I attended a software-related conference recently; I’m not going to say which one as this is about something I observed at the conference, not about the conference itself. Being a software conference, the conference organizers did a lot of the expected digital stuff: registration, reminder emails and conference check-in. Up to the end of the registration process, everything I did with respect to the conference was handled electronically. The first time I went analog was after I picked up my geek badge (conference credentials) from the printer and went over to a human who handed me my badge holder, backpack and requisite stack of sponsor advertisements.

I dutifully loaded the conference app and proceeded to manage my interaction with the event (session schedule, location of special events and so on) through the app. When attending conference keynotes and sessions of interest, I carried my smartphone and tablet, nothing more, and that’s when it got interesting.

One of the things the conference gave me during registration was a pen. I’m a digital guy; I didn’t have any reason to use a pen, so I dropped it on the desk in my hotel room and carried on. As I approached any conference session, the gatekeeper outside the session would try to hand me an evaluation form. Yes, a paper evaluation form. This is what started me thinking about what happens when you only do digital half-way.

Being digital is like jumping out of an airplane: Once you’re out that door, there’s no getting back in the plane.

In this case, the conference had an app, so I expected to do session evaluations in the app. At each session, I politely informed the gatekeeper that I didn’t have a pen, so I couldn’t do the evaluation. They got to know me and eventually started letting me know they’d have a pen for me the next time, but never seemed to come up with one.

What did they lose by not going digital all the way? Not much, just my evaluation of the event and each session I attended. I’m certain enough people carried pens that they were able to get enough insights to provide accurate feedback and guide planning for next year’s conference. However, they spent a lot of money paying people to distribute the evaluation forms and wasted a lot of paper in the process.

In Forrester’s research, we focus our efforts on helping businesses win, serve and retain customers. For the research team I belong to, our research focuses on the Mobile Mind Shift and the tools and processes that help companies enable that shift for their customers. Once you enable your customers to make that shift, there’s no going back – they can’t fly back into the plane. Your relationship gains efficiencies that customers would find unacceptable to lose. In my experience, as soon as it becomes easy to do business with you, when you suddenly make it hard, by reverting to an analog process for example, the relationship…sours.

Recognizing that you may not be able to complete your digital transformation in one fell swoop, you have to be careful that there aren’t too many transitions from digital to analog then back again. I imagine there will be less revolt if the transition is smooth enough and customers can see your progress. Delivering a partially digital experience that takes your customer in and out of the analog space will increase abandonment. For me, a disjointed process tells me you haven’t thought through what you’re trying to do. Going digital as far as you can then switching completely to analog isn’t what people want, but at least the path is clearer and customers that like you will give you credit for the effort.