You can’t pretend to be digital

woman in disguise holding calculatorLet me tell you about a “digital” experience I recently had with a well-known UK high street brand. I will not name the company in question but it is principally known as a chemist that also has, amongst other things, a large chain of opticians as part of its brand.

My “digital” experience was provided by the opticians part of the business and started with a letter (that’s right, a letter and not an email even though the company has my e-mail address as part of the information it requested when I created an online account) reminding me that my bi-annual eye check was due. The letter also informed me that I could arrange my appointment in one of three ways: visit my local branch, call the customer contact centre or visit the company’s website. Always keen to test out the digital offerings of companies I opted for the online method.

Now, when a company offers the option of booking an appointment online I expect to be offered a calendar showing me the days on which I can book an appointment and which time slots are available. Not an unreasonable expectation in 2015 and one that is usually met by organisations large and small in both the public and private sector. And something even my local doctors’ surgery is now offering. But alas this household name – the largest player in most of its markets – did not offer such a facility. Instead I had to enter a first choice date followed by a second choice date in case the first was not available. And for each date I was asked to select a two-hour time window in which I could attend an appointment. After submitting the form I then had to wait 24 hours for an email to tell me when my appointment would be (assuming there was one available).

There is a problem with this service: in the digital age consumers have become used to instant action – being able to self-serve and not having to wait for a response. Clearly in this case the branch booking system is not integrated with the website (let alone an app) and so the company cannot offer real-time booking of appointments. Advertising an online facility raises the customer’s expectations; they expect the same level of service as they get from other digital experiences. So even if your competitors have no online offering you are still failing to meet the customer’s expectations if your digital experience does not compare well with the other companies they deal with online. And that will not reflect well on your brand.

The company in my example is offering an online version that is actually less immediate when compared to calling its contact centre. So what is the point? Perhaps it wants to convey the image of being up-to-date, of being a digital business. Perhaps a competitor is offering online booking of appointments and so it felt it had to act even though its systems were not capable or providing a full service. But the end result is arguably a poorer customer experience than not offering the service at all.

There is a lesson here for any company that feels that it needs to create the impression of being digital even though its systems cannot support that digital illusion: don’t do it. Digital customers are far more aware of their experience and are more demanding as a result. They compare experiences across industries and markets. If you are pretending to be digital then you will very quickly be found out by your customers. And this will damage your brand. Digital customers can switch suppliers very quickly – in the time it takes to install a new app – and, if you fail to meet their expectations, they will not think twice before switching to an alternative provider that can give them the digital experience they want.

But my “digital” experience did not end there. The two dates I gave for the appointment were 30 January and 13 February. The day after submitting these dates an email arrived confirming an appointment had been booked for 30 February! So I had to call the contact centre anyway. According to the person I spoke to it was not the first time the (manually produced) confirmation email had contained an incorrect date. There is a lesson here for any organisation that is tempted to use a human being as the interface between two systems as part of a digital service: don’t do it. Digital experiences have to be seamless and automated with customers dictating when they interact and the speed of their interaction. And the results of these interactions have to be predictable and correct. If they are not the customer’s confidence in your brand will be damaged and they will take their business elsewhere.

The need to transform into a digital business is becoming urgent. Every industry and every business will be impacted by digital. It is not a question of if but when. But as I explained in my last article, There are no shortcuts in digital, transforming into a digital business is not easy and nor is it something that can be done quickly. Organisations that pretend to be digital or that take shortcuts to give the impression of being digital will be found out. They they will damage their brand and lose customers in the process. And they may not get the chance to transform into a genuine digital business.

If your organisation wants to develop a vision and strategy for its digital transformation, or if it wants to transform its IT capability to support a digital transformation then please contact me or visit my website, axin.co.uk.

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  1. […] You can’t pretend to be digital I wrote about the opticians service of a well-known UK high street brand that was trying to give […]

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