By Chris Dowling

A few years back I was admiring a friend’s new paddleboard — and the deal he got on it — and he sent me to www.theclymb.com. I went to the site and discovered The Clymb, a provider of outdoor goods, apparel and adventure travel and basically an awesome place to get cool gear at a discount. After registering to become a member, I began to receive their marketing emails. After a few months I still hadn’t found the board I was interested in, and this was typically the point where I would have unsubscribed from their email list. But for some reason I didn’t. I have since received over 1,000 emails from them, and have only ended up making a handful of purchases — tee shirts, hats, and most importantly an Arbor Fish Skateboard (at 50% off). So what is it that keeps me opening their emails and clicking through to their site on a regular basis?

It finally occurred to me one day. Sure, their value proposition was aligned with my interests. But they nailed something more powerful and effective: a seamless digital customer experience. I click through their emails from my desktop or from my mobile device, and I access their ecommerce experience from the Web and their native app. I have referred their site and shared their products via social and email. While their brand is consistent across all these channels, including their various social sites, it’s the seamless look, feel and navigation of their email, onsite (both pre- and post-registration) and app experiences that I find most impressive. It could not have happened by accident.

As a start-up, you must differentiate your brand and product with a superior customer experience. While your primary product may be offered on a single channel or platform, such as a web-based or mobile app, your product experience doesn't start and end there. It starts the moment your customer sees your first ad, arrives on your homepage, and begins interacting with your brand. So even if you optimize the user experience for your primary channel, your prospects and customers are going to engage with your brand and product across multiple digital channels — and to them, it’s all one experience.

Your prospects and customers are searching on Google, browsing the Web, using native apps, receiving emails and engaging and sharing on multiple social media sites — and they are doing it from their desktops, tablets and mobile devices. Whether or not you are in control of the user experience for these channels, your customers are interacting with you there. Too often, however, businesses still treat these various channels as silos, with different teams and vendors managing them. The product team may be focused on Web or mobile apps. Digital marketing may be focused on email and social. Sales and marketing may be focused on the company Web site. Different tech teams may be supporting each channel, or the same tech team may be interacting with each business team separately.

So why do brands struggle to deliver integrated cross-channel customer experiences? Creating a modern and seamless digital experience for your customers is hard work, and requires the following:

  • Developing a long-term vision of the entire customer experience — understanding how and when users will interact with the brand and products across all channels, and from what devices
  • Up-front and ongoing collaboration between Product, Marketing, Sales and Tech
  • Integrated and flexible UX and visual design processes, with a mobile-first mindset
  • Understanding up-front what data needs to be captured for each channel, and how data from individual channels and platforms will be integrated
  • Gathering and leveraging user research for ongoing optimization

Essentially, a focus on customer experience must be a part of the company’s core strategy, mission and culture.

Most digital professionals today would agree that a Web site or digital product should be architected with a mobile-first approach. But it doesn’t stop there. In a modern customer experience, your mobile-friendly Web site should be seamless with your native app. Your marketing emails should be seamless with your onsite and mobile experiences, with little or no disconnect on click-through. Customers should be recognized and experiences should be personalized across onsite and native. Customer referral and user registration processes should also be seamless across platforms. Users who find you through search, social, sharing and paid advertising should follow a consistent conversion path, and pre-and post-registration experiences should feel connected.

The customer is not the only beneficiary of an integrated digital experience. Siloed customer experiences for different channels will lead to siloed customer data and analytics. Providing a seamless cross-channel customer experience will ensure that you have a single view of your customer across all channels. This means richer user profiles and better insights on user behavior and interests, allowing for more personalization across channels and more profitable campaigns and interactions. Don’t make assumptions about how your customers will engage with your brand, content or products. Understand each possible user flow within and across each digital channel and commit to making it seamless. And wear a helmet when skateboarding at night.