Digital services have kept us functioning, but the balancing act between services and experiences remains more important than ever

Businesses are considering ‘the customer journey’ more now than possibly ever before. Jennifer Arnold defines the differences between a digital experience and a digital service and explores how marketers can offer their customers both.

2020 has been a year like no other in recent history. With COVID-19 forcing us to live more of our lives online, organisations have had to transform the delivery of digital services and experiences at an accelerated rate.

For months, online channels have been the primary – if not only – means available for many customers and organisations to engage, making digital services the heartbeat keeping society, government, education and the economy functioning. With circumstances changing so widely and rapidly, keeping people up to date and well informed with informational digital services has been critical, while the need to provide transactional services online, such as submitting claims, making payments and booking appointments, has skyrocketed.

This demand has placed a spotlight on the digital experience balancing act that marketing and digital leaders face between delivering a service and an experience. Each is absolutely reliant on the other in a symbiotic way, so teams need to focus on doing both well. Digital ‘experience’ has quickly become an umbrella term that encapsulates every technology, tool, business function and job title related to improving how customers feel when they interact with organisations online, but we can’t overlook ‘service’ because it is the critical reason why people use many websites and apps in the first place.

A common mistake is to rely only on digital ‘experience’ to evoke feelings about the customer journey. While it’s true that an exciting and engaging experience has the potential to impart memorable feelings of enjoyment that will bring customers back, ‘service’ is not devoid of feeling. As marketing and digital leaders, we have to remember that one of the most important things a digital service can do is impart feelings of security and confidence that can only come from the knowledge that a transaction has been handled efficiently and completed properly. To do that, the service delivered needs to be easy, accessible, seamless and intuitive (almost invisible).

You can offer a customer a highly entertaining experience, but if you can’t deliver the required service to the customer’s satisfaction and expectation, trust and loyalty is lost. And the stakes can be high, particularly now when the public is so reliant on critical services being delivered digitally in nearly every area of their lives, from retail to education to healthcare to government services. If transactions fail to complete properly and securely, the potential impact on our livelihood is far more serious.

The pandemic has also changed some of those customer expectations around digital services and experiences and created a new set of challenges for marketers and digital teams. The first is the need for speed. In some cases, such as changing lockdown circumstances, organisations need to update customers immediately as rules and regulations change. Second is the increased need for support. A growing number of people have more questions about more complex matters, and when dealing with organisations digitally they still expect to receive clear answers and solutions quickly.

This is why the delivery of digital services, which are ‘back to basics’, efficient, authentic and tightly tuned to customers’ needs, are more important than ever. With many organisations we are seeing a trend toward greater emphasis on building sites and apps that can be edited quickly and easily. We are also seeing organisations want to integrate other solutions into their digital experience platforms to allow external data sources to be shared in a website or app to provide additional relevant information to customers, or integrate in customer data to provide services that are more personalised and automated to make the delivery seamless to the customer.

This need for integration brings up the third challenge, which is not new to marketers but again has been accelerated in the past few months with the demand to build new digital services and enhance existing ones rapidly. That challenge is knowing which of the many thousands of available CX tools to reach for, and then knowing how to integrate them with existing investments to enhance capabilities on sites and apps. For example, organisations are integrating social tools to share social feeds on websites, or email tools to automate emailed responses to website enquiries. To enable this another trend we are seeing is organisations moving to more open platforms that allow greater flexibility and choice of tools, and allow them to build new capabilities by integrating new solutions with their existing ones.

For the public and private sector alike, online services have become make or break in the current environment. At the start of the pandemic, there was a swift and generally well-executed response from organisations to build or enhance basic online channels to start communicating with and service customers in new ways.

It’s clear that as we move into a post-pandemic normal, customer expectations for authentic interactions and fast, accurate and relevant information and services delivered online will continue to increase. Marketing and digital leaders will need to keep an eye on changing markets and customer needs, form teams that can adapt and respond quickly and build digital platforms that are flexible and scalable to meet the demand for more engaging experiences and frictionless digital services.

Jennifer Arnold is the chief commercial officer at Squiz.

Photo by Sean Benesh on Unsplash.