Consumers are increasingly channel agnostic, and they expect a good customer experience through any channel they choose to use. This does mean, however, that mobile is one part of the customer journey and not the 'be all and end all' of it, according to Nick Keating from Maxymiser, who here explains how and why brands must concentrate on enhancing customer experiences across all channels. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Online development today is all about mobile. Yet with many companies still playing catch up, the focus is on technology issues such as responsive design rather than the role mobile plays within the overall customer experience. Customers are buying from a brand, not from a brand's mobile channel, web channel or high street shop.

Despite this, digital strategies are increasingly becoming mobile-first. Any new features or ideas are only considered if they work on a mobile device. The design of the mobile customer experience is shaping design of the desktop site and is helping to bring a consistent experience across all digital channels.

What's the big idea?
The theory is that mobile-first organisations will see the greatest rise in sales. And given the figures, that makes sense. Almost half (48%) of the time U.S. consumers spend with e-retail occurs on a mobile device. And mobile traffic is over taking desktop traffic.

But this mobile-first approach partially misses the point. The successful business of the future will be as channel agnostic as the consumer is today. The customer does not see channels; the customer simply considers the brand and chooses to interact with that brand through a variety of desktop and mobile devices, in a variety of locations and at various times of the day. Their expectation is to always receive a consistent and seamless brand experience.

Complete customer experiences
The digital channels used by consumers to engage with a brand will depend upon the stage of the journey as well as the location and profile of the customer. Mobile will be a portion of the overall customer experience, not all of it. In certain instances, however, the mobile device does play an important part in the customer experience, whether it is acting as a barcode scanner for logistics companies or providing an electronic ticket for a concert or an airline.

This increased level of customer intimacy, once an affinity has been built with a brand, is usually managed through a Mobile App. Given the conversion rate of a mobile App is around five times higher than on a mobile website, there is a huge benefit in converting mobile users into mobile App users and changing them from a predominately browsing to buying mode.

So mobile is very important. But simply assuming a mobile-first approach fundamentally undervalues the overall customer experience - and misses out on significant opportunities to improve customer understanding and use that insight to tailor the customer experience.

Single customer identity
The challenge is to deliver a cross device customer experience that is optimised and targeted so that the customer receives a consistent and seamless experience. To achieve this goal organisations need to stitch together a single view of the customer. They need visitors to identify themselves through registration, social media profile or previously tracked behaviour on a device to create this unique, cross platform customer identity.

A key component of the optimisation strategy, therefore, must be to create and demonstrate the value of the experience to the customer: in a loud, busy and competitive online environment, consumers will not register or share social login details unless there is some tangible value attached. For example, airlines encourage individuals to downloads Apps in order to track flight status in real-time; while retailers can offer smartphone-enabled coupons to be redeemed in store to consumers registering an email address. Offering tangible value encourages automatic login and enables the brand to join up the customer interaction across every touch point - including in store for retailers.

By building on this single customer view to improve the experience irrespective of device, or activity, a brand can then build loyalty: if it is easy to use, consumers will come back. It is therefore essential to avoid approaching the creation of the perfect customer experience as a technology problem - or assuming the way customers will opt to interact with the brand.

Organisations know that consumers use different devices at different stages of the journey. But this is a fast evolving market: customer behaviour and attitudes continue to change. Rather than following the conclusions of the latest analyst report or the hunch of the mobile and web developers, to truly understand the how, when and where of customer interaction brands need to get customer input. Without continually testing the response to the content and journey, across every platform, brands are simply second guessing the customer experience - an approach that is fatally flawed.

Channel agnostic business
Ultimately, the delivery of a seamless customer experience will demand more than a way of building a single customer view: organisations need to pull together the internal teams responsible for customer experience via every channel. As a starting point, brands need to share insight and activity across teams to create a consistent customer experience. Moving ahead, there is a clear shift away from a channel-aligned business model toward category lines; one individual is responsible for specific category/ product sales across every channel.

This realisation of the importance of a channel agnostic model is being driven by the challenges created by consumers' mobile adoption: taken at face value the mobile return on investment (ROI) is far from compelling. Without a complete view of every customer interaction, understanding how and when they use the mobile devices to interact at every stage of the journey, organisations struggle to understand where the revenue is coming from. As soon as a brand understands the how, where and why of mobile's role within the overall customer journey, the entire strategy comes together.

"This is a fast shifting market, and the delivery of a seamless experience across devices is becoming essential. Just consider how effective personalisation can become when a business can track and then react to each customer's journey in real time across devices," concluded Keating. "I expect the 'Nirvana' of a seamless, cross device customer experience that is both optimised and personalised to become a reality during 2014, and those companies that achieve it will become leaders in their market - and the rest will ultimately lose out."