Thanks to the fact that the smartphone has brought the internet into the world’s pockets, people are spending more and more time online. In fact, on average we spend 40 minutes per day on Facebook alone. It’s getting to a point where we as a society are connected as much as we’re not. And this has bled – and will continue to bleed – into our interactions with brands.
You walk into your coffee shop, and the barista already has your double ristretto half-soy decaf iced vanilla double-shot Frappuccino waiting there for you. And so he should, as you’d pre-ordered this obnoxiously high maintenance drink on the coffee shop’s app just 10 minutes earlier.
Fresh from your flight, you wander into your hotel and glide straight past reception to your room. That’s because you’ve already chosen the room that you want during the booking process, and have kindly been emailed a digital key that allows you to unlock the door with your smartphone.
These are examples of marrying your brand’s offline and online customer experiences (CX). And they’re not hypothetical examples from the future, either; they’re systems that Starbucks and Hilton Hotels have had in place for years. The line between online and offline brand experiences is beginning to blur, and this will have real consequences for those organisations who aren’t prepared for the change.
What exactly does this paradigm shift mean for your brand? In search of answers we spoke to two professionals who are currently grappling with this exact challenge.
Brad Bennett is Strategy Director at Sydney advertising agency The Hallway, tasked with creating multifaceted yet consistent CX – both online and offline – for the agency’s clients. Jonathan Harrison, VP of Product at hipages, has a slightly different M.O. An online marketplace which connects homeowners with tradespeople, hipages has minimal control over offline interactions (which generally occur between the customer and the third party tradesperson). This makes marrying the online and offline experiences particularly challenging.
So how do these CX professionals do it? And what lessons can they offer your brand?
Taking CX cues from one channel and using them in another
Whether you’re a predominantly online brand or a predominantly offline brand, you need your core CX channel to influence the way you manage your secondary CX channel, as this will promote consistency across customer interactions.
“Our platform, although digital, has one foot in the offline world too”, says Harrison. “We have a number of service, support and sales teams who speak to tradies and home owners every day. Our support team will phone the homeowner when a job is marked as complete and ask for feedback, for example. Our strategy is to always be listening to our customers and continually evolve our platform based on real world insights.”
While the future is digital, it will never compare to real human contact. Picking up the phone and actively seeking CX feedback from your customers will always be appreciated.
Bennett wholeheartedly agrees. “As a full service agency, we never consider CX as isolated to just online or offline. People don’t live in just one channel, so neither should your customer experience.”
Creating a cohesive experience
For their part, the team at The Hallway, Bennett says, has a very calculated approach to creating a cohesive online/offline experience. “Our process of CX design is rooted in data. We gather qualitative and quantitative data and insights, and while designing we are constantly prototyping to test our ideas [both offline and online touch points] with actual users.”
“Keeping the offline and online experiences in sync with one another can be a challenge”, notes Harrison. hipages is a unique online business, in that most of its staff actually perform offline activities. “Most of our sales and support teams work offline over the phone, so we have to ensure consistency and continuity between what they say to our customers and how our product works. Whenever we roll out a change to the product we brief sales, support and service managers to ensure that the information their agents are passing on to our customers is up to date.”
The need to constantly evolve
In the world of online and offline CX, if you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards. Stagnation will see your competitors quickly overtaking you, so there must be a firm focus on constantly evolving. So how do our experts ensure that they stay ahead of the pack?
Evolution has been built into The Hallway’s DNA. “The keystone for us is a dashboard of metrics gathered from across the customer experience. It [serves] up the right information to the team in real-time, [allowing them] to focus on driving incremental improvements in the customer experience.”
The focus on evolution is no less prominent at hipages. “In short, we’re always listening. We listen to our customers through every channel we can, be it App Store reviews, feedback pages, feedback from support teams, or primary research. We try to gather as much customer insight as we can. This allows us to map our customer pain points which we then use to determine our development roadmap.
“We have a hit list of known low points in the experience on our wall of shame. We have a passionate team of product managers, UXers, designers and support and service managers who are all striving to improve our product at every opportunity.”
In the last 5 years, the average time an American adult spends on their smartphone has almost doubled, from 2h:18m per day to 4h:13m. And with the incredible uptake of smartphones in the developing world, this trend is about to go global. Marrying online and offline CX is key to your brand’s ongoing success, and it will only get more so as people’s online and offline lives become increasingly intertwined.
Setting up systems and procedures that are capable of adapting to such change should be your brand’s first priority, and you could do far worse than take inspiration from the way both hipages and The Hallway have gone about doing just that.