The Ultimate Guide to Digital Customer Experience

Delivering an exceptional digital customer experience is crucial, with 86% of buyers willing to pay more for it and 73% ready to switch to a competitor after negative experiences. This guide explores the vital differences between digital and traditional customer experiences, highlighting the importance of perfecting digital interactions to maintain a competitive edge.

Did you know that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience? On the flip side, 73% of dissatisfied customers will move to a competitor following one or more negative experiences.

These stats highlight the make-or-break importance of delivering an exceptional online customer experience.

As more and more of your customer interactions happen through digital channels like your website, app, or social media, nailing your digital customer experience has become critical. If you don't get it right, you risk losing customers to competitors who do.

But what exactly is digital customer experience and how is it different from traditional customer experience? More importantly, what steps can you take to elevate your digital experience and turn it into a competitive advantage?

In this guide, we'll look at:

  • The key differences between digital and traditional customer experience

  • A breakdown of the top digital CX trends to watch in 2024

  • Actionable tips to apply the latest best practices to your own digital channels

What is digital customer experience?

Customer experience encapsulates the perception your customer has of your brand as a result of every interaction in every channel, whether online or offline. For example, in a brick-and-mortar store, you want the customer to feel welcome, to trust your products, explore them easily, check out smoothly and leave with a sense of satisfaction (and a full shopping bag).

The digital customer experience (digital CX) is the subset of customer experience that happens in your online channels. Digital CX includes the customer’s perception of all the interactions that happen online, whether on your website, your mobile app, social media or any other virtual channel, such as a chatbot.

So what counts as a digital interaction? Any time a customer engages with your brand through a digital channel or device, that's a piece of the digital CX puzzle. Some common examples include:

  • Browsing your website

  • Using your mobile app

  • Interacting with your brand on social media

  • Opening an email newsletter from your company

  • Chatting with a support rep via live chat

  • Interacting with a chatbot

A great digital CX makes each of these interactions as seamless, enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. It's not just about avoiding frustration, but actively delighting customers at every opportunity. For instance, if a customer lands on your website looking for a specific product, a strong digital CX would mean:

  • The site loads quickly and is easy to navigate on any device

  • Search and filter options help the customer quickly find the right item

  • Product descriptions and images are clear and detailed

  • The checkout process is smooth with guest checkout available

  • Follow-up emails confirm the order and provide tracking info

By delivering these items, you don't just satisfy the customer's needs. You create an experience that builds trust, loyalty and enthusiasm for your brand.

The key takeaway? Every digital interaction matters. Whether it's a minor touchpoint or a major milestone, each is an opportunity to strengthen—or weaken—the customer relationship. In a recent Forbes Insights survey conducted with Glassbox, 84% of executives think that businesses must deliver excellent digital CX to survive.

Definition of digital customer experience

Digital customer experience vs. customer experience

The majority of businesses (81%) say digital CX is critical to their success. It's easy to see why when you consider these eye-opening stats:

  • 80% of consumers believe the service a company offers is just as important as its products or services, marking a record high.

  • 32% of shoppers say they'll abandon a beloved brand following a single negative experience.

  • More than 40% of buyers stated they would probably switch to a competitor offering similar services but with a superior digital experience.

  • 62% of customers feel interactions should seamlessly transition between physical and digital spaces.

Digital CX is a vital subset of your overall customer experience that directly impacts how customers perceive and engage with your brand.

Consider this: a customer's journey might include seeing your ad on social media, browsing your website, reading reviews and chatting with a support rep. Each of these digital touchpoints shapes their impression of your brand even if they never set foot in a store or speak to someone on the phone.

If your website is poorly designed, your app crashes or your chatbot can't answer basic questions, that friction erodes trust and makes customers less likely to stick around. User friction causes 71% of online shoppers to abandon their carts. On the flip side, if each digital interaction is seamless and satisfying, you'll build loyalty and drive more business.

The bottom line?

While digital CX is just one facet of the larger customer experience, it's an increasingly influential one. By investing in and knowing what’s going on in your digital touchpoints and ensuring they're up to par, you set your brand up for success in the digital age.

A table comparing digital and traditional customer experience

Why is a good digital customer experience strategy important?

A digital customer experience (CX) strategy is your game plan for positively engaging customers at every virtual touchpoint. It's about crafting digital interactions that are not just seamless, but downright delightful.

As buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience, and the gap between the physical and digital experience closes, delivering on your digital CX strategy is non-negotiable. Here's why:

Digital CX keeps you competitive

With 89% of companies battling it out primarily on customer experience, a subpar digital experience can leave you in the dust. If your competitors' websites or apps are easier to use, customers may be quick to jump ship.

Digital CX boosts loyalty and revenue

Here's a heads-up: 63% of businesses are pumping money into their digital customer experience because they know it's directly tied to increasing revenue and growing their customer base.

More than 80% of U.S. executives responding to a recent survey see a direct link between improved digital CX and profit and 77% attribute improved business performance to their investments in digital CX.

Digital CX provides valuable insights

Every click, scroll and tap on your digital applications is a goldmine of customer data. By analyzing metrics like bounce rates, conversion rates and customer feedback, you can continuously fine-tune your digital offerings to better meet customer needs and expectations.

Digital CX sets you apart

In crowded markets, a stand-out digital CX can be your secret weapon. Take Sephora's Virtual Artist app, which lets users virtually try on makeup. By offering a more immersive online shopping experience, Sephora is differentiating itself as an innovative, customer-centric brand.

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Digital CX reduces churn

A poor digital experience is a surefire way to send your customers packing—more than half will switch to a competitor after a few bad experiences. By prioritizing digital CX, you can reduce churn and keep customers loyal. Loyalty pays off—on average, repeat customers are worth up to 10x as much as their first purchase and spend 67% more in their third year than they spend in earlier stages.

Digital CX futureproofs your business

Investing in a robust digital CX strategy positions you to adapt and thrive as digital landscapes evolve. Whether it's incorporating new channels like chatbots and voice assistants or leveraging AI for personalization, a strong digital CX foundation sets you up to stay ahead of the curve.

Digital customer experience in each of the 7 stages of a buyer's journey

Imagine you're a customer searching for the perfect product or service. You start by discovering a brand, then consider your options, make a decision and finally make a purchase.

This is the (totally oversimplified) buyer’s journey in action. It’s like a map showing how a customer goes from just hearing about you to finally buying something. Each step of the way is a chance to connect more and turn interested folks into loyal fans and customers.

But the journey doesn't end when the customer makes a purchase. Their post-purchase experience matters just as much.

By making the digital experience awesome at every step, you can make sure people pay attention and get excited about choosing your brand.

Let’s now explore how you can make every part of the buyer’s journey unforgettable. That journey, if you’re paying attention, consists of five stages. There’s a sixth, if you’re successful, and even a seventh, if there’s a lapse or a misstep.

1. Awareness Stage

In the awareness stage, potential customers realize they have a problem or need. They often turn to the internet for answers, and this is where your brand needs to stand out.

Say you sell eco-friendly cleaning products, for example. By creating informative blog posts about green cleaning and optimizing them for search engines, you can attract people looking for the kinds of solutions you offer.

That’s exactly what Blueland—a leading sustainable cleaning brand—does with its blog. The blog is chock-full of helpful articles on topics like “Sustainable Fall Lawn Care” and “10 Bathroom Cleaning Essentials.”

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By providing valuable information, they establish themselves as a trustworthy source and make a great first impression on potential customers.

2. Consideration Stage

Once potential customers are aware of their problem, they move into the consideration stage. Here, they're evaluating different options to solve their problem. This is where you need to provide in-depth content that showcases why your product or service is the best choice.

Let's say you're searching for new customer relationship management (CRM) software. A website that offers detailed product comparisons, customer reviews, and a free trial is more likely to win your trust than one with just a basic product description.

Reviews in particular have a huge impact on consumer behavior. 88% of shoppers are more likely to buy from a business when they notice that its owner addresses every review, regardless of whether they are positive or negative.

When asked about how they discovered a new product/brand, 19% said they first heard about it from positive customer reviews, the third most popular answer.

3. Decision Stage

At the decision stage, customers are ready to buy but might still be considering their options. This is where your website's user experience can make or break the sale.

Make sure your website is easy to navigate and has a smooth checkout process. Offering live chat support can also help answer any last-minute questions and ease any doubts.

For instance, when you're booking a flight on Southwest Airlines' website, they offer a Low Fare Calendar that helps you find the best deals.

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By providing a seamless and supportive experience, they make the decision to buy feel like a no-brainer.

4. Purchase Stage

The purchase stage is where customers take action and buy from you. Your goal here is to make the transaction process as smooth and enjoyable as possible. This involves things like having a user-friendly website, clear product information, and a secure checkout process.

After the purchase, continue to engage with customers by sending a thank-you email, providing order tracking information, and offering excellent customer support.

83% of customers expect regular communication about their orders and 7% state they would discontinue their relationship with a business if there was no follow-up after making a purchase.

By updating and supporting your customers post-purchase, you show that you value their business and care about their experience.

5. Retention Stage

Once a customer has made a purchase, your focus shifts to retaining them and building a lasting relationship. Personalized email marketing campaigns, loyalty programs, and exclusive offers are great ways to keep customers engaged and coming back for more.

For example, among several other benefits, Sephora's Beauty Insider program rewards customers with points for every purchase, which can be redeemed for discounts and special products.

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They also send personalized product recommendations based on each customer's purchase history.

By making customers feel valued and understood, Sephora has built a loyal following of repeat customers.

6. Advocacy Stage

The ultimate goal is to turn satisfied customers into brand advocates who actively promote your business to others. Encourage happy customers to leave reviews, share their experiences on social media, and refer friends and family.

A classic example of this is Dropbox's referral program. When a user refers a friend who signs up, they both get extra storage space. This incentive helped Dropbox grow its user base by 3900% in just 15 months.

By turning customers into advocates, you can expand your reach and attract new business.

7. Re-engagement Stage

Sometimes, customers may lose interest or become inactive. The re-engagement stage is about rekindling those relationships and bringing them back into the fold.

Analyze customer data to understand why they may have disengaged, then tailor your approach accordingly.

For instance, if a customer hasn't opened your emails in a while, send a personalized "We miss you" message with a special offer or discount.

If a shopper abandons their cart, follow up with a reminder email and an incentive to complete their purchase.

By showing that you value their business and want to meet their needs, you can win back lost customers and strengthen their loyalty.

A table showing the 7 stages of the buyer journey vis-a-vis their Digital CX applications and relevant mediums and channels

6 best practices for improving digital customer experiences

Here are six best practices to help you take your digital customer experiences to new heights.

1. Embrace the power of controlled chaos

Forget about sticking to rigid structures and predictable patterns. Instead, inject a dose of controlled chaos into your digital experiences to keep your customers engaged and excited.By "controlled chaos," we mean adding something unexpected to your digital experiences.

This involves surprising users with dynamic content that adapts to their preferences, personalized recommendations tailored to their interests, and unexpected interactions that spark their interest.By introducing an element of controlled chaos, you can differentiate yourself from competitors and create a sense of anticipation and excitement among your customers.

Netflix does this beautifully with its industry-leading recommendation engine.Its algorithm suggests unexpected content based on viewing habits, ensuring that there's always something new and exciting to discover. This has helped Netflix maintain a highly engaged user base, with over 260 million paid subscribers worldwide.

So, say you have an online clothing store. You can use controlled chaos by showing customers different outfits based on what they've looked at before.

If they've been browsing summer dresses, you can surprise them with a pop-up that says, "We think you'll love these matching sandals!" This unexpected suggestion can make for a more fun and helpful shopping experience.

2. Improve engagement through gamification

Why settle for mundane interactions when you can transform them into thrilling experiences? Gamification is a powerful tool that can help you inject fun and excitement into your digital platforms. It means adding game-like elements to your digital experiences to make them more engaging and exciting.

This includes challenges, rewards, and leaderboards that encourage your customers to participate and have fun.

Take an online course platform, for example. You can use gamification by giving students points for completing lessons, badges for reaching milestones, and a leaderboard showing top performers.This can motivate students to engage more with your courses and feel a sense of accomplishment as they learn.

And that’s precisely why gamification works—because it taps into basic human motivations, such as the desire for recognition, accomplishment, and social interaction.

By incorporating game-like elements into your digital experiences, you can drive customer loyalty, extend session times, and ultimately boost your bottom line. Just ask the 42% of retailers who say gamification has helped improve critical e-commerce metrics in their business.

Starbucks offers a notable example of gamification in action, especially through their Starbucks Rewards program.

Screeshot of Starbucks Rewards website

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The program allows customers to earn stars for purchases, unlock levels, and redeem rewards. This gamified approach has helped Starbucks build a loyal customer base, with over 31 million active members, and over 57% of its sales—over $20 billion—come from the program alone.

That’s the power of gamification.

3. Engage the senses through sensory stimuli

Create a multi-sensory journey that engages all the five senses and leaves a lasting impression on your customers.From visually striking designs to interactive soundscapes and even aromas—if you’re in the hospitality or food and beverage industry, for instance—sensory stimuli can enhance the overall customer experience and create strong emotional connections.

Consider how luxury car brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW use sensory stimuli to create immersive showroom experiences.

From the sleek visual design of their vehicles to the distinctive sound of the engine and the luxurious scent of the leather interiors, every sensory detail is carefully crafted to evoke a sense of sophistication and quality.

Hospitality brands like the Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria have custom signature scents for their properties.Using signature scents is a strategic branding tool that leverages the power of scent to enhance the overall guest experience. Creating a sensory journey can resonate with visitors long after their stay..

So how do you apply sensory stimulation in the digital world?

Take a travel website, for instance. You can use sensory stimulation by adding high-quality photos and videos of destinations, interactive maps with sounds of local streets, and even a virtual reality feature that lets customers "walk through" a city before booking, complete with haptic feedback.

These sensory elements can make your website more immersive and exciting, helping customers feel more connected to the places they're considering visiting.By leveraging sensory elements, you can evoke specific emotions, reinforce your brand identity, and create memorable customer experiences.

4. Immerse customers in narrative-driven experiences

Storytelling has the power to captivate, engage, and inspire. That’s why 33% of B2B marketers are adopting brand storytelling as the new marketing and sales strategy.

You can weave stories into your website or app that align with your brand values, highlight what makes you unique, and make your customers feel more connected to your business.

Airbnb uses storytelling to showcase the unique stories behind its listings. Through engaging host stories, beautiful photos, and compelling descriptions, Airbnb makes travelers feel like they're part of the story, creating an emotional connection that goes beyond just booking a room.

If you have a website that sells handmade jewelry, you can use narrative-driven experiences by sharing the stories behind each piece of jewelry and the artisans who made them.You can have a "Meet the Makers" section where customers can learn about the inspiration, techniques, and personal stories of the craftspeople.

These stories can make your products feel more meaningful and create a stronger connection between your customers and your brand.

5. Delight customers with surprising moments

Surprise and delight your customers by introducing unexpected moments of joy throughout their digital journey.

Whether it's a personalized video message, a virtual surprise party or a spontaneous gift, these surprises can transform ordinary interactions into extraordinary memories that customers will cherish.

Think about how the online retailer Zappos delights its customers with unexpected upgrades to overnight delivery, custom thank-you messages, and even surprise gifts.These acts foster a feeling of gratitude and joy, resulting in satisfied, lifelong customers.

What’s more, as the brand has become synonymous with such surprises, customers now look forward to a wonderful experience each time they interact with Zappos.

Given that 60% of consumers report making purchases from a brand simply due to the anticipated experience, this means that Zappos has effectively built a flywheel of positive engagement with its customers.

6. Foster community through co-creation

Co-creation means involving your customers in the process of designing and improving your digital experiences.You can invite customers to share ideas, participate in design workshops, and test new features, giving them a sense of ownership and belonging in the community you're building.

When customers feel invested in the creation process, they develop a stronger sense of loyalty and commitment to your brand. 70% of consumers are willing to develop a stronger bond or relationship with a brand or company as a result of a positive experience.

Also, by involving customers in the co-creation process, you gain valuable insights into their needs and preferences, allowing you to tailor your digital experiences accordingly.

LEGO offers a great example of co-creation. They have a platform called LEGO Ideas where fans can submit their own designs and vote on others' creations. They even have a chance to see their ideas turned into real LEGO sets if they garner up to 10,000 supporters.

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This collaborative approach has helped LEGO build a highly engaged and loyal fan base, with over 1 million users actively participating in the co-creation process.

As another example, consider an e-learning platform. The platform can foster community through co-creation by asking students to submit ideas for new courses, inviting top students to be mentors, and having a forum where students can share their projects and give each other feedback.

By involving students in shaping the platform, it can create a sense of community and belonging that keeps the students engaged and loyal.

5 best practices for improving your current digital customer experience

Even the best online spaces need to keep improving. As your customers and the tech world change, your online platforms should, too.

Here are five top tips to make your digital customer experience even better.

1. Leveraging advanced analytics for deeper insights

Delving deep into analytics helps you fine-tune how people experience your site or app. But, just looking at how many people visit or leave your site barely skims the surface. Numbers alone can’t tell you anything about the quality of an experience. Using more detailed digital CX and data analytics tools like heatmaps, session replays, and AI to understand what people do on your site.

For example, say you notice a high drop-off rate for mobile users trying to enter a special offer code at checkout. Heatmaps can show you that most people are clicking the "Enter Code" button, but then giving up in frustration. Then session replays would let you watch a user struggling to find where to input the code.

Armed with these insights, you can redesign the checkout flow to make promo codes easier to apply, leading to more conversions.

2. Implementing new, customer-centric technologies

To meet the expectations of today's digital-first customers, it's important to judiciously implement technologies that make their experience easier and more engaging. Two key areas to consider are AI chatbots and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR).

AI chatbots can provide instant, 24/7 answers to common customer questions, reducing wait times and freeing up your support team to handle more complex issues. That’s why predictions suggest that by 2025, AI will handle 95% of all customer interactions.

AR/VR can immerse customers in your products, providing a "try before you buy" experience. That’s why 22% of shoppers are interested in VR experiences and 33% of retailers plan to provide such experiences within their stores.

Leading brands have already acknowledged the trend. For instance, furniture retailer Wayfair enables shoppers to use AR to see how a couch would fit in their living room before making a purchase via its View in Room 3D feature.

The key is to implement new technology in a way that genuinely makes customers' lives easier. Don't just chase shiny objects.

Map new tech to real customer needs and continuously gather feedback to refine the experience. By staying customer-centric, you'll provide value and differentiation.

3. Content refresh and SEO optimization

A smart content strategy is crucial for making sure your online spaces stay interesting and up-to-date. Regularly update your content to keep up with what's new in your industry, updates, and SEO best practices.

This could mean updating old posts with new facts or ideas, adding new kinds of content like videos or infographics, and making sure you're following the latest SEO rules.

For example, giving an old blog post new stats or insights can make it interesting and relevant again. Good SEO means your content is more likely to show up in search results, bringing in more visitors.

4. Optimizing for emerging devices and platforms

As tech evolves, so do the gadgets and platforms people use to browse the internet. Your online experience needs to change too, so everyone can use it easily and effectively.

You might need to update your website to work better on new smartphones, make your content fit for new social media sites, or get ready for more people using voice search and smart home devices.

Making sure your site works well with Google Voice Search, Siri, and Alexa, for example, can make it a lot easier for people who like using voice commands to find what they need.

5. Revamping user interface and user experience (UI/UX)

Every so often, it's important to give your website or app’s design and user experience (UI/UX) an overhaul to keep it appealing and easy to use.

But don’t just turn to the latest design trends. Instead, conduct user research and use session replay to listen to what users tell you they want–either implicitly or explicitly..

For instance, making your menu simpler or adding more eye-catching elements can make visiting your site a better experience. Reducing the number of steps to complete a purchase or task can also make users happier. Updating your UI/UX makes your online spaces look better and work smoother, so users can easily find what they need and enjoy using your site.

An infographic showing 5 best practices for improving your current digital customer experience

What’s next to improve your digital customer experience?

Businesses that prioritize customer-centric strategies and adopt new technologies will be well-positioned to thrive in 2024 and beyond.

Although many executives believe their companies provide top-notch digital CX, only 38% of them have clear goals and strategy, and only 36% have delegated formal ownership responsibility for digital CX.

A recent survey by Forbes and Glassbox showed that 83% of responders see a direct connection between improved digital CX and their business results, and 77% see a close relationship between their investments in digital CX and improved performance.

So, where can you start or continue to provide outstanding digital customer experience? One of the first steps is understanding each customer journey—which journeys result in conversion (the customer buys, signs up or takes another desired action), and which end in frustration and abandonment? And most importantly, why?

Gathering information about what’s actually happening can tell you what’s yielding results, and where your customers are struggling. Learn more about your customers’ journeys, how to optimize them and how digital experience intelligence tools can help you improve both your digital CX and your company’s business performance.