How Brands Can Build an Integrated Customer Experience That Bridges Physical and Digital
Phygital is the future.
Brands are embracing Phygital Customer Experience strategies — and it’s transforming the way consumers access goods and services.
The experiences and expectations consumers have with brick-and-mortar brands are changing. Trying on clothes, ordering food, and tapping a credit card to complete a transaction are no longer exclusively in-person occurrences. Brands are embracing phygital strategies — and it’s transforming the way consumers access goods and services.
A phygital customer experience, for example, means a customer can order household goods through a mobile app and pick them up curbside, or use a QR code to access a restaurant’s menu and pay with their mobile wallet. Some brands even incorporate AR technology so customers can try on clothes virtually or consider how furniture will look in their homes before they buy it.
These phygital touch points are becoming increasingly popular as consumers demand more convenient and seamless experiences. The challenge for brands is to strike the right balance between the physical and digital experiences so they don’t disrupt or diminish the customer experience. In today’s competitive market, it’s more important than ever for brands to determine how to provide the best of both worlds.
The Challenge of Meeting Customer Expectations Across Channels
The COVID-19 pandemic forced brands to adapt to a new reality in which in-person interactions were no longer safe or feasible. As a result, many brands had to pivot their business models to translate physical experiences to digital channels. For example, grocery stores that traditionally relied on foot traffic turned to pickup and delivery programs to stay afloat.
During the immediate crisis, brands were forced to transform their operations, seemingly overnight. They implemented new digital channels, such as QR codes and mobile payment options, in order to survive.
But, as these phygital experiences become a permanent fixture, brands need to take a more thoughtful, strategic approach to digital innovation. They need to consider how these new channels can enhance the entire customer journey, from discovery to purchase to post-purchase.
However, bridging the gap between physical and digital experiences comes with challenges. To start, customers have a high bar for relevant, personalized experiences. They interact with brands through multiple touch points — including physical stores, websites, mobile apps, and social media platforms — and expect a consistent experience across all channels. Brands must deliver consistent experiences that are unified, cohesive, and satisfying throughout the customer journey.
For instance, it’s not enough for a grocery store to create a mobile app and offer curbside pickup without training store associates to use the app and understand the processes. Any disconnect between the in-app experience and the real-life interaction with associates can lead to customer frustration, negative reviews, and loss of trust between the brand and its customers.
The fast pace of digital innovation only adds to the pressure. With technology evolving at an ever-increasing rate, and consumer expectations constantly changing, brands need to constantly innovate to keep up. This means staying on top of emerging technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), voice assistants, and artificial intelligence (AI). These innovations are revolutionizing the way brands interact with customers, and brands that fail to adopt them will be left behind.
5 Steps to Improve Your Phygital Customer Experience
Achieving the right blend of physical and digital touchpoints requires you to understand your customer’s entire journey — and design rich, engaging experiences that leverage the strengths of each channel. This allows you to create integrated, immersive experiences that differentiate your brand and drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Here are five pieces of advice to consider as you look to strike the right balance between physical and digital experiences:
- Listen to your customers: The first step in understanding how customers interact with your brand is to listen to them. This means actively and empathetically listening to their needs, preferences, and pain points. This process differs from basic market research in that it requires you to develop a strong relationship and a deep understanding of the communities you serve. By asking customers how they would like to interact with digital and physical touchpoints, and learning which features and functionalities are important to them, you can capture insights that improve your digital strategies.
- Cultivate authenticity: Authenticity is essential to building trust and loyalty among your customers. And it has to exist on all channels, whether it’s in-store, online or somewhere in between. Brands need to remain true to their values and purpose, aligning their actions — and experiences — with their brand identity. True authenticity comes from understanding your brand and having the courage to express your identity in a way that resonates with customers. When brands fail to do so, they risk building disconnected, disjointed experiences that frustrated and confuse customers, instead of delighting them and building trust. For example, if a brand promises a customer-centric experience, it needs to provide excellent customer service not just in brick-and-mortar stores but also on online channels.
- Embrace a design-led approach: Design-led organizations emphasize customer-centric decision-making. This means using design principles to guide their decision-making process, and ensure that their physical and digital touchpoints are aligned with the needs and desires of their target audience. A design-led approach requires you to constantly iterate, test, and refine products and services based on user feedback. It’s crucial to design interactions that are transparent and honest — and brands should be careful to avoid dark patterns that trick users into doing (or not doing ) certain actions. For example, designing a membership process that is difficult to cancel erodes trust and the customer-centric interactions that underpin effective phygital experiences.
- Focus on achieving silent utility: Metrics, KPIs, and customer ratings are all helpful barometers, but they don’t tell the whole story when it comes to a successful CX strategy. Sometimes no feedback at all can be a good thing because it can indicate that you’re providing such a satisfactory experience that customers don’t feel the need to voice complaints or leave negative reviews — a concept known as silent utility. Achieving silent utility is the ultimate goal of any CX strategy. It means you’ve designed user interfaces, streamlined processes, and delivered customer service so well, both online and in-person, that customers have no need to leave feedback.
- Be human-driven: By understanding the human aspect of your business and the impact your products or services have on people’s lives, your brand can make more empathetic and meaningful connections. A human-driven approach focuses on the well-being and satisfaction of customers rather than solely pursuing financial gains. And, phygital customer experiences help you connect with customers on a deeper level so you can provide the best experience possible. For example, while interactive displays or AR in physical stores can be costly to implement and maintain, they can ultimately help customers find the products they’ll love and leave a positive impression of your brand.
Phygital is now non-negotiable
Immersive and engaging phygital touchpoints have become essential for brands to keep pace with digital innovation and evolving consumer expectations. Brands that fail to provide these experiences risk losing customer dollars and loyalty to competitors. By blending both physical and digital experiences that align with your brand identity and resonate with your target audiences, you have the opportunity to captivate customers, encourage repeat engagement, and foster success in parallel with ongoing innovation.