The Future is 'Phygital': What Customer Experience Experts Need to Know

Here's how CX teams can adapt to consumer demand for a hybrid physical and digital experience.

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By Simon Glass

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Our customers' world has changed. In just a few years, digital experiences went from being in the minority to the majority, nearly tripling since 2018, according to a McKinsey survey. Home became work, and going out meant ordering in. In the same study, it was estimated that growth in digital products and services jumped ahead by an average of seven years in 2020.

Market analysts predict that we will never go back to pre-pandemic buying behavior, and that the future will be more "phygital" — that is, physical and digital touchpoints that all connect and help organizations make more informed decisions that align better with customer needs. Think physical stores with sales reps who already know customers' preferences from their online profile, or a mobile app that notifies customers of exclusive in-store events and offers discounts for in-store purchases.

But leading organizations should think about this beyond those marketing aspects. Consider market research. There's a need to use customer data and digital surveys, but there's also need to listen to in-depth feedback. That in-depth feedback could be from an in-person, live conversation, a virtual live conversation or a self-captured recording of a customer's experience. That's "phygital" customer research.

Related: Businesses To See Tectonic Shifts As the World Embraces Phygital

As businesses become more inventive in creating new experiences through technology, customer demands for excellence in this new environment have only heightened. They expect to be seen, understood and expect their experiences to be more personalized than ever.

To deliver against these expectations, customer experience (CX) and customer centricity needs to be the focus. CX is becoming a key differentiator for businesses that have excelled over the past few years. In the second half of 2020, more than two-thirds of companies that led in CX outpaced others in their industries, according to Adobe's 2021 Digital Trends Report.

Yet CX practitioners are finding it even more difficult to build a customer-centric culture, a key factor in creating outstanding customer experiences that keep pace with industry demands. Why are companies struggling to make customer centricity a reality? The one insight that leading organizations know and all have in common is that they understand that customers need to be treated as people.

Related: Companies Need To Go 'Phygital': Arundhati Bhattacharya

Treating customers as people is easier said than done, so let's explore how entire organizations can move away from outdated CX approaches to understand people's experiences and connect with them better.

1. To see customers as people, talk to them

None of the hard work of shifting an entire business to customer centricity can be done without speaking directly to people. The only way to understand why they make the decisions that they do, their preferences and their sentiments is to hold in-depth conversations. With the right online research tools, this can be done quickly and at scale. Whether the goal is more human centered design, better user experience or messaging that resonates, a deep understanding of people's perspectives is critical and possible to do at scale, thanks to research tools designed to streamline the process.

2. Focus on the right objectives, with the right CX tools

Prior to the pandemic, the executive mindset was to use technology like CRMs to automate customer interactions and cut costs. With rapidly shifting customer behavior, those CX technologies have become less relevant to current market conditions, as they can only tell you the "what" of people's behavior. Today, multiple departments across an organization use qualitative insights platforms to conduct hundreds to thousands of in-depth customer conversations quickly, understanding not only "what" people are doing, but also "why" they are taking certain actions and what's impressing them — or what needs to change.

3. Make customer centricity the fabric of your company, not a one-off project

While the right technology for conducting qualitative research is necessary, having the tools without a strategy rarely delivers strong results. Creating a framework and process for a customer closeness project effectively brings people's voices to life across the entire organization, democratizing insights and empathy. Today's leading customer-centric organizations are shifting to a new model of having more of their product, CX, UX, marketing and insights teams directly connect with target audiences. By launching a program for customer closeness, your business is effectively creating a blueprint for a long-term, custom-centric culture.

Related: Customer Experience Will Determine the Success of Your Company

A business's ability to humanize the customer is arguably the key difference between companies that will succeed in delivering strong customer experiences and those that will fail. And now that teams across the business can hold in-depth customer conversations quickly and efficiently with new CX tools, there is no reason why entire organizations can't turn people's experience into insights.

CX strategy has come a long way, from a "nice to have" to a priority built on understanding and empathy for people. As such, organizations must develop strategies built on the ability to see, hear and understand people, both holding interactions with individuals and leveraging the insights to come from them at scale. To do this in the midst of a shift towards phygital, leadership must ask: Have I equipped my teams with the tools they need to prepare for the future of CX?

Simon Glass

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CEO and Board Member at

Simon Glass is the CEO of, the go-to purpose-built qualitative-research platform for CX, UX and insights teams, helping enterprise-level brands and agencies make strong connections with their key audiences.

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