In 2020, it became clear to many companies that they must accelerate the shift to digital channels.
The economy has been moving towards digital for several decades, so this need is nothing new.
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However, as we move into the 2020s, the digitization of the economy accelerate dramatically. Those companies that can keep up will stand a much better chance of remaining profitable and competitive – and those that cannot will fall behind.
Below, we’ll explore how customer needs are fueling the digital economy and why it is so important to accelerate the shift to digital channels in 2021 and beyond.
Why Companies Must Accelerate the Shift to Digital Channels in 2021
Digital transformation has been fueling changes in customer expectations for years.
As new technologies emerge, brands can create new customer experiences, new products, and new forms of value. When that happens, customer expectations increase and the bar is set higher for brands across the board.
The introduction of mobile phones, for instance, increased the demand for responsive websites, mobile apps, mobile-friendly shopping, and more.
As a consequence, customers have come to expect digital experiences, products, services, and communications.
In the years ahead, digital channels will continue to evolve, which will, in turn, fuel the evolution of customer expectations.
Companies that can use digital channels to improve the customer experience will reap a number of rewards, such as:
- Increased customer loyalty and value
- Lower overhead
- Greater organizational flexibility, agility, and resilience
Ultimately, companies that can keep up with the digital curve will become more profitable and competitive. Today, digital maturity is crucial, but in the years ahead, it will become even more imperative.
Next, we’ll look at a few ways companies can adapt and make the change to digital channels.
How to Make the Shift to Digital Channels
Here are a few areas to focus on when investing in digital-first customer experiences:
Reevaluate customers’ needs and expectations
The digital economy is evolving rapidly, as mentioned above, which carries several implications for businesses:
- Digital technology is becoming more central to the customer journey
- To stay competitive, companies must engage their customers digitally
- Since customer expectations are continually evolving, companies must continually rethink their rules of engagement
As we saw during 2020, large-scale disruptions can occur overnight and radically alter customer expectations, the economy, and business models.
Accenture, for instance, expects COVID-19 to usher in a “decade of the home.”
Among other things, one of their surveys found significant increases in:
- The use of virtual technology to connect with friends and family
- Trying new recipes or cooking methods
- Learning new skills or completing education online
- The number of people who started a new hobby or resumed a prior hobby
To stay adaptable and resilient in the face of such disruptions, it is important to:
- Understand that digital is now the “default” when it comes to customer communications, experiences, and interactions
- Gain insights into customer needs and behavior with data and analytics
- Use that information to inform and make changes to customer engagement models
The more agile the approach to customer engagement, the easier it will be to meet and adapt to customers’ changing expectations.
However, in order to enable such agility, employee skills are a must.
Digitize the workplace and the workforce
Developing digital-first customer experiences depends on having a modern, digital-first workplace.
When moving to digital channels, businesses must also:
- Adopt new digital tools
- Train employees on how to use those tools
- Build new competencies to enable workforce agility
- Redesign workflows around new customer engagement models
Changes such as these may result in significant changes to the work environment and employees’ roles.
Another survey from Accenture, for instance, has also predicted that stores will change significantly in the next few years.
By 2025 they expect:
- 30% fewer traditional stores/branches
- 70% fewer tellers/transactional employee roles
- 50% employees in new relationship roles
- 30% less floor space
These types of changes will go hand-in-hand with a shift to digital channels and they will require that companies take the steps mentioned above, such as upskilling the workforce and redesigning the workplace.
Assess, Pivot, and Reimagine
Above, we looked at the both the front and the back end of the digital-first customer experience.
On the one hand, shifting to digital channels requires rethinking customer engagement models, customer experiences, and customer journeys.
On the other, it requires enabling the workforce, redesigning workflows, and building new workplaces.
To put these pieces together, though, it is necessary to:
- Assess the current state of the customer experience and the organization’s current capabilities
- Develop a strategy and a plan for accelerating the shift to digital channels, both on the front end and the back end
- Implementing the digital transition and refining the program as needed
Naturally, organizational transformations take time and energy, and they are not always successful.
However, with proper planning and execution, it will be possible to outpace marketplace changes, make the transition to digital channels, and even stay ahead of the competition.