Omni-channel User Experience Best Practices to Increase Customer Engagement


on August 22, 2017

Jeffrey Kwee, Mendix Business Line Manager at TimeSeries

Alex van Son, UX Consultant at TimeSeries

Let’s be bold and make an assumption: You want to service your customers in the best way possible.

You want to engage your customers fully, offering them a fluid, personalized user experience that takes into account the time and place they are in and the digital devices they use the most. You want them to be seamlessly aided by contextual, specific information which helps them make the best choices, and to leave them with the feeling that ‘this company really gets what I genuinely care about’. Right?

That is what we aim for when creating omni-channel user experiences, which combine inputs from multiple channels for customer engagement, varying from desktop applications, to email, to social media and physical stores. Data and inputs are collected from these individual channels, then combined and shared throughout all channels, creating a complete, multi-faceted customer journey, focused and personalized around your customers and their specific needs.

Customers are more digitized than ever, having portable devices like mobile phones and tablets ready at their fingertips. These devices offer quick access to media, entertainment and communications, but are also valuable channels through which your business can interact with them. This makes well-designed and well-implemented omni-channel user experiences aimed at maximizing customer engagement, highly valuable for both you and your users.

In this blog we will tell you about some of the best practices we take into account when making smart, context-aware applications for clients in all kinds of industries, whether manufacturing, professional services, entertainment or facilities management.

Hold my morning coffee, I’m going in…

Today’s customers aren’t bound to their desktop computers anymore to make use of business applications. During their morning commute, they might start a product or service inquiry at your company on their mobile phones, then enrich the data on their desktop or laptop during a lunch break while at the office. At the end of the day, they might finish up the process and submit it in the evening from the comfort of their couch, using their tablet. This is great, because it offers more channels to you as a company to reach out to your customers.

What, when and where: Understanding devices and their strengths

Creating engaging user experiences starts with understanding the different characteristics of the main devices that our customers use and the contexts in which they are used. Most devices fall within one of three main categories: Desktop, Tablet and Mobile. 
Image Courtesy of TimeSeries

Note: some devices combine characteristics of multiple devices mentioned above, like the Apple iPad Pro, Microsoft Surface Pro and phablets.

Take both physical and contextual characteristics of the multiple devices into account when streamlining your customer journey and creating engaging user experiences.

  • Desktop: Complex tasks and rich content
    The large amount of screen estate available on desktops enables more complex tasks and processes to be performed on these devices. Larger screens are also more suitable for rich content such as high-quality video and images, full-scale maps and custom front-end functionality like JavaScript widgets. On a large screen, full texts can be presented to customers instead of minimal text snippets that would be shown on a small screen.
  • Tablet: Media consumption and creativity
    Tablets offer a large amount of screen estate like desktop devices, but offer more portability. The large screen makes the tablet a great device for rich content consumption, like applications with video, long text reads, statistics dashboards, event timelines and process overviews. The tactile and visual aspects of touch-based gesture inputs enable creativity, drawings, entering and ordering layered information, etc.Tablets usually have additional device features built in, like location awareness, speech recognition and a camera, which add new layers of information input for your applications.
  • Mobile: Functionality on the go
    Mobile devices are the most portable of the three. Mobile screen resolutions are improving, so visuals and text are getting easier to read, but capturing lots of input remains cumbersome due to on-screen keyboards with small keys which take up a big part of the small screen. Focus on pushing information or providing functionality that is needed ‘in the spur of the moment’ rather than pulling lots of information from your customers.As with tablets, mobile phones have built-in features that help personalize the user experience even more, adding calling, authentication based on facial recognition or fingerprint scanning as great assets to build your personalized customer journey.

Creating the best omni-channel customer journey: Process best practices

  • Put users at the center of your design process:
    It might seem like common sense, but we’ll still mention it: do your research. What do your customers want from you? What devices do they use? What way of communication (media formats, tone of voice, etc.) do they prefer? What style is aesthetically attractive to them? Make it a priority to know and understand your customers. Defining personas is a good first step to achieve this. Tailor your customer journey to the information they need to make decisions, and present them with the actions to take that don’t involve a heavy amount of effort.
  • Make User Experience (UX) an important part of your process:
    In practice, few projects actually incorporate a UX designer as part of the team during the development of a product or service. Designing and developing the visual part of a customer journey, and also the practical usability of customer interactions is a vital part of increasing customer engagement and really understanding your customers. Collect feedback on new UX patterns and refine your customer journey bit by bit throughout the process, until it hits all the customer’s sweet spots.
  • Converge digital and physical aspects of your process:
    Integrate digital and physical aspects of the user experience as a single process, rather than separate processes. For example: Offer a customer real-time stock information about the item he/she is looking for online. Send an email or text message when the item is ready for pick up at a physical store. At the store, the customer can pay for the item, and the receipt is sent through email. Print a scannable code on the item’s packaging for follow-up actions, like suggestions of compatible accessories or a story about how the item was made through environmentally friendly processes.Combine this with IoT sensors and apps to provide your customers with location-based promotions (or automated restocking of the item that just got bought for the store owner) and you have a great offering! 
  • Design for a seamless handoff
    Anticipate situations in which a customer switches devices during a workflow or process and make that handoff seamless. This means that your customer can pick up just where they left off, no matter what device or operating system they switch to.
    For example, Google Maps enables you to send an address from the desktop app to your mobile device so the user can continue navigating there.Another great example is online payments at the Dutch ING Bank. When paying through their website, it offers a QR code in addition to traditional login methods. Scanning the QR code from the ING Bank app on your mobile device seamlessly takes over the process in the user friendly mobile application with additional methods to authenticate, like fingerprint and voice recognition. On the mobile phone, all payment details are already filled in, so the customer only needs to enter their PIN code to complete the transaction. 

  • Incorporate work baskets in your process for better handoffs
    There’s nothing more frustrating than performing work on one device, then switching to another, just to discover that your previously completed work hasn’t been saved or isn’t available on the new device. This can be avoided by creating work baskets in your process, where users can store items that they are currently working on or ‘pause’ their workflow. Practical examples of this are ‘Save as Draft’ and ‘Send hyperlink/QR code for this work item to [insert media]’ functions.
  • Think in advance about which parts of processes should run on which devices
    As mentioned before, different devices have different strengths. Creating an insurance claim for instance could require basic input like personal details, date of birth, etc. from a mobile device. Scanning bills could also be done through the camera of a mobile phone. However, making annotations on an uploaded bill is part of the process that is done more easily on a device with a larger screen and input by mouse and keyboard, like a desktop.

 Creating the best omni-channel customer journey: UX best practices

  • Use responsive app design
    Customers don’t want to install single-purpose apps for each of their devices just to interact with a single company. They get app fatigued. They just want a single app that works well. Use responsive app design to offer responsive web apps instead. These are web applications with similar functionality as native apps from an app store, but run in a web browser, without the need to install it. The app can determine which type of device it’s running on. Leverage this to provide your customers with the graphical user experience and functionality best tailored to the device, context and situation they are in, without the need to install new apps.Mendix, an award-winning Rapid Application Development platform, has responsive app design in their DNA, especially with their brand-new Atlas UI framework. With Mendix, you can create business apps which run in the Cloud and facilitate an engaging omni-channel user experience easily, lightning fast.
  • Maintain visual consistency throughout devices
    Establish a strong visual identity and make sure that it’s consistent throughout each device that a customer will use during his/her customer journey. It should incorporate recognizable layouts, graphical elements and text.
    Netflix offers a great example of a seamless handoff with great visual consistency. It keeps track of what series and movies you are watching in a personal list. That list is presented consistently across all devices, with similar UI elements, color schemes and screen layouts. This makes pausing a series and continuing watching it on another device seamless and without any overhead or extra user interaction needed to do so.

  • Determine device information priorities
    Smaller screens have less room for UI elements, like headers, images and text blocks. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize information that is shown on screen by adding or omitting elements according to the available screen resolution and screen estate.

Creating the best omni-channel customer journey: technology best practices

  • Integrate your systems to maintain consistent customer data
    Integrate your back-end systems and let them synchronize data on the fly. When you engage a customer, make sure you have all the up-to-date information and data from previous contact moments at hand so the customer experiences consistency throughout his/her journey.
  • Make use of smart digital helpers
    Leverage smart concepts like smart recommendations by intelligent chatbots, next best action prediction based on Big Data analysis or IoT data, Artificial Intelligence (i.e. recognize current customer emotion based on chatbot input) to increase customer engagement and serve them in the best way possible.
  • Optimize loading times
    Take into account that loading times affect the customer experience. On a mobile phone, customers expect similar performance as on a desktop, so limit sizes of media used, only call web services when absolutely needed and make use of smart browser caching to optimize your loading times.

We hope these best practices will help you set up your customer journeys and create engaging, unique omni-channel user experiences. Some of it might seem very logical and common sense, but that’s exactly the point of it; the entire process should feel very logical and designed with common sense!