Imagine helping a customer find that perfect product in a retail store, and on their way to the cash register, they walk into a glass wall. After apologizing to the customer and helping them navigate around the wall, you would likely take action right away to ensure that other clients avoid the same experience. 


With digital experiences, however, the glass walls are there, but we can’t see them or know which ones cause the most abandonment and frustration. The site failed to load, a preferred payment was incompatible, or a promo code didn’t work at check-out. All of these moments can potentially stop a customer from completing a transaction, or worse, build a negative perception of the brand. Add in record-high inflation stretching people’s wallets thin. Now, addressing those glass walls could be the difference between keeping or losing a customer for life. 


As people become more reliant on digital services than ever, the need for businesses to deliver excellent customer experience (CX) has never been more important. This perfect storm of rapid digitalization, rising expectations, and inflation is shining a light on the need to invest in perfecting customer experience rather than cutting spending.

In our rush to digital, the bar is set high

Before the pandemic lockdown accelerated the adoption of digital commerce platforms, most brands were only generating single or lower double-digit revenue online and could get away with digital inefficiencies. When COVID-19 drove unprecedented numbers of consumers to digital channels, e-commerce activity skyrocketed along with it. With this shift, companies transitioned almost entirely from in-person to digital consumer experience overnight and streamlining CX across channels became an urgent priority. 

Companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Google then came in and raised the bar: fast, free delivery, binge-worthy streaming at your fingertips, and seamless digital transactions. Now, customer experience is the loudest constant drumbeat most companies have to keep pace with, and it’s only getting louder. All it takes is one company with amazing CX for a consumer to realize how much better that experience is. Even companies in entirely different markets-;banks, healthcare, and airlines-;have to compete with its customers’ last great digital experience, often going head-to-head with these digital leaders. 

With digital spending, wallets tighten differently 

The worst time for poor CX is when people are in moments of need. Situations like high inflation make it much easier for them to decide that added costs are no longer worth it. Imagine how you would react after getting a flat tire on your new car and the one-touch call for 24-hour service on your insurance roadside assistance app is unresponsive. Now, add in the pressure of inflation, and you may start questioning the value of that service, especially if you pay for it. These days, customers demand excellent digital experiences, and those without this high quality CX are going to be the costs that are cut. 


Inflationary pressure leaves companies with even less room for mistakes. As consumer spending tightens, prices will be more important than ever. But even when a company’s product or service is cheaper, few people will stick with a company that offers a frustrating online experience. Shoppers can abandon their carts or give up on a brand entirely for any minor doubt or inconvenience and can turn to millions of other options-;or just run right back to Amazon. It might not be their preferred brand, but it's a place to get reliable simplicity and a low price. 

Greeting invisible pain points with empathy 

The buying journey has always been an integral part of the purchasing experience, but now that journey has largely moved online. In stores, we perfected in-person sales interactions, displaying enough empathy so customers felt good about doing business with us. We knew how to innovate and make the experience better. In the digital world, without someone we can see or a product to touch, it can be harder to express empathy. Yet keeping digital customers requires more empathy than ever. 


A friend told me about how their partner always ran into the same problem trying to make purchases through a home goods website, asking for tech help to finalize every transaction. At first, it resulted in the partner spending less on home goods due to the frustrations. But soon, the inability to make purchases independently became such an inconvenience that my friend actually started to hate the brand. It was a simple tech problem. But unresolved, it was affecting relationships-;not only their partnership but their relationship with the brand.


In the past, brands could make educated assumptions about digital user pain points and how they related to larger issues. Brands could infer what happened when someone hit that glass wall, rather than listening to their unique experience. In today’s digital world, inferring isn’t good enough. It limits our ability to be empathetic and takes away from the potential intimacy we can build in our consumer relationships. The more we can understand our customers, the more opportunities we have to right wrongs before they impact brand loyalty, while surprising and delighting them in their moments of frustration. 

Building a customer-centric future

Efficiently collecting, analyzing, and drawing out actionable feedback is more than just an advantage in today’s business environment-;it’s a necessity. But rather than spending hours tracking every single customer journey from browsing to sale, we need to understand the user experience within a few seconds. Companies that wait four weeks to understand the problem will be four weeks too late. Expressing digital empathy and identifying invisible pain points requires real-time understanding of each customer journey to produce actionable insights that remove friction points and constantly redesign and improve their user experience. 


We already know a lot of ways people can get frustrated over digital experiences. Now, we need to focus on driving outcomes from them. Real-time data to translate the empathy of a face-to-face customer experience to digital is valuable and urgent, but with Google set to phase out tracking by third-party cookies, collecting it and turning it into actionable solutions will not be easy. Inflation may be tightening people’s purse strings, but to survive it, companies should invest in finding and resolving customer pain points and improving the speed at which their teams deliver delightful digital experiences.