According to the recent eConsultancy/Adobe 2014 Digital Trends report, customer experience is “the single most exciting opportunity” for client side respondents. Second most exciting was ‘mobile’, which given all the hyperbole surrounding it must come as a bit of a disappointment to the young pretender. Personally, I wish the excitement would abate and more attention was paid to delivery.

Since Pine and Gilmour penned “The Experience Economy” in 1998, customer experience has developed as a discipline, even replacing customer relationship management as the customer strategy of choice. Although momentum has been gathering since the mid-noughties there remains a significant gap between organisations aspirations and the reality of what they are able to deliver. Customers, fuelled by technological change, have become the drivers of change and display an almost insatiable hunger for anything organisations can deliver.

There are organisations that can afford to look far into the future. They are the ones that already deliver an excellent experience and want to prepare for the next phase of evolution. Others may already be stretched trying to catch up such as retailers who only recently were told multichannel customer experience was defunct and that they now needed to think ‘Omnichannel’. But even these don’t explain the entire picture.

This week we had an enquiry from a large brand operating in the financial services sector. They wished to commission a usability testing study to review the user experience on their transactional website. Nothing to shocking there until they told me that it was the first time they had ever “done usability”. And they are not alone. From ex-colleagues arriving at major brands to conversations across social media and at events I hear of organisations finding out about user experience for the first time.

The majority of organisations I speak to have either never looked at the user experience they deliver online or only vaguely addressed it. These are organisations that rely on their online presence not only to sell products or services but also to provide the connection with their customers. With the arrival of mobile and all the behavioural and technological issues and opportunities that come with it, the situation is becoming more, not less complex.

Many of these organisation talk to me about customer experience strategy, and of course they do need to develop a coherent and viable strategy. However, I often remind them that they should address the basics either first, or at worst in parallel as part of this strategy. It is almost impossible to build long-lasting customer relationships that generate revenue, loyalty and advocacy if the core processes that underpin those are complex or worse, broken. The way websites and apps are built doesn’t automatically mean that they will deliver the experience the brand desires and so organisations need to take responsibility for this in their operational model.

Although the industry has moved on significantly in the past 20 years the process for developing a website or app is set in stone. There are best practices and even ISO standards for user centred design that guide web development to ensure the experience designed is also delivered, but not all agencies follow these. Even when they do, budget is frequently taken from the user experience part of the project in the misguided belief that the developers know so much about web development that they will create the best user experience without reference to users or customers.

If we were in any doubt that the internet would be fundamental to our businesses twenty years ago, there can be no such reservations today. For the vast majority it is the most important channel whether integrated within an Omnichannel operation or the lone channel through which they trade. Customers increasingly want to manage and experience their relationship with brands through online channels and it is imperative that they work.

The best organisations have recognised this and their operational models and customer experience strategies fully encompass their online channels to ensure that they are delivering on their mission. If you are not one of these but recognise the importance of online to your customer experience strategy I would encourage you to make sure you understand what is working, what isn’t and what to do about it. You should be excited about the future of customer experience but building that future on solid foundations.

Paul BlundenPaul Blunden, has spent more than a decade working in the digital user experience sector as co-founder and CEO of Foviance and now founder and CEO of Usability247. During this time he has worked with a number of organisations including BskyB, CIPD, Nokia and Shop Direct helping them to improve the performance of the experiences they offer their customers and users.

usability247Paul is author of a number of papers about digital customer experience and was the driving force behind the publication of the first multichannel customer experience report. More recently he has focussed on mobile and multiplatform user experience with publications on mobile optimisation, multiscreen user behaviour and responsive web design. Paul is also a regular blogger at Usability247 on user experience trends and challenges.

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