Stephen Powers and I wrote this research together. The full report is available to Forrester clients at this link. The research is part of Forrester’s playbook to advise application development and delivery professionals on how to support their organization’s digital customer experience strategies.

Today’s rush to reach customers on their smartphones and tablets is just the beginning of an explosion of software-fueled digital touchpoints. Smartphones, tablets, eReaders, games, smart TV, goggles . . . there’s no end in sight. As Internet-connected devices spread and people adopt them, companies can reach and engage with their customers wherever they are and in new ways not possible through brick-and-mortar stores, television advertising, and catalogs. Each of these digital touchpoints enables continuous relationships between enterprise and customer.

But digital touchpoints cannot be islands. Customers expect a unified, consistent experience across the several touchpoints they use when engaging your firm. The vast majority of companies don’t yet have the design disciplines, technologies, and organizations to support unified digital experiences. Application development and delivery (AD&D) pros can and should help lead the search for the right practices, talents, and technologies to create unified customer experiences.

Key research takeaways:

  • An explosion of customer touchpoints is at hand. Digital customer experience today is defined primarily by websites, with mobile applications on smartphones not far behind, and the future will include as many as 10 additional customer touchpoints. Deciding which channels to incorporate into your strategy is crucial to defining your organization’s future in digital customer experience.
  • A unified experience requires the right people, process, and technology foundations. Customers love their devices but also want consistency across the devices and apps they use. Unified experiences that cross touchpoints demand improved yet common designs, common content assets and application code, and delivery processes tuned for speed and harmonized skills and roles.
  • Investments in unified experience foundations will pay off now. Investments in foundations for unified customer experiences will pay dividends in the short term. Firms typically run dozens of different and uncoordinated web campaigns. Unified experience foundations will drive efficiency into these situations while setting the stage for unified experiences across web, mobile, and other touchpoints in the future.

Specific investments required include digital design services to get up close and personal with customers, technology foundations to engage, manage, and measure, organizational collaboration between marketing, AD&D, and agencies, and talent foundations to manage the special opportunities and issues of digital customer experience. A key gap for most firms is data analysis: They may use web metrics today but will need much more technology and talent to manage the massive volumes of data produced by smartphones and other new channels.

Our basic advice: AD&D pros should adopt a leading role in supporting unified digital experience strategies by sourcing the right technologies, collecting the right data, and developing the right services, talents, and organizations required to provide unified experiences across their enterprise’s chosen channels.