Many companies had already embarked on some form of digital transformation prior to the pandemic. How did this set them up for success during the pandemic, particularly in comparison to those that had not started a digital journey?
Nobody could have seen the pandemic coming or predicted its widespread impact, but companies that had already started on digital transformation were much more prepared to weather the storm. Their digital capabilities made it easier for them to pivot quickly to better serve customers and adapt to changing needs. When stores were closed or very limited in what they could do in person, digital leaders already had the framework in place to deliver strong experiences virtually. That’s not to say that companies on a digital transformation didn’t have their challenges, but on the whole, they were much better prepared to quickly adapt, stay connected with customers and pivot how they deliver their experiences.
One of the best examples was US-based retailer Target, which has been a digital leader for years. Through its digital transformation, Target had built out its online ordering and kerb-side pickup capabilities to provide customers with multiple shopping options. When the pandemic hit and most stores were scrambling to figure out kerbside pickup, Target already had a smooth process in place and simply had to add a few more designated pickup spaces to meet increased demand. Target’s digital approach to the supply chain also allowed it to introduce grocery pickup before it was originally planned and capitalise on the huge bump in online grocery ordering. Largely due to its digital transformation, Target was able to achieve significant growth through the pandemic and increase its stock price by more than 50 per cent from late 2019 to 2021.
Which key technologies have been most effective at keeping businesses operational during the pandemic, and why?
A mobile app with self-service solutions is one of the most important pieces of a modern customer experience. An app puts the brand right in customers’ hands and allows stores to provide up-to-date information about safety precautions and inventory. During the pandemic, stores need to relay changing information to customers, and apps meet customers where they already are. The best apps expand the experience for both online, in-person and hybrid shopping as they show customers what items can be shipped, delivered and picked up. Walmart recently unveiled a new store design that makes smartphones a pivotal part of the experience. Customers can find products in the app and receive step-by-step directions to where those items are in store or simply purchase them through the app. It’s that ability to pivot and adapt quickly that makes apps so powerful.
Along with apps are self-service solutions delivered through portals and bots that put customers in control of their experience. With so many changes during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic world, customers want to have control over their experience and stay up to date. Self-service solutions allowed customers to stay connected to companies during the pandemic and take care of their own issues and questions on their own time instead of having to track when contact centres were open and available.
What should be the top priorities for organisations as they continue to navigate the pandemic and build a resilient and agile business model for the “new normal”?
Staying connected with customers is more vital than ever before. How customers live and what they expect from brands has forever changed because of the pandemic, so companies can’t just continue with how they have done things in the past and expect them to work in the future. Successful companies are in tune with customers and have a strong understanding of who they are, what they want and how to deliver it to them. They use that information to create effective digital tools and adjust them in real time to match the rapidly changing market trends.
Organisations also need to prioritise their internal digital transformations by ensuring their employees have the right tools to meet customer demands. Building a customer-facing app or website is not effective if the internal systems are still siloed and complicated. In many cases, internal digital transformation means showing leaders and employees the reasons behind the need to change and evolve. Most companies report that it is cultural challenges – not technological ones – that are their biggest barrier to digital progress. An internal digital transformation sets the stage for a strong external digital transformation and gets all employees onboard with the tools they need to provide an agile, digital-first customer experience.
How has the pandemic changed the types of experiences customers expect and how can companies use digital technologies to successfully deliver them?
Before the pandemic, people would never have considered doing things virtually like meeting with their doctor, joining a happy hour or participating in a fitness class. However, now they’ve seen the convenience and possibilities of virtual experiences, they don’t want to go back. Virtual experiences will become permanent parts of the modern shopping experience for everything from big purchases like cars to everyday items like groceries. They allow customers to take more control over their experience and increase accessibility and convenience. Going forward, brands will still deliver in-person experiences, but virtual or digital experiences will also be an option to create a hybrid approach.
The key to a strong virtual experience is convenient digital tools. Companies need to build out their digital tools so that they are easy and intuitive to use for both employees and customers. Instead of having to walk through multiple steps with numerous links and logins, customers should be able to easily use an app or click a single link to access a digital experience. And those virtual experiences should be just as good (or better) than the in-person experience.
One example of this is Carvana, which was selling cars online long before the pandemic. It takes one click for customers to access the digital experience and walk through every inch of a car virtually like they are there in person. This isn’t just someone filming a short video of each car, it’s a detailed digital system that allows customers to move through every detail of the car on their own. That’s the quality of virtual experience that is possible and expected by customers in our post-Covid world.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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