It’s Partner Thursday! Today’s post is contributed by ICF Interactive. Adobe’s 2014 North American Partner of the Year, ICF Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.
But the aforementioned applications are only examples of an extended web, desk or laptop experience: they're typically all digital born-and-bred brands in which our interactions begin and end on internet-enabled devices. Conversely, retailers and service providers -- brands whose roots aren't nestled among the dotcom-only giants face a far greater challenge in effectively reaching the new consumer while staying true to their own histories and cultures.
The phenomenon in which customers have come to expect a streamlined brand experience across every device, driven by digital transformation, one that features a well-developed strategy consisting of personalization and ease of use, has forced most organizations to adapt sooner than perhaps they would have. There have been those that have floundered, piecing together the user experience without considering the importance of a holistic, omni-channel approach, and those that are so large that tasks such as evaluating, selecting, and implementing solutions have required years of research, development, and internal struggles.
While apps and emerging platforms will continue to nurture the relationships retail and service brands have with their customers, designing and developing a digital environment to meet and ultimately exceed expectations require other, more robust technology considerations as well. We can't say with any certainty what the masses will be asking for next, (Amazon thinks it's an on-demand subscription delivery service) but we can tell you three questions your customers should absolutely not be asking -- and the technology and strategy solutions behind how to avoid them.
The following outlines an actual experience one of our colleagues had in purchasing a product and interacting with the brand, as it was less than stellar, the names of those involved have been redacted.
1. Why Isn't the App Integrated with the Brand's Other Touchpoints?
"I purchased a product and downloaded the application necessary to use it. I would have assumed the app would have either the ability to link out to the brand's website, or include the steps to take to access the content necessary to understand how to use the product, where to go for customer service, and other 'getting started' type activities. The leaflet included within the packaging provided little more than how to turn the thing on. As I already had my phone-in-hand, I used it to search the brand's website; to my disappointment, while it was mobile-friendly, the site was primarily focused on sales instead of support, forcing me to boot up my laptop to find exactly what I needed. I shouldn't have had to muddle through three properties across two devices to figure out how the thing worked."
The Fix: A Wholly Integrated Digital Environment
Customer journeys don't end when the purchase is made, and brands need to look at all the plausible uses cases for the channels they are using. Brands need to focus on the ability to repurpose content and push it to any digital property, be it web, mobile, social, or application. This is where things can get tricky without the right technologies that can work together. Whether it is through a best-of-breed approach or a customer experience platform, brands need to deliver optimized content that's integrated with back-office solutions, to give marketers the information they need to create a seamless user experience across channels. Because this is no small task, businesses can focus on the mission critical parts first and continue to evolve through possibly a larger digital transformation (the lift to shift method is detailed here).
2. Now Where is...?
Having purchased an earlier-generation version of the brand's product, it was especially difficult to find the correct versions of documentation. Ordinarily I would have searched the site, but search functionality didn't exist."
The Fix: A Product Information Manager (PIM), Taxonomy, and Integrated Search
If a brand offers multiple versions of the same product, it's absolutely necessary to continue to support the previous-generation users as much as you're trying to acquire the newer. Search is a very subjective topic from brand to brand. From a user's point of view, it either works or it doesn't, there is no middle ground. It is important that if you are selling multiple versions of a product that there is a healthy taxonomy that supports all products. This should be directly tied into a PIM or catalog that is completely indexed by the search engine for optimal results. Brands can then leverage faceted search or other priority rules to surface the right content on product information for customer service needs.
3. What Does This Button Do?
The Fix: Common Usability Best Practices, User Testing, and Customer Service Strategy
Everyone wants to be cutting edge with their apps and websites. It needs to be 'sexy' and 'next generation.' How often do we forget that there are usability best practices that need to be maintained to ensure the best user experience? In transactional worlds such as commerce, the goals are ease of use to gather information to inform the buyer, and then ease of use to actually execute the purchase. Don't introduce new menu designs unless you are willing to test and implement the changes that benefit the customer. Always perform user testing before rolling out a change, or conduct A/B testing to see how you can improve the performance or use of a feature.
Inevitably there will be someone who will just want to know how someone can help them. If the digital properties a brand leverages to explain the uses and features of a product aren't apparent, it should have an army of well-trained, patient people ready to field questions and complaints, create tutorials, and provide support. A poor digital experience may be easier to overlook, but a poor customer service experience will likely cost a brand.
Any new development of a digital touchpoint needs to be fully vetted and tested among the existing environment. And while a brand can gain a serious competitive advantage by working with the experts, a great way to exceed customer expectations is to know any experience needs more than an app.