Before COVID-19 reshaped the global economy, many of us took things like physical, in-store shopping experiences for granted. But the truth is that we knew the world was shifting to mobile and digital in 2019, before COVID-19 became a household term. We just didn’t know how fast it was going to change.
When stay-at-home orders were issued across the United States, it became clear that technology was going to become our main source of connection to the outside world, especially for those at a greater risk of contracting the virus, including the elderly and the immunocompromised.
Everyone from digital natives to boomers were faced with two choices: embrace technology or go without.
Even before the pandemic, digital-first was gaining significant traction. The pandemic simply accelerated that process, speeding up digital transformation by years – all in a matter of months. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future, which means we must prepare for a world where we cannot meet or have physical interactions with others – a digital-only world. Sure, it’s a scary thought, but it’s already happened, and it can happen again in the future.
However, for businesses that focused on in-person shopping and experiences, the sudden shift to digital-only made one thing abundantly clear: companies were not designing their products to meet the needs of their now digital customer base.
The Overnight Transition
Unlike tech giants and startups that launched their businesses using the latest cloud technologies, many large enterprises still use outdated tools and platforms. They let their websites and mobile applications fall to the wayside as they continued to focus on their brick-and-mortar stores. They designed their digital products around the presumption that some customers would use them, but not all of their customers.
When the pandemic struck, slow-to-adapt businesses trailed even further behind competitors who were busy revamping their tech stacks, investing in the latest cloud infrastructure, and leveraging machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data analytics to enhance the digital experience.
Before the pandemic, many companies made the mistake of thinking that building their tech stack with the latest tools would solve all of their problems. However, for companies to thrive in the digital-only world, they need to build a culture that empowers people to learn fast and adapt quickly. This means having the right processes in place and cross-organizational alignment around the right data. In other words, you need your entire team to have access to the customer data that matters most. Without this information, it’s practically impossible to empathize with the customer.
Now, it’s becoming clear that companies that fail to adapt to the digital-first world will be left behind.
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So How Do We Adjust?
In our digital-only world, having a website or mobile app isn’t enough. Companies need to build products that are digitally accessible to all regardless of age, gender, disability, or individual qualities. Touchpoints must work seamlessly together to ensure success across every channel from web, to mobile, to storefront.
Most importantly, companies need to build products that help their customers achieve their desired goals. This means ensuring they can accomplish tasks like adding items to their carts, filling out delivery information, and making a payment – all without a hitch.
This requires learning from their customers’ behaviors and focusing on the opportunities with the greatest business impacts. Gone are the days when managers launched products or new features without understanding how they impact the business’s bottom line. Now, each product decision should be backed by data so teams know their investments will actually pay off. This is a core component of Continuous Product Design, a new methodology for building better digital products faster that was created by Quantum Metric.
Technology alone won’t solve a company’s problems, but coupled with the right strategy, it can help employees develop new processes and reshape a company’s culture. Agile isn’t enough. Continuous Product Design takes the agile methodology and applies it across engineering, development, operations, IT, sales, UX design, marketing, and other teams. This way, every department can align themselves around the customer data that provides insights into their needs and wants.
Simple Ways to Embrace “Digital Only”
Digital platforms are now the main storefront for many brands. They are no longer just secondary choices or less satisfactory alternatives to a physical experience.
The best digital products are intuitive and easy to use. When websites and mobile applications enable users to complete activities such as making a purchase or opening a checking account, consumers are more excited about using the product again. Better yet, they are more likely to recommend the product to friends, family, and colleagues.
While brands will want to eventually strive toward an effective data collection and analysis strategy, there are simple ways that they can start to embrace the “digital-only” world. Everyone across the company needs to empathize with the customer, which means understanding their unique frustrations and challenges. Teams should be aligning around their customers’ needs and stepping into their shows – never treating them as data points on a dashboard.
- Consider differently-abled users. How easy is it for your parents – or even your grandparents – to increase the font size on your platform? Can hearing-impaired users easily navigate your platform?
- Go the extra mile. How can you add value to your customers’ experience by giving them extras while they’re on your platform? Do your website’s images and videos showcase all of your product’s features?
- Keep design intuitive. Is it easy for users to accomplish tasks such as adding items to their shopping cart or transferring money from their savings account to their checking account? Have you eliminated unnecessary buttons or confusing copy?
Start With Digital, but Make it Personal
Across the globe, people’s lives have drastically changed. This means that companies need to find new and innovative ways to empathize with their customers. Even as people return to stores, banks, and in-person events, the digital world will continue to be more important than ever before.
In the past, digital platforms were often seen as an “extra” or “nice to have.” Today, the digital platform needs to be the foundation upon which everything else is built. Brands must strive toward delivering a standout customer experience across every digital channel. By doing this, brands can foster deep relationships with their customers and ensure that the digital customer experience remains a personal one.