Digital Customer Experience: What Does it Mean?

Customer experience is a pretty broad term, literally encapsulating every interaction that a human being has with your organization and brand. The term “digital customer experience” appeared with the rise of customer experience in general. Like any cool new buzzword, the term digital CX has many meanings depending on who’s doing the talking. But what does it mean, and how does it differ from the more general term “customer experience?”

What is digital customer experience?

Made simple, digital CX is just the part of CX that’s experienced through a smartphone, tablet, or computer browser. Buying something online, browsing a company’s web site, or using a company’s mobile app are all examples of digital CX.  As embedded devices become more sophisticated and become part of the Internet of Things, they too are joining the world of digital CX.  The line between product and digital media blurs; the way your Fitbit works influences your interaction with the company and its brand, and the smarter your television becomes the more complex your relationship with its manufacturer.

Digital customer experience

Given that every futuristic movie shows us interacting with our computers via giant glass walls, the future is Windex. Lots and lots of Windex.

Digital customer experience is still customer experience

In this 2015 Harvard Business Review article, Craig Borowitz argues that digital customer experience is not just a subset of customer experience.  Online customers, he says, are very different from offline customers.  He gives an example where a customer may be willing to wait ten minutes in line in a real-world setting, but wouldn’t wait ten seconds for the company’s web page to load.  Ignoring for the moment that those groups probably overlap quite a bit, I strenuously disagree with his premise.

How it differs

While digital CX is most certainly a subset of CX, Borowitz is right in that there are differences from non-digital CX.

Digital CX gives us better tools to understand and manage the customer

First and foremost, digital customer experience gives us the opportunity to better understand our customers and prospective customers.  Computers are patient gatherers of information, much of would be impractical to gain in a non-digital setting.  What percentage of prospects opened the e-mail I just sent broadcasting our latest offer? Did the customer linger on this product page?  How many alternatives did they consider?  Having that information enables us to learn all kinds of interesting things about how our customers behave and what might be motivating them.

Computers also give us tools to manage the customer experience. Through a web site or an app we can limit the user’s choices.  While that may seem like a terrible thing, it can actually enable customers to explore without feeling like they’re getting lost.  Most customers won’t ask a human sales person to spend three hours bringing out various wares for their inspection, but they might very well spend three hours browsing products on a web site.

The cost of change is less for digital

If a store owner decides to redesign her shop, she needs to pay a lot of money. She needs lots of materials. She needs architects, designers, carpenters, and painters.  Her shop will also spend some amount of time being refurbished, which might impact her business.  If, after all of the renovations, she discovers that customers buy 10% less in her new shop and routinely complain about the design, she’s stuck unless she wants to spend all of that money all over again.

Changing a web site or mobile app can be expensive, but not in the same way.  Designers can create and implement a new design quickly and with more flexibility than their physical-world counterparts.  They can roll out changes incrementally or all at once.  Best of all, if the customers hate it, they can usually revert back to the previous design.

How it’s the same

While digital CX does have some differences, the fundamental principles remain identical.

The customer is still the customer

Digital CX is still CX, and the customer is still the customer.  The objective of digital CX is the same as general CX:  provide the best possible experience to the customer so that you build a stronger relationship where the customer stays, spends more, is open to new products, and brings friends through word-of-mouth.  If you’re obsessed with measuring click-through rates and conversions without actually improving the customer’s experience, you’re wasting your time.

The same basic concepts of CX apply

Fundamentally, customer experience is about understanding the needs and wants of your customers and then using that information to create the best possible experience.  One drawback to digital CX is that the human intuition that comes from a face-to-face interaction is missing.  Having a pile of page visit data and user flow information doesn’t tell you much about the customer’s motivations or emotional state. Computers are patient, fast, and reliable, but they’re also rigid and stupid.  Don’t assume that because your site or app is getting traffic that you understand your customer’s needs and wants.

The best CX is still the result of a design process

All CX happens by design or default, and the best CX requires design.  Whether you’re creating digital CX or non-digital CX, you need to purposefully design that exceptional customer experience.  All the technology in the world won’t make up for a failure to understand the human being at the other end of the transaction.  Used properly, digital customer experience is a powerful tool for understanding and delighting your customer.


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