Christmas 2013 has been widely recognised as the tipping point for online shopping in the UK: the moment that history will look back on, when UK consumer habits changed forever from traditional to digital shopping.

Of course it is not quite as simple as that – it never is – but in general terms it is reasonable to say that the end of 2013 marks the watershed moment when ‘digital’ became as much a part of our every-day lives as pop music in 1964, or man in space in 1969. Of course, popular music was around before 1964 and the space-race began in the late 1950s, but it was the mass acceptance of ‘The Beatles’ and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon that really marked the moments when these two things became ‘just’ part of our lives.

And therein lies the rub for digital. The mass acceptance of something is a moment to savour but it is also a moment to take stock and think carefully about what this means for the future. Nowhere is this more important for digital than with customer experience. Consumers who once marvelled at the ability to check online whether a store sold one particular item now fume when its online shopping website fails to list more than 20,000. What was once amazing is now just part of every-day life.

Some weeks ago I was interviewed on Bloomberg TV’s flagship business programme. They had invited me to comment on the financial results for M&S and Tesco, largely on the back of research we had conducted into the impact of online shopping on supermarkets. The point I was trying to make during the interview was accidentally – but beautifully – made for me by one of the programme’s ‘anchors’, Anna Edwards. She challenged me along the lines that Ocado shoppers must be ‘digitally savvy’ because the company has no bricks and mortar stores. Of course, the vast majority of Ocado users are no more digitally savvy than anybody else. Anna had fallen into the very trap that many retailers – and digital professionals – fall into, which is that digital is somehow different. It is not, as the millions of people who bought online over the Christmas period in 2013 have proved.

In effect the digital revolution has morphed into normal evolution. While online shoppers will always be enticed by creative website design they will immediately turn to an alternative if it crashes or the system fails to deliver on time. The customer experience in every-day life is just as strongly affected by the boring bits working properly as by the exciting ones working at all. This might seem obvious but it is extraordinary how often it is forgotten. Going back to Ocado, their excellent reputation has been built on the fact that they deliver what the consumer wants, at the time they want it. For a business built entirely around digital it is something of a shock to discover that the website rarely gets a mention when Ocado customers praise the service.

As well as recognising that great digital products and services are increasingly the ones we take for granted in our every-day lives it is also important for digital professionals to recognise and understand that achieving the ideal customer experience requires more than ‘analytics’; and nowhere is this more apparent than in the ubiquitous dashboard. The great thing about digital is that consumer activity can be tracked, so theoretically it is possible to gain great insight into individual consumer behaviour.

Track all of Nike’s 2.5 million or so followers on Twitter and you suddenly become an expert on Nike’s consumer behaviour. The problem is that not all of Nike’s Twitter followers are consumers. In fact a lot of them are not even human. This would not necessarily be a problem if we could be sure that the vast majority of Nike’s Twitter followers were consumers. After all, what difference would a few thousand bots make if over two million followers are consumers? It would actually make a big difference because digital platforms spew out news and information by the bucketload.

Clever bots are designed to target individual users by their interests, likes and numerous other bits of information they can find from social media behaviour and browsing habits. Look at any brand’s Twitter followers and you will find numerous examples of news aggregators, other companies and organisations that might, indeed, be related to the brand they are ‘following’. But they are not consumers. If you analyse the content they produce you will find that many of them are themselves spewing out news and information; and because the digital algorithms do their job, much of this will be pretty much identical. The result is that it does not need many of these phantom ‘followers’ to skew the results taken from a dashboard; and this is without even taking account of problems created by different languages.

All of this has major implications for customer experience as digital becomes an increasingly large part of our every-day lives. Where just a few short years ago the analytics from dashboards were restricted pretty much to digital activity, they are now being used to drive decisions across all brand activities. This would be fine if we could be sure that the information from such dashboards was accurate, or even reasonably accurate. But the reality is that we cannot; and the real problem is that there is no way of knowing what is accurate and what is not.

So what can we take out of all this? The first thing is that the importance of digital customer experience is not only greater than it has ever been but also that its importance will continue to grow exponentially as it becomes part of more and more consumers’ every-day lives. The second is that information generated and used by digital platforms will have to be of the highest quality if the quality of the resulting customer experience, digital or otherwise, is to be maintained. In this regard big does not necessarily mean best.

The one thing we can be sure about is that ‘digital’ and ‘customer experience’ can no longer be separated. They are, in effect, one and the same thing.

Mark WestabyMark Westaby founded social insight specialists, SpectrumInsight, following the sale of one of the world’s largest independent media evaluation companies, Metrica, which he also started.  As well as being a director of the Portfolio PR Group for 20 years, he also chaired the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication for over four years.  Mark is a regular speaker at universities, conferences and seminars.

Post Views: 585