Purpose: This article explores innovations in customer experience at the intersection of the digital, physical, and social realms. It explicitly considers experiences involving new technology-enabled services, such as digital twins and automated social presence (i.e., virtual assistants, service robots). The challenges and opportunities facing service organizations are significant and substantial because customer experiences arise at the intersection of the digital, physical, and social realms for each customer.
Design: This paper reviews what we know, and don’t yet know, about customer experience, with a focus on connections among the digital, physical, and social realms. We view the customer experience as encompassing customers’ cognitive, emotional, social, sensory and value responses to the organization’s offerings over time, including pre- and post-consumption (Kranzbühler et al., 2017; Lemon and Verhoef, 2016; Voorhees et al., 2017). We bring together recent research concerning value co-creation and interactive services, digital and social media (augmented and virtual reality), multi-channel marketing (e.g., store beacons), service operations (e.g., leveraging AI in business processes), and technology (e.g., the Internet of Things). In doing so, our paper addresses managerial questions such as:
• How do digital, physical and social elements interact to form the customer experience?
• How might organizations integrate digital, physical and social realms to create consistently superior customer experiences in the future?
• How do customer experiences at the intersection of digital, physical and social realms influence outcomes for individuals, service providers and society?
• What are the opportunities, challenges and emerging issues in the digital, physical and social realms for organizations managing the customer experience?Future customer experiences are conceptualized within a three dimensional space −low to high, low to high physical complexity, and low to high social presence − yielding eight octants.
Findings: Our paper offers a conceptual framework for analyzing the formation of customer experiences that incorporates the digital, physical, and social realms and explicitly considers new technology-enabled services. Customer experiences are conceptualized within a three dimensional space − low to high digital density, low to high physical complexity and low to high social presence − yielding eight octants. This framework leads to a discussion of specific opportunities and challenges connected with transitioning from low to high digital density and from low to high social presence environments for both B2B and B2C services. It also reveals eight “dualities” – opposing strategic options – that organizations face in co-creating customer experiences in each of the eight octants of the framework. We review relevant conceptual work about the antecedents and consequences of customer experiences that can guide managers in designing and managing customer experiences. Moreover, we identify possible future conditions that can significantly impact customer experiences identifying heretofore unanswered questions about customer experiences at the intersection of the digital, physical, and social realms, thereby outlining a research agenda.
Research Implications: A review of theory demonstrates that little research has been conducted at the intersection of the digital, physical and social realms. Most studies focus on one realm, with occasional reference to another. This article suggests an agenda for future research and gives examples of fruitful ways to study connections among the three realms rather than in a single realm.
Practical Implications: This paper provides guidance for managers in designing and managing customer experiences that we believe will need to be addressed by the year 2050.
Social Implications: This paper discusses important societal issues, such as individual and societal needs for privacy, security, and transparency. It sets out potential avenues for service innovation in these areas.