What is digital experience?

9 september, 2021

Digital experience is a critical aspect of digitalization in the context of digital transformation. It literally, refers to the user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) which results in user acceptance of a product or service. This article will explain the term and explains why considering digital experience is critical for today’s businesses. 

Digital experience in digitalization era

When was the first time that humans faced a massive change in performing a task? One of the familiar ones happened in Lower Mesopotamia in the 4th century BC, when they invented the wheel and transportation shifted to another level. Since then, there have been many other disruptions in human history, and the pattern that can be seen among them is that a new user experience has emerged. (Source)

Take the development of long-distance communication as an example: It started with smoke signals, then paper mailing and carrier pigeon, then Morse code and telegram, later it changed into one-way radio, after some years, telephone, fax, mobile phones, internet or e-mail, and today, multimedia chatting. The goal remained the same during this process, but humans’ interaction (or experience) with that medium keeps changing. (Source)

One of the disruptions that had a huge impact on changing the user’s experience was the “digital transformation”, which brought up “digitalization” and “digital experience”. Digitalization became the core of most of the innovations in the past 70 years. The advent of digitization essentially began with the invention of computers in the 1950s. Since then, the non-stop march of digitization has transformed nearly everything into computer-friendly logic. This trend has coined the way we communicate, work, shop, bank, and even and entertain ourselves.

Image Source: Bankai 2017

Digitalization, life, and business

Digitalization is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business and life, fundamentally changing how you operate and interact with certain tasks. It is also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure (Source). Addressing the “cultural change” opens up the unspoken topic of digital experience.

Digital experience inhabits a realm packed with similar terms. You have digital experience management (DXM), customer experience (CX), customer experience management (CXM or CEM), digital customer experience, B2B digital experience, and digital brand experience. If you ask 100 people to define the digital experience, you can expect 100 unique (thematically connected) answers. So let’s unpack the meaning of digital experience and look at its benefits.

What is digital experience in business?

A digital experience is an interaction between a person and an organization, either B2B or B2C, made possible via digital technologies. Digital experience design should be intelligent, relevant, personalized, and omnichannel. (Source) One can claim that digital experience is like the shadow of digitalization: It has the same shape and follows it all over.

Technology on its own doesn’t necessarily bring a positive digital experience. Reading a scanned version of a book, for example, isn’t a useful interaction to include within the scope of this definition because it doesn’t offer anything experientially different than reading a physical copy would. However, an e-book that gets the best out of the digitalization approach can enable the user to search for a word, highlight a sentence, connect and cite different books from a worldwide library, etc. Therefore, digital technology brought a whole new experience to the user, which was not possible by using traditional methods.

Obviously, by digitalizing a system or event, a part of the conventional experience will be lost. In the context of an e-book, this would be the feel of paper, the experience of having a physical library, and so on. However, the advantages of an e-book can conquer the benefits of the conventional method depending on the context of use. Moreover, the digitalization approach is usually more sustainable by saving resources, more efficient by saving time, and enables a higher level of agility.

Looking at the daily used item that has gone through the digitalization path, the advantages of digitalization and a digital experience are obvious to all of us. But in the context of business, it made huge changes.

Why is digital experience important for businesses?

A business may take on digital transformation for various reasons. But by far, the most likely incitation is that they have to: It’s a survival issue. In the wake of the COVID-19, an organization’s ability to adapt quickly to rapidly changing customer expectations, time to market pressures, and product/service development has become critical.

When a business approaches to digitalize a principle, for instance, when changing the physical shop into an online shop, the process of digitalization is one side of the process. Another side is “how the users will experience” the new online shopping solution or the user acceptance. 

As an example, for many years, there was a debate on the benefits of online shopping in fashion retail. It was a critical issue because the user usually requires to feel the cloth, wear the outfit and see it from different angles, which was not (and merely is not) possible with the current technology. However, we still see massive growth in online shopping only in fashion retail. For example, in 2020, 46% of apparel sales in the US were online. This number was 30.1% in 2019 and 26.6% in 2018, which shows notable growth. So by that saying, it means that the users are trying to adapt to the transformation and accepting the new experience based on the situation.

At a recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium series event, IT leaders agreed that consumer behavior has quickly shifted in many ways since the start of the pandemic in 2019. It’s early to guess which long-term consumer behavior changes will stick. However, Rodney Zemmel, global leader, McKinsey Digital of McKinsey & Company, says that on the consumer side, “digital has been accelerating in just about all categories.” An important factor to watch will be the degree to which forced change. In 2021, three out of four Americans tried a new shopping behavior, for example- will revert when possible, post today’s emphasis on stay-at-home.

How to design for a digital experience that can be accepted by the users?

This question requires a thorough analysis in the user experience area, NN group is a good source to gain more knowledge on this topic. However, with a quick look at the successful products and services, we can have several takeaways: 

  1. A good product/ service starts the product development process with the user study and user needs analysis. This should happen before approaching the problem with technical solutions. 
  2. Digitalization is NOT always the solution! Digitalization became a ready-made solution for most of the problems in the business area. But it is important to take one step back and see if the users actually need a digital solution or not. This can be done by considering all the possible options, thinking out of the box, and studying the users. 
  3. It is important to develop some KPIs to measure the success of the digital solution. Moreover, it is critical to measure if the digital solution brings enough benefits to the users compared to the conventional solution. 

What is apparent is that every business that wants to survive and stay relevant to the market should accept and adapt digitalization in the organization’s different areas. But a question needs to be asked before any digitalization approach “Does the users and customers will accept the digitalization solution and shift their behaviors?” if not, how to create this behavior?

All in all, Apparently going through a digitalization journey is a must for businesses nowadays. However, our message is that digitalization should come together with digital experience. In fact, implementing a digital solution may not necessarily be a successful solution if the user needs and user experience are not considered in the process.

Author: H.M. Mehrdad Farimani

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