I read with great interest Tim Wu’s article published in The New York Times about the “touchless economy”. The article focuses a lot on how to “defend” that part of the economic activities that they were able to continue to play an active role during the lockdown. Practically all those activities that continued anyway without the need for physical contact between the actors of the specific transactions.

Tim then makes an important distinction with regard to “supply lines”. And that is to say those Customer Journey (seen by the customer), or “supply lines” (seen by the company), which unite in the final mile the customer from the product. Think FedEx, UPS, or here in Switzerland SwissPost. Basically, as Tim suggestively described, “the people who translate clicks into economic consequence”.

The picture described is very interesting and fascinating, clearly, the article continues with a more sociological slant on the “digital divide”, but at this point, I wondered how all this has an impact on the concept of Customer Experience. Especially customer experience management.

Clearly, if we think how in the last ten years the push for digitization has changed the client’s experience, we can of course assess how digital transformation has become something, I wouldn’t say a priority, but really essential. During and after the pandemic period, the lockdown, the reopening, and the new normal, who will be able to offer their customers seamless Phygital experiences – the combination of digital and physical – will certainly build a solid foundation to be consumer-relevant in the future post-pandemic.

But what does Phygital mean, and what does managing these experiences mean? Let’s start with Phygital: Last night, and I’m not kidding, I was sitting comfortably on the couch in my living room. As a good digital freak, I used to watch Netflix on television, and at the same time I used to browse the iPad, a burp habit, they call it “dual screening”. At a certain point, I told myself I had to buy a pair of sneakers, and I connected to Zalando. Nothing special, I could connect to many other sites, and many other people in the world, at that time have definitely closed online transactions. My point is different, I chose Zalando because their Phygital experience right now is perfect for me: simple and fully satisfies my needs: digital and physical needs. Surely you are thinking about Zalando’s digital experience, which is certainly excellent, but my choice is dictated above all by the Phygital component: how the “supply lines” works in the backend, and how I, as a customer, experience the Phygital journey. Let me elaborate on that concept.

Do you think that the experience of an online purchase is a purely digital experience orchestrated by a Digital Customer Experience? No, absolutely, let’s think about the experience from the point of view of its episodes, as Bain & Co suggests. I see at least these episodes:

  • The choice of article
  • The purchase
  • Receipt of goods
  • The return of that part of the articles that I don’t like
  • The payment
  • Any refund

They are at least six episodes if we consider the whole as Bain & Co’s methodology teaches us. Well, if we consider them as a whole they are both physical and digital parts. What drives me to Zalando?

Certainly the digital experience in the choice of items, the clarity of information at the time of payment, the fact that I can simply order with an invoice (without having my credit card involved), the experience in receiving the goods (excellent email alerts, both from Zalando and Swiss Post) but where it all becomes an excellent experience Phygital is in returning the goods and asking for a refund. In these two precise episodes, the experience becomes something perfectly orchestrated along a Phygital journey. The encounter between physical and digital becomes a perfect combination, without interruption. A mix of simplicity and maximum efficiency. An experience that always makes me order back on Zalando.

This well-orchestrated and perfect Phygital experience from my point of view makes me think mainly of two things:

  1. In the new normal after the pandemic, those who can offer a Phygital Touchless experience will gain a competitive advantage.
  2. The concept of customer loyalty will move onto a completely different battlefield from what we were used to, the winner will be those who can offer perceived easy, and perceived useful Phygital experiences.

The pandemic has indeed accelerated digitization, but going through a digital transformation process without considering the Customer Experience and in particular, the Phygital experience is unthinkable.

“You got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you are going to try to sell it.” (Steve Jobs, 1997)

The Touchless Customer Experience
Federico Cesconi

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