Future of CX

5 basic rules for designing a great digital experience

Colin Shaw
last edited on
June 12, 2023
6-7 mins

Table of contents

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designing digital experience

Digital experiences are a crucial part of your Customer Experience, especially during the pandemic. Some organizations are excelling, while others could use some work. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, we have some essential considerations for designing your digital experience in the form of 5 rules.

On a recent podcast about these 5 rules, I shared a recent digital experience that was definitely on the “could use some work” side of the spectrum. It was Glasses Direct, which is where you order the frames you want with your prescription, and then they send you the glasses. The experience started to trigger some uneasy feelings when they asked me to put a credit card on my forehead and take a picture of it to send to them. They needed the photo since my prescription didn’t have my measurements on it. Ostensibly, they could figure out how to size the glasses based on the credit card’s image between my eyes.

The glasses were not cheap, so I was feeling uneasy about this credit-card directive. Moreover, the glasses were taking a long time; weeks it seemed to me. Meanwhile, while I was waiting, I had no email about my glasses’ progress but at least ten promotional emails from them hoping to sell me something else before I received my first order. (Later, I learned that they did send an email about my order, but I missed it.) To summarize my experience, Glasses Direct was a great idea for a business model, but the digital experience fell short of my expectations.

Since the pandemic, everyone’s doing a lot more of their customer business online, making digital transformation mission-critical these days. I used Glasses Direct for the first time during the pandemic, as I didn’t fancy contracting COVID-19 at the opticians. It is critical to remember that people are still people even when they’re interacting with a computer. These five new rules can help bring your digital experience in focus rather than ending up with a blurry vision.

How to design a digital experience?

  • Design in a digital “nudge.”
  • Analyze how customers really behave.
  • Design your experience to anticipate your customers’ needs.
  • Plan to evoke emotions and measure them.
  • Humanize technology.


Design in a digital “nudge.”

Nobel-prize winning economist Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote a book called “Nudge” a few years back. They suggested that small changes we make in choices shift people in one direction or another. However, you don’t force people in a direction; instead, the way you present the options with subtle clues affects what they choose. So, to take this idea into the digital space, consider how you can influence your customers to behave the way you want them to act with the way you present your online interaction choices.

There are a few different ways to do this. For example, scarcity works to get customers to act fast. If you make an offer, always put a time limit on it. Giving an “expiration date” to the deal makes it scarce, which helps customers prioritize their buying decision. Disney used to do this with their movies. They would bring classic Disney cartoons from the 60s and 70s, like The Jungle Book or Dumbo, “out of the vault” so you could buy them—but only for the next six months. Then, they go back in the vault! Parents felt compelled to snap up these old cartoons for their newborn children, who wouldn’t watch them yet, just so that in a few years, the movies would be in their collection.

Scarcity is just one of the principles of the behavioral sciences you could use. You could also employ the effects of Social Proofing, which uses the reviews and comments to attract attention to your product. You could utilize the impact of Extremeness Aversion, which means that people usually like the middle option. By presenting your desired purchase as the moderate choice between a more expensive and elaborate offer and a pared-down, more affordable one, you can nudge people to do what you want. Also, don’t forget the whole area of first impressions and the aesthetics of your experience. The way your site looks and how the product is featured can also nudge people in the right direction.

The good news is that one of the critical differences between online and physical experiences is that when you’re designing a digital experience, you have more control over it. That also means you have more opportunities for including smart nudging in the design than you do in physical experiences.

Sometimes you might need an outside perspective. For example, Beyond Philosophy does this for clients with their Digital Experience Health Checks. They act as a customer in your digital experience and then give our assessment of what’s working and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not. When they do these digital health checks, they’re surprised how organizations shoot themselves in the foot and don’t put enough thought into how these things play out, leading to rule number two…


Analyze how customers really behave.

One thing I love about the digital space is you can measure everything. You have a better capacity to analyze what people are doing. You can measure where people have come from, where people are going, and even the hotspots on the screen. Having all that data enables you to make predictions.

Also, I like to test the tactics I use in a safe environment. You can test if you use this icon in one position how customers behave and then move it somewhere else and see what happens. Moreover, you can do these types of tests quickly.

Customer Science uses this blend of data, which you get in abundance with a digital experience, to see what people are doing. As you might recall, there’s a significant difference between what customers say and what customers do. The great thing in the digital environment is you can see what they do. You can also make (and test) one of these digital nudges and see the effect.

Amazon uses Customer Science because they have a great deal of data. Moreover, they know a great deal about me. I buy virtually everything on Amazon, from food to books and everything else. They know what I read on my Kindle and when I wake up because I use the Amazon Echo. They even know who’s come to my front door. Some people think it’s Big Brother-ish, and it is, but I think how they use it is ingenious, which leads me to the next rule…


Design your experience to anticipate your customers’ needs.

Given all that data you acquire for rule #2, here, in working with rule #3, you can use it to anticipate what customers will do next. Then, you can design your experience to play into that behavior. You are, in effect, beating customers to the punch and offering them an easier way to do what you want in your experience while at the same time improving the process for them.

For example, time is a significant resource for all of us. To conserve it, we want things to be easy, so we spend the least amount of time (and cognitive resources) on something that we can. If you can make things easier on your customer by understanding how they navigate a website and what needs they have that accompany a purchase, you are more likely to get customers to behave the way you want.

Don’t make your customer anticipate. Figure out what they would want and give it to them. Whatever you do, please don’t make them burn up their precious attention, trying to find the necessary information to make a decision. Make it easy for them to see what they need.

Moreover, you can use that information from Rule #2 to segment customers by behavior, which allows you to get even more specific about what they need for the experience to be easy. If you know that this type of customer usually behaves in a particular way, you can provide the information they need to improve the experience and get them to do what you want. Everyone wins in this scenario.


Plan to evoke emotions and measure them.

Around 18 months ago, I had a podcast about analyzing customers’ facial expressions during experiences. To summarize how the technology works, there is a camera positioned to record customers’ facial expressions during experiences, which you can later analyze to understand how customers feel at the moment. The types of signals that reveal the customer’s emotional state include micro-expressions, like eyebrows raising, lip pursing, or pupil dilation. The advantage is that you get a real-time report on how your experience makes people feel. So, for example, if glasses direct had been recording my face when I read the email about putting the credit card between my eyes, they would have known by my microexpression that I was surprised they asked (by my raised eyebrow) and doubtful that this would work (by my pursed lips). Here's an article on how to grow your podcast network!

In a digital experience, however, you usually can’t see anyone. You can hear somebody yelling at you in a store or see them stamping their feet, but online, not so much. The best way you can determine if someone is unhappy is if they leave the page just before check out or something. Or, maybe they get on the chatbot next, so you have that data to consider. In other words, it isn’t easy with digital experiences to know at the moment how customers feel.

However, that is even more why I think it is vital to get on board with Rule #4. If you make a deliberate plan to evoke a specific emotion—which can be feeling cared for or prepared or surprised and delighted—in your digital experience, then you have a better chance that those moments will have positive feelings rather than negative, even if you can’t record the microexpressions as they occur…yet.


Humanize technology.

The best way to introduce this rule is to give you an example. So, as I mentioned, I buy everything on Amazon, including a chef’s knife recently. Unfortunately, we dropped it on the floor, and the blade broke. I went online and saw there was a manufacturer’s warranty, so I began a chat. It was clear that I was dealing with an automated chatbot, which isn’t bad in itself, but it was noticeable. Then, when I reached a real human, the human asked me the same questions in the chat, which annoyed me.

My advice here is two-fold. First, mind the experience enough that you don’t ask people the same bloody questions twice. Second, it would be best to make that interaction with technology feel more “human” if possible.

(Ps. Engati allows you to stitch conversations together so that the agents always have context about prior conversations with bots and/or other agents, even across multiple chat platforms. This helps you avoid repeating questions that your customer has already answered. Try it out now!)

We know from a former guest on our podcast, Shiri Melumad, assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania that she has data that shows people respond differently on mobile phones than they do on their computers, albeit subtle differences. For example, people are more emotional on their phones because mobiles are more difficult to type into, so people get to the point rather quickly. However, these subtle differences might also be present in how people react when they think they’re talking to another human being versus thinking that they’re talking to a robot. Those differences and reactions would be essential to anticipate and manage in your digital experience.

Humanizing technology also means that you should not make customers feel that you are trying to avoid the human touch. I had that lousy type of avoidance experience with my cable company last week. (What a surprise!) I couldn’t get a human to talk to me. It felt like a nightmare, which is not the digital experience anyone is trying to design for customers.

These five rules will help you build an excellent digital experience. Try putting a digital nudge in the design to take advantage of all the concepts we have discussed in the behavioral sciences, and then see what your customers do. Moreover, use this data about customer behavior to understand what customers want or what they are trying to get and test to see what happens if you change it. Once you know these needs, try and design a digital experience that anticipates customers’ needs to make it easier for them to get what they want when they want it. Doing so will help your plan evoke the emotions you want customers to feel during your digital experience to tie to results that you measure. Finally, consider how your digital interaction comes across to customers and whether the human touch is in all the right places. All of these rules can help govern your digital experience, which, as we all know in 2020, is one of the only places your customers can have an experience at all.

This article was originally published on the Beyond Philosophy blog.

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Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw is recognized by Linkedin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’. He is Founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy who helps organizations unlock growth by discovering customers' hidden, unmet needs that drives value.

Colin has written 7 bestselling books on Customer-driven growth and is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast.

He has also been voted twice as Brand Quarterly readers on one of the 'top 50 Marketing Thought Leaders Over 50' and has been established as one of the top ‘Customer Service Gurus’ in the world by a Global Guru poll.

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