• Innovation & Transformation
    • Digital transformation
    • Covid-19

Turning user experience into competitive advantage

  • Article

Improving user experience or UX is key to maximising your business’ use of technology and competing in an increasingly digital world.

Commentators have remarked that the pandemic has accelerated the use of technology by around 10 years, driving change and forcing businesses to adapt to new ways of working and engaging with customers. For many, it has proved both an opportunity and a test.

“The ability to interact with your customers physically has largely diminished,” says Stewart Smythe, Chief Executive of Ascent. “Deep brand loyalties are being tested by organisations who cannot give their customers the same level of experience in a digital way that they would in their normal environment.”

“Your digital footprint is your business today,” agrees Roland Emmans, HSBC UK’s Tech Sector Head. And, whilst there was some degree of tolerance in the early phases of the pandemic, as non-digitally focused businesses scrabbled to catch up, he believes that people’s expectations of service whether from a website, mobile application or any new piece of software, are high.

Stewart believes that that degree of tolerance disappeared pretty quickly. “It was a really short-term phenomenon. As we settle into this ‘new normal’, people will be less forgiving of an imperfect or patchy solution.”

Customer relationships all to play for

He sees this as a huge opportunity for businesses who invest in getting their digital engagement and user experience right. “The relationship between a business and its customers is all up for grabs, based on whether they can interact digitally and make that super easy.”

Ensuring user experience is as frictionless as possible is essential to attracting, engaging and retaining business, whether you operate in a B2B or B2C context, but it’s something many businesses struggle with, says Stu Dorman, Chief Innovation Officer at Sabio.

“User experience is the touchpoint a customer has with your product or your websites, and often these are quite disjointed. Many organisations have different teams looking at different aspects of the customer journey, but there’s a huge opportunity to join the dots and create a more cohesive experience.”

The relationship between a business and its customers is all up for grabs, based on whether they can interact digitally and make that super easy.

Stewart Smythe | Chief Executive of Ascent

Understanding the customer journey

Achieving that means going back to basics and understanding the customer journey, right from the first moment they consider interacting with your business, and then designing your service around that, explains Stu.

“The call to action trigger could be anything from an email, to a letter you’ve sent, or even a conversation in the pub. From the moment that customer decides to reach out, you need to take control.”

“Today, consumers of all types tend to be far further down the purchasing journey by the time they engage with a human being,” adds Roland, “so the better you can make the journey for them the more likely they are to buy from you. This starts at making information easily available.”

Innovative solutions don’t have to mean huge investment either, says Stu, who points out that a lot of the heavy lifting around AI, for example, has been done by the Amazons and Googles of this world. “They’ve democratised that innovation to the point where it’s now much easier and more cost effective for other organisations to deploy.”

With many customers initially reaching out using search engines, that’s been a focus for Stu’s team. “Even if people are just looking for a phone number, they’ll go to Google,” he says. “We’re working with them to embed service clearly into the Google search, which allows people to initiate a messaging interaction, that can escalate to a call centre or onto the company’s website.”

Creating a cohesive experience

Using technology to track that customer journey through the website to human-assisted contact, and then using AI to ensure that the customer’s needs are understood and that they are directed appropriately, can also help improve overall experience.

“Joining those things together is an art,” says Stu. “Not many people are doing that very well at the moment, and that offers a real opportunity to differentiate.”

Recognising the value of a website as more than a shop window or just another channel can help you maximise its potential to improve user experience and become integral to the overall customer journey.

“If you think about your website as an old-fashioned shop, where the shopkeeper would be constantly looking around, trying to figure out whether someone was looking for something specific or just browsing, you can use technology to do that,” says Stu. “You can monitor activity and figure out whether you need to offer them a phone number or a chat bot, or just leave them to self-serve. By using technology to drive that interaction, you can personalise the journey.”

All of the successful deployments we see are organisations that are prepared to start small and deliver through continuous challenge.

Stu Dorman | Chief Innovation Officer, Sabio

Data-driven incremental steps

For businesses that aren’t digitally native, that may feel overwhelming, but the key is not to overcomplicate things. “Taking down the labels and the language can help people see that the principles are the same,” says Stewart. “You just need to open your mind and do it digitally. You need to be consistent and stop thinking about digital as just one of a number of channels, because it is actually across everything. Start with the data and the insight you can gather about your business and your customers, and then use that as a basis to improve.”

Nor does it mean wholesale transformation and massive investment says Stu. “Don't try and boil the ocean, start small and iterate and learn and be prepared to fail. Try and deliver change in small incremental chunks, as opposed to the historical way of doing things, which was to spend a load of money and, hopefully 12 months later, come back with an answer to the problem. The world has changed completely now and all of the successful deployments we see are organisations that are prepared to start small and deliver through continuous challenge.”

Regardless of where you are on your own digital journey, ignoring the experience of your users is no longer an option you can afford. “There will never be an easier time to win or lose a customer,” says Stewart, “so focusing on getting that user experience right is key to remaining competitive.”

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