Customer Experience is on the Move

by Jessica Ramesh SapientNitro

Photo: Rob Matthews. 22.8.2007 Sapient portraits. Nigel Vaz

Nigel Vaz

The ascendancy of smart devices and the mobile web will redefine how and where customers experience your brand, says Nigel Vaz. Are you prepared?

Just a few years ago, the idea of mobile taking the lead in customer experience would have seemed ridiculous. In 2011, sales of smartphones and tablets outpaced those of PCs for the first time ever; in the final quarter leading up to Christmas, Apple sold more iPads than any single computer manufacturer sold PCs. Mobile is now significantly more important to most brands, and has become an integral part of their multichannel experiences.

Within three years, mobile web usage will outstrip desktop internet use, and brands must adapt accordingly. The brand is the experience and the experience is the brand. In the near future, mobile will be pivotal to the quality of that experience. Brands will have to create great customer experiences, and with this comes challenges and questions that must be addressed.

Is mobile working?

To understand how far mobile can go, it is important to understand how far it has come. Mobile ownership is now nearly ubiquitous. The phenomenal uptake of tablets and smartphones is driving huge change, and the need for change, in the ways brands meet consumers.

Until recently, we were at a stage where technology was producing new products and consumers were playing catch-up. We’ve tipped over into a space where consumers are familiar with the technology and now have a greater expectation than ever of what is, and should be, possible. While phone and text still dominate usage, interactive usage has grown significantly in two major areas of mobile — internet and native apps.

People now spend on average 32 minutes a day using mobile internet services, and more than 18 billion apps have been downloaded from the iTunes App Store alone. Customers are also increasingly comfortable transacting on mobile, which has led to impressive revenue figures. Online retailer ASOS brings in more than £1m a month through mobile transactions, Amazon brought in $1bn from 2009 to 2010, and eBay sold $2bn worth of products last year.

The influence of mobile reaches far beyond just direct sales. Brands are using mobile to build awareness through advertising and create affinity through customer care and loyalty programmes, and consumers are using mobile to research products both at home and in-store. Because mobile devices are carried with the consumer constantly, they become powerful tools for creating multi-channel brand ecosystems that can deliver real value.

The enablement and freedom of connection that tablets and smartphones have afforded is changing our expectations. Whether in a store, airport or hotel, people are more used to having mobilised members of staff engage with them to complete a transaction without having to queue at a fixed location. The ways in which people expect to be able to transact online, without journeys being broken, on mobile or tablet devices, is far greater. We can see evidence of that in the 20 per cent of online sales over Christmas that were mobile enabled.

On the other hand, some mobile services and experiences are far from perfect: 90 per cent of apps are deleted after 30 days and 38 per cent of people are not satisfied with their favourite brand’s app. The mobile web does not fare much better; 25 per cent of people would not revisit a retailer’s mobile site after a bad experience and 75 per cent of the UK top 100 retailers do not have mobile-optimized versions of their website even though people spend three-and-a-half times longer and look at three-and-a-half times as many pages on optimised sites, compared with non-optimised.

Will mobile continue its rapid ascent?

The demand for mobile services and their commercial importance will only increase — and quickly. SapientNitro has identified four areas that have influenced mobile growth, and will continue to do so.

Rise of the smartphone and tablet. Mobile has been propelled by the explosive sales of smartphones and tablets that give people a far richer experience. Sales of smartphones in the UK jumped 74 per cent between 2010 and 2011. Worldwide tablet sales in 2010 exceeded 17m units, rising to a forecast 60m-plus for 2011 and to 99m in 2012.

Availability of cheap, fast data. The availability of cheap data bundles, the rollout of 3G across the UK, and the launch of LTE/4G in 2014 will mean greater mobile broadband speeds and even more mobile growth.

Awareness of mobile services. Many mobile solutions fall at the first hurdle because firms fail to pay proper attention to launching their services. One example? There are over 500,000 apps in the Apple App Store alone. To compete with the saturation, smart brands are looking at how to best tag apps, categorize and drive participation.

Better technology. In the past few years, a range of improved technologies such as cloud-enabled, NFC-enabled, and location-based services have started to deliver more complex experiences. Over the next few years, technology will continue to improve. This trend will only continue.

Can you meet the challenges?

Just because the screen is smaller doesn’t mean the obstacles are any less. There are key challenges to keep in mind.

Match your offering with your audience.
Understanding your audience is the first step. This is particularly important in mobile as audiences are fragmented by form factor and usage, which are also heavily influenced by culture and geography.

Mobile behaviours should also be considered. This includes filling spare time, performing small jobs that are ideally done on the go and offering a third screen at home. Then, the real value comes from detailed understanding of your audience and unveiling key insights.

Craft the right experience. The range of front-end technology is broad and is changing by the day. They include native apps, hybrid apps, NFC, 3D and good old SMS, to name a few. From the business point of view, a deep understanding of the technology is not necessary. What is important is choosing the right technology. These decisions have a direct impact on the consumer. For example, typing in a URL is very different than downloading an app. The end solution may accomplish the same goals, however the consumer expectations can be wildly different.

See what the customer doesn’t. Richer mobile experiences frequently require access to back-end systems such as product catalogues, ecommerce systems and account information. Too often, companies do not consider their back-end architecture sufficiently. As a result, mobile experiences that rely on good access to back-end systems are often delayed or never come to life at all.

Think strategically. When creating consistently great mobile experiences that deliver customer and business value, strategy matters. The time for one-off mobile experiments has now passed.

The first step is to have a clearly defined mobile strategy in place that includes a roadmap. This needs to be supported by a conviction that warrants the growing investment required. Many analysts will suggest that there is no such thing as a ‘mobile strategy’ — only a multichannel strategy. While this is true, mobile often carries the load for innovation and business transformation.

The takeaway

Could mobile lead your customer experience? The simple answer is yes. And even if it does not lead, it will without doubt play a critical role. There are a series of mountains to climb, but consumers are demanding it and the opportunities are huge, so the time to act in a serious fashion is now.
Nigel Vaz is SVP and Managing Direcor at SapientNitro