In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: Businesses had better get on the ball when it comes to their digital transformation initiatives. As they do so, it’s critical that they unify and improve the customer experience across physical and digital channels.
Although the term is somewhat nebulous, digital transformation generally refers to the progress businesses are making toward digitizing everything they do — from customer communications to supply chains to employee training and more. It encompasses a wide array of technology and business initiatives, such as cloud computing, modernization and the adoption of digital platforms. Everything that was once manual or paper-based can be digitized and therefore transformed with technology into something more cost-effective and efficient, and more aligned with customers’ evolving expectations.
This last piece is important: According to a report from TEKsystems, 72% of organizations are focused on improving customer experience through their digital transformation efforts.
Most business leaders see digital transformation as a way of sparking innovation and increasing efficiencies. However, COVID-19 has taken that viewpoint to a new level, laying bare the hazards of failing to digitally transform. After all, without cloud-based access to business data and information, we could not have maintained any business continuity at all during the quarantine. We could not have held video conferences with colleagues to keep programs and initiatives moving forward while sheltering in place. We could not have continued to interact with partners and affiliates, or engaged with customers effectively to keep our businesses up and running.
COVID-19 has lifted the veil and allowed us to recognize that many of the outdated, inefficient business processes must be digitized sooner rather than later. But for new digital offerings to succeed, we can’t treat them as separate business functions; they are now an integrated aspect of the overall customer journey.
Digital Services Proliferate as We Shelter in Place
Digital transformation went into hyperdrive during the pandemic. Many businesses created self-service hubs and ecommerce websites where none existed — and they did it in a matter of weeks. They also focused on enabling remote experiences that are highly personalized, with a strong emphasis on the omnichannel experience.
An example of how this is playing out is curbside pickup. This option used to be limited to large retailers like Target and Walmart, but now lots of retailers offer it — big and small. For example, you can order products from many smaller grocery chains online, receive a text when your order is ready. You don’t even have to go inside; they bring it out to you. Automotive dealerships are offering digital sales now, as well, to keep inventory moving off the lot. This is a huge departure from the traditional model, which centered around heavy involvement from a living, breathing car salesman.
Another obvious example is telehealth. In an effort to slow the spread, protect healthcare workers and diagnose a greater number of potential COVID-19 patients quickly, health systems have been pushing virtual visits more aggressively. Historically, telehealth was seen as a “loss leader”; today it’s becoming a widely-used, often-preferred healthcare service. In fact, virtual healthcare interactions surged by 50% in March, 2020 alone, and Forrester predicts the number will reach 1 billion by the end of the year.
Once consumers become accustomed to the convenience and ease of connecting with businesses virtually, they may not be as inclined to return to the way things were. Virtual interactions will increasingly become part of a brand’s overall customer experience and reputation management strategy. A review about a telehealth visit or a teleconference with an auto dealer carries the same weight as a review about an interaction in the showroom, and will have the same impact — positive or negative — on the brand’s ability to attract and convert new business.
Live Events Go Virtual
Events are a huge moneymaker for organizations, and usually a significant marketing expense. In fact, 84% of senior leadership believes in-person events are a critical component of a company’s success, and the most successful businesses spend nearly twice the average marketing budget on live events. But COVID-19 forced companies to cancel planned live events — or make them virtual. Reputation.com is one of them. Other examples include Adobe Summit and SAP Concur Fusion.
Virtual events aren’t new — I don’t know a marketer whose team doesn’t host webinars. And 73% of B2B marketers say webinars are the best way to generate high-quality leads. Even though virtual events were identified as a trend before 2020, most marketing teams haven’t hosted large-scale virtual events until now.
Although the jury’s still out as to whether virtual events will generate as many leads as in-person, live events, they’re certainly more cost-effective. Virtual events eliminate travel costs and venue fees, including food and beverage costs, while enabling people who wouldn’t necessarily have traveled to an event to attend from the comfort of their home or office. In fact, virtual events may draw MORE attendees than live ones, expanding an organization’s reach and providing more opportunities to attract and generate business.
With the money saved on planning and executing a live event, an organization could hold multiple virtual events aimed at audience subsegments, and tailor the content to fit their specific needs. This level of personalization will improve the experience with the event, but it has to be done right, and that — like most marketing activities — requires careful attention to feedback.
We Can’t Unsee This
COVID-19 has highlighted with a fat yellow marker the importance of accelerating digital initiatives and allocating resources to them — not as an afterthought, but as a business imperative. And with new digital alternatives to standard business practices and offerings, it’s even more critical to keep a pulse on customer sentiment.
Whether a customer purchases a product with advice from a chat bot or a member of your frontline staff in-store, the quality of the experience will impact your brand image and reputation. As businesses continue to digitally transform, they must look for ways to collect and analyze omnichannel feedback, and implement meaningful changes to improve CX across both physical and digital touchpoints along every step of the customer journey.