The “Mobile First” dilemma

I often have customer meetings where we talk about the web part of a customer experience, and how to present information to the user. One of my first questions, once we have talked about the strategy and how the experience would flow through the CX journey is: “how is this experienced through a smartphone?”, or “what if the journey starts from a smartphone rather than a land line or a computer?”

Random Statistics:  1.2 Billion mobile web users are estimated worldwide, with some 25% of the overall web traffic being mobile.

In my experience as a user, I realize there are applications that I have never opened in my laptop browser: Uber, Instagram, Waze, Facebook messenger. The whole social media folder is now 99% of times accessed only via smartphone. I have tried the Whatsapp web extension but then thought “what the heck? I don’t really need another distraction on my screen, I already have the mobile beeping and blinking”.

There are, though, applications that I rarely or never use on a smartphone: writing this blog only happens with a proper keyboard a large screen and a huge cup of coffee, the same goes when choosing a holiday location, as I want to see large and detailed pictures of the houses I am renting, and even a Google maps tab to calculate the distance from airports and stations.

The on-line shopping is trickier: obviously, being a woman, I like buying clothes and accessories and doing it on a large screen helps with details of fabric and textures….but if I need quick shopping, as in Amazon-prime-misc-stuff-that-I-happen-to-remember-only-when-bathing-kids-or-cooking-dinner shopping, then the smartphone is my friend as it only takes a couple of clicks to get through an order and I can then forget about it until the package arrives. Blissful!

Developers who make smartphone apps spend their work day staring at a large screen and fighting with the constraints of a smaller mobile screen, so I totally understand that there might be frustration around this. There is some online discussion around mobile first design and the impression I got is that yes, you need to adapt to this new way of using the web, but large screens are still there and offer so much more features and context that sometimes it’s really tough to start with mobile all the way up. On the other hand, designing with a mobile first approach has the advantage of forcing you to disrupt, to see things differently and to (sometimes over-)simplify the experience.

A company’s customer experience does not always start from a smartphone, but typically will somehow pass through one at some point. If defining a CX journey is also helping the company to drive their customers to their preferred method, then it should be mandatory to step back and see the big picture, trying to understand if a mobile first approach will help or stop the user in their journey.

So my suggestion during the discussion is to try and picture a mobile everywhere in the journey, and see how it fits, then pick the moments where it was most useful because of its strengths (mobility, proximity, quick and easy access) compared to having a user open their laptop or computer or use different channels. Then try and make the customer’s life easier by reflecting those strengths to the wider picture and the mid-long term strategy of the business. The result is obviously never the same, but hey, have I mentioned the need to experiment? 🙂

Digital Transformation as an Experiment

There is much talk over the concept of digital transformation lately.

I have now met several companies, from large enterprises to mid and small businesses across EMEA, who are working towards it in many different ways. And this is the common thread: that every company is different and their path to digital must, therefore, be unique and tailored according to their business processes. The first question I get is usually: what are the others doing? And obviously the examples help, but are not the solution to the imagination issue.

There is no such thing as a common procedure to go digital: so far the most successful (and intriguing) customers I met have set up a “digital experimentation team“, which consists of a bunch of technology savvy enthusiasts, who like to try new stuff (incidentally this would be the dream job of any geek, including myself): they are connected and socially active, they like to attend virtual and real events and meetings, even if just for the sake of mixing up ideas and new technologies; they are passionate about innovation of any sort.

This approach of the “dream team”, in my opinion and experience, works well in many ways:

  • If the company has no idea of how to get digital, this would be the team that will experiment and drive all the new stuff. They will be the salmons, swimming upstream while the rest of the company would typically try and resist change, until something beautiful happens, and then they become the praised heroes of the above mentioned transformation. This might take a while, though, and requires tough people who are willing to resist all the retortion of  the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. It might be wise to rotate people so that they are not burnt by the job, and in the end it might also take a while to get some result. But what are the other options when there is no clear path? The only way is really to experiment off the beaten track of the company and enter the realm of digital sleepwalking.
  • If the company is already ahead of the game and wants to keep the pace, then this would really be the dream-team, as there is budget, willingness to change and an open mentality to drive changes. So the only danger here is to over-think the transformation and do too much of it. These people would be bringing new ideas to the table almost daily, and some of them might get to project approval, and some of them might succeed, thus keeping the company again one step beyond its digital track. It takes courage to do and view things with a new perspective.
  • If a company is in the middle, meaning that there are some ideas and some digital presence has already started, but they’re not ahead of the game yet, there’s a lot of grey shades here to fill: an experimentation team would still do good, as they would be at least responsible for identifying and trying the new stuff (and the inevitable scapegoats when something goes wrong), plus they can liberally and quickly test new strategies that would take months to scale up the standard complex processes. A small dedicated team can give a company the required flexibility to try and fail, without compromising much, while allowing the successful projects to be then scaled to the whole company.

Have you appointed your digital experimentation team yet? 🙂