Last year, customer experience professionals had big plans for major digital design projects like redesigning websites and transforming mobile experiences.

But will the momentum continue into 2013? You bet.

In fact, 44 of 48 professionals on Forrester’s Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel plan to take on major digital design projects throughout 2013, with website redesigns (71%), mobile site and application initiatives (52% and 44%, respectively) and improving the functionality of social sites and communities (35%) among the most common.

What’s more is that an additional two-thirds of firms plan smaller projects; making incremental improvements to existing experiences.

In 2012, budgets for major digital customer experience initiatives trended away from the extremes, but in 2013, Forrester has found that project budgets are all over the map. For example, website redesign budgets varied the most, ranging from less than $10,000 in some cases to $5 million or more in others. Although the basic components are the same, those budgets also get allotted differently depending on the project.

It’s no secret that understanding your customer is critical when creating new experiences.

Firms tend to allocate a higher percentage of app project budgets towards technology needs, for instance, and invest comparatively more in customer insights when it comes to tablet projects. Why? Customer research is particularly critical as companies learn about their customers’ use of the newest digital form factor. To ensure that customer experience projects run smoothly and deliver real value, customer experience professionals must:

Craft a research plan that applies the right techniques to the right problems

It’s no secret that understanding your customer is critical when creating new experiences. There are two categories or techniques that should be used on the front end of the project to make sure that the design you chose is the right one: exploratory and evolutionary.

Exploratory methods uncover behaviors, emotions, and desires that can seed new concepts, while evolutionary methods help define or validate an existing concept. Firms looking to design more progressive digital experiences should first focus on exploratory research to help identify the behaviors, needs, and goals of their customers, and then follow up with evolutionary research to refine initial prototypes and concepts.

Make the business case for digital experience projects

Bottom line: Happier, more loyal customers boost profit. But customer experience professionals often struggle to quantify the return on investment of digital experience projects. To help, Forrester has identified a six-step process that lets even financial novices model the ROI of their customer experience projects.

  1. Document the improvements you want to make
  2. Define how you expect those improvements to change customer behavior
  3. Assign a financial value to each behavior
  4. Estimate best- and worst-case scenarios for how far the needle will move
  5. Estimate the total cost of the project
  6. Plug the data into a spreadsheet and run what-if scenarios to arrive at a realistic range of potential ROI
Minimize issues with user experience and internal training.

Redesigns require users to learn a whole new site experience when interacting with your brand. Fortunately, there are best practices that reduce the frustration and anxiety that users can feel as a result. One best practice: preview the design with a relevant user base by sharing the beta version—and include a feedback mechanism so that users can report flaws and, just as importantly, feel heard and valued. For the larger customer base, make sure to effectively message about what’s coming and how it will help customers accomplish their goals. Finally, prepare call centers for a spike in traffic; real-world data points to as a much as a 300% spike in the first month.

Remember: You need your customers more than they need you. Companies see substantial business benefit when they improve customer experience across touchpoints—and get serious about the way they define, implement, and manage the customer lifecycle. But when brands fail to understand their customer, they face spikes in call center traffic and social media backlash. Customer experience professionals can minimize the pain of launching a new experience or redesign by following Forrester’s best practices, like engaging users during the design process, educating executives on what to expect, and properly orchestrating the research and design phases.

Hear more about CX from Adele Sage and others at Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals West on October 9-10, 2013.

Image of golden droplets courtesy Shutterstock.