Many brands are extending their physical product or service experiences into the digital arena. The goal: to keep their customers engaged and delighted and to provide differentiated value added services.
This digital extension takes a variety of forms, such as the online management of a product/service, or a mobile app that provide additional convenience and functionality. When it works well, the additional functionality creates a "digital aura" for the nondigital products and services--and also for the brand. When it doesn’t work well, customer frustration and dissatisfaction result.
Scenario 1: You open a new bank account and register for online banking and mobile banking. You download the snazzy mobile banking app, create a user ID, password, etc., and start using it. For the next few months, you use the online banking facility to manage your account, until one day when you decide to use your mobile banking app, only to realize you have forgotten the password. There is no "forgot password" facility in the app, and when you call customer service, the rep says he can help you only with online banking. For help with the app, you have to go online on a computer, log into your Internet banking account, and find FAQs related to the mobile app.
Scenario 2: You buy a new mobile phone and switch to a new provider to get a better deal. You sign up to receive bills online (after all, everyone wants to save some trees) and also download the app provided by the telecom company. You are happy with the new phone, your new call/text/data plan, and the coverage provided by the new provider. However, when your first online bill arrives, you realize that the bill's format and layout are too complicated and clunky. Additionally, you can't find the information you want to find easily or analyze the bill to understand why it is higher than usual. Unfortunately, the mobile app you downloaded is of no use either. You have to call the contact center and wait on hold to sort it out. And, yes, you have to repeat that every month.
Scenario 3: You buy a new car from a very reputed brand known for its flawless engineering and fantastic driving experience. The car lives up to the brand's reputation, but the mobile app you were asked to download to manage your interaction with the car does not work; you are unable to register due to some odd technical reason (read as "server migration"), according to customer service.
None of these scenarios is hypothetical; each concerns a very well-reputed global brand. In each instance, the person involved--who I happen to know--has been terribly frustrated by the brand, even though the core product (bank account, phone/data connection, car) not only worked exactly as promised, but also worked very well. Still, each of these brands was left with a dissatisfied customer.
What happened? The parameters of customer satisfaction for each of these offerings have evolved beyond the core benefit of the product or service. In fact, the core benefit of the product or service has become a hygiene factor, the absence of which absolutely hurts the customer satisfaction, but the presence of which has no incremental impact. We all expect our cars to drive well, our phone companies to provide us with reliable signal strength, and our bank accounts to work. But now our satisfaction also is affected by the digital extension of the product or service. While many brands have started to look at the digital customer experience from a marketing and e-commerce perspective, many have not fully implemented a similar level of thinking and effort from a product-/proposition-development and product-/proposition-experience perspective.
Take, for example, the automotive company mentioned above. It has invested heavily in building a modern Web presence and has created a great online car configurator, but it fell short, at least in this instance, in providing the extended digital experience of its car. What could have been the point of delight for their customers ("Look--I can lock and unlock my car, start its heater, and find where exactly it is parked through my smartphone!") has turned into a point of extreme dissatisfaction. Now these customers are telling everyone that they meet about their bad experience, instead of talking about the great driving experience from their cars.
Done well, the digital extension of your product or service can become an immersive digital aura for your brand, creating customer delight, increasing retention, and generating a differentiating brand experience. If it falls short, it should be treated as a digital experience engineering problem, not a product-engineering problem. With the predicted emergence of Internet of Things, the ability to engineer engaging digital experiences into products and services will become a critical success factor for the brand of the future. That's why it makes sense to involve your digital experts early in the product development life cycle rather than as a late-breaking afterthought.
Clearly, digital is no longer just limited to marketing or e-commerce. Rather, it is starting to become all-pervasive through the enterprise in a meaningful way. Its impact on product/service development and design is just a start.