This post originally appeared in USA Today.

SAN FRANCISCO — Even with the advent of the smartphone as a “first screen,” companies are still unable to see past mobile as simply another marketing channel or the latest bright, shiny object, based on new research from Altimeter Group.

This leads to low budgets and staff allocation in support of mobile initiatives, as well as treating mobile as only part of the customer journey, not a self-contained experience in and of itself.

Mobile CX Cross ChannelSophisticated companies are only beginning to explore a more intuitive and native mobile-only approach as they evolve existing cross-channel and omni-channel strategies to fit with rising consumer expectations and increasingly mobile lifestyles.

In our report, “The Inevitability of a Mobile-Only Customer Experience,” my colleague Brian Solis and I explore how organizations can reach both mobile- and digital-first customers by focusing first on learning more about their frustrations, desires and behaviors specific to mobile.

We found strategists must use these insights to re-imagine the mobile-first customer journey as it could be, in order to move past treating mobile as a “bolt on” to existing digital initiatives.

Consumers are quickly learning to operate in a mobile-only world, with one-third of shoppers using mobile exclusively, and more than half considering mobile the most important resource in the purchase decision process.

Yet many brands force customers to shift between devices and hop channels when moving along the path to purchase. Some 90% of consumers move between devices to accomplish a goal, using an average of three different screen combinations each day .

This is caused by different groups managing disparate touchpoints internally, each with its own process, resources and metrics. Additionally, we found mobile customer experience investments are currently made around the context of engagement (where and when it will be used), requiring users to focus on specific device or app functionality to complete a task. When they require something outside of that unique scenario, they’re forced to turn to another screen or device to convert.

The result is an inconsistent customer experience at best and a lost customer to a competitor who gets it, at worst.

Leading organizations are those that focus on building mobile experiences that are both self-contained (beginning of journey to end) and also complementary to the digital customer journey at large. We spoke with more than 20 mobile strategists and executives from companies that included MasterCard, Zappos, Intuit and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, uncovering that mobile success lies in developing mobile and digital strategies individually, while also bringing them together to deliver a unified customer experience.

Once brands truly understand the digital customer experience and mobile’s role within it, they can begin to design for the experience customers want rather than solely what technology permits. This creates an entire shift in whom companies design for, what problems can be solved, and what results can be reached — including increased customer acquisition, retention, efficiency and more.

The key lies in looking deeper into customer insights, letting data analysis and predictive experience mapping take center stage. Customer behavior is the secret weapon to creating truly innovative mobile experiences that keep customers on-screen, on-device, onto conversion.

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