Creating an optimal customer experience

Craig McCulloch, head of web strategy at WebNarrative, explains why customer experience is so important and how to create the optimal customer website experience

Customer engagement is thinking and acting as customers do: as a series of inter-related interactions that, together, create their ‘customer experience’. Your strategy should depend on understanding exactly how consumers will interact with a company throughout their decision journey. Customer touch points are vital because of the degree to which web-based engagement requires seamless ‘experience’ integration.

Why is ‘customer experience’ so important?

Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a business or a brand. It embraces business awareness, discovery, attraction, association, interaction, transaction and advocacy. An ‘experience’ can be defined as a single event – or the sum of events – that a consumer has with a brand. It shapes the customers’ perception, expectation and interaction.

Creating the optimal customer experience requires understanding of the customer's views, needs and goals, in relation to the business or brand product and/or service being provided.
A positive customer experience makes the customer feel happy, satisfied, justified, valued, served and cared for throughout their relationship. The ability to deliver a positive customer experience enhances spend and inspires loyalty and advocacy.

So why do so many websites fail to deliver an optimal customer experience?

Brands seem to forget the essentials of customer experience when it comes to their website. They don’t embrace or demonstrate their understanding of the customers, their needs and their visit purpose.

Airline websites are a good example. Customers want to quickly carry out a few simple tasks before committing to a transaction; flight availability and cost, planning a trip or holiday etc. Yet they are forced through up to five stages of planning and booking, with the primary goal of being sold incremental products which the vast majority don’t require. It’s a painful experience which most frequent customers only endure because they have no choice.

Airlines beware: users will not put up with this sort of ‘experience’ for much longer. They want simple selection, cost and booking functionality, with a simple method of deselecting the extras they don’t want. They also want clear, relevant messages and offers at key points of their experience.

They want a simple cost comparison of competitor flights within their selected criteria. If airlines did this they would not have 40 per cent to 60 per cent drop out at key conversion points (also diminishing the role of aggregators). Customers would sing the airline’s praises across the web, offering great word of mouth (WOM) opportunity. They would also release valued data, if they felt that the website would personalise their experience, with favourite routes and times based on browsing history and booking.

Understanding your customer’s needs, goals and behaviours

In order to create the optimal customer website experience, your approach should embrace the following steps:

  • Decisions should be based on information gained from the customers who you are creating the website experience for (user experience design UXD, or simply UX)
  • Understand ‘what they do’ and ‘why they do what they do’ through behaviour research and testing
  • Create a matrix that looks at your business needs in relation to your customer needs. Define the gaps and focus on how these can be bridged through the website journey

A combined view of your business and customer needs is a critical success factor in architecting the overall website conceptual model.

Define the information/interaction design model

  • Conceptualise the ideal customer experience model and the interaction order based on customer journey flows and interactions, not isolated features or functionality, and embrace the best interact style
  • Use prototypes: they are quick and more cost-effective to change, test and refine the optimal customer experience

Defining the interaction model allows you to test and analyse the journeys you are expecting customers to carry out.

Prototypes define the detail of the interaction design and give you the ability to test with customers, as well as iterating the interaction design.

Create the visual design to support the interaction model

  • Visually group key interactions together to support the customer journey. Make actions obvious and easy to understand and maintain visual consistency

Once the overall visual style has been defined to support the interaction design, use it wisely; don’t make the user relearn different styles.

Making the customer experience work technically

  • Create the technical solution in discrete modules: the data structure should not define the interface
  • Ensure multi-platform suitability: PC, mobile, tablet
  • Beta-test your solution with real customers: check and benchmark against the prototypes
  • Rigorously test every aspect of the technical implementation
  • Use analytics and testing as a combined approach to continuous customer experience