-26-15

(Source: The Motley Fool)

Why has Amazon’s revenue gone up over 1,000 percent in the last decade while retail giant Wal-Mart’s revenue has increased 77 percent? More importantly, what can other companies learn from the buying experience at Amazon?

Let’s dissect the Amazon buying process to gain insights.

You go the website and before you even begin shopping, you see items that uniquely interest you. Amazon displays and organizes your product recommendations in categories: new for you, inspired by your shopping trends, inspired by your wish list.

You type in the item you’re looking for, using search terms as specific or as generic as you like. You might get a dozen options or 200,000 options. How can you decide? Amazon understands that its customers have different priorities. For some, price is the No. 1 factor, yet for others, customer ratings are critical. You might also consider buying the item used. All these options are built into the Amazon buying experience.

Next step: you sort based on your preferences. As you scroll down, you’re presented with more information relevant to your purchase. What items will you need to complement with this item? The “Frequently Bought Together” section has some options. What are similar items that might be cheaper, have more functionality, or ship faster? Scroll down to “Compare to Similar Items” and there’s a chart laid out for you. Think you’ll need to replenish your supply next month? Amazon offers “Subscribe & Save,” which offers price discounts for enrolling in regular shipments.

Every time you buy on Amazon, you’re making an informed decision. Before Amazon, most shoppers didn’t do this much investigation before pulling out their wallets. With Amazon, you’ve scanned the entire landscape of prices, similar items, reviews, manufacturers, and more. You’ve researched the heck out of it, and by the time you check out, you’re more likely to feel good about your buying decision.

The basic premise of Amazon is simple: you shop from the comfort of your home, buy stuff you need, and have it come directly to you. Yet, when you consider Amazon’s enormous success—270 million global customers, $89 billion in sales in 2014 alone—the key differentiator is that the company continues to evolve. Amazon is well-known for trying new strategies to modernize the buying experience.

In the latest evolution of household product shopping, Amazon is experimenting with the dash button—a physical button connected to your home Wifi network that you press to replenish your supply of certain items.

The Google Research Experience

Pre-Amazon shopping may be difficult for some to remember, but how about navigating the Internet before Google? Those days seem ancient. Google makes information so readily available that when people ask “dumb questions,” the typical answer is “Google it”—look it up.

Google is by far, the most popular Internet search engine around the world, capturing 65.73 percent of the global market share, according to Net Marketshare. Last year, Google made $66 billion in sales and ranked No. 46 in the Fortune 500. What is it about the Google research experience that makes it so appealing?

Simplicity and intuitive design.

Think of the last time you looked up something on Google and how quickly you found what you were looking for. You might’ve typed in your keywords in the general search bar. Or, if you’re like most people accustomed to using Google, you might’ve gone straight to your specific search type. For example, if you were looking for directions, you might’ve gone directly to maps.google.com, or if you were looking for the latest news coverage on a particular topic, you might’ve gone to news.google.com.

Google offers search tools that allow you to target and filter your searches. And while you have many options for conducting your research, you only see the tools that are relevant to your particular search. For example, an image search gives you special search tools such as size or type. If you were planning to reuse an image, you could filter through the usage rights. You could choose “labeled for reuse” or even more specific, “labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification.”

However, if you were looking for news articles, those options wouldn’t appear on your screen. Instead, you’d see a different set of search tools that would make more sense for your situation. You could limit your search to news stories published in the past year, week, or even hour. You could sort by relevance or by date.

As we’ve seen with Uber and Amazon, Google’s search engine is structured in a way that considers the user’s thought process every step of the way. You’re never bombarded with too many search options or irrelevant options; instead, you’re presented with options when you need them.

The Business Principle that Never Gets Old: Know Your Customers

Uber, Amazon, and Google have explosive growth not merely because they offer useful services and products. When you look closely at their offerings, they have an intimate understanding of what consumers are thinking, needing, doing, trying, and struggling with at specific points in the customer journey. Their success stems from knowing their customers inside and out.

By knowing your customers first, you’re able to do so much more. You can design efficient services, create useful products, and present specific offers that are relevant to their lives. You can personalize your customer communications, help your customers make informed decisions, and better serve them overall.

The Digital Experience Your Customers Expect: An Exclusive Event for Oracle Documaker Customers

Technology has made it possible to design impeccable customer experiences through digital channels. Mature companies may not enjoy the same best-in-class tech infrastructure as young startups do, but there are solutions that can transform their customer communications.

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