Customer Experience

So, you’re an online business now? How to survive and thrive in a digital world

Brands around the world have found themselves having to ramp up their digital efforts seemingly overnight. Here’s how brands can ready themselves for long-term success online...

The sudden emergence and threat of COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we live. Social distancing, self-isolation, shelter-in-place are all phrases that we have come to know intimately - and they clearly capture our new and uncomfortable reality.

Workplaces have mandated work from home policies, universities have shifted fully to online learning, restaurants have been forced to only offer online ordering and delivery, and automakers have shut down plants, with some now producing ventilators. We’re seeing a rapid, historical, and primarily forced organizational transformation that puts many in a precarious and challenging situation.

Digital commerce, content, account management, self-service and customer experience will all be tested against consumer expectations. If brands weren't focused on digital before, they are doubling down today in hopes of minimizing business disruption during this turbulent time. It's simply the new reality which has been approaching for decades, but it arrived a lot faster than many expected, in a highly condensed period of time.

The brands that thrive in this new reality will be those who have invested in digital transformation and more importantly, understand digital experience management. If your business requires physical interaction, the challenges are palpable. Discretionary brands such as luxury retail, brick and mortar retail, restaurants, travel, and other people-centric businesses are experiencing massive fallout. At the expense of people-centric businesses are those that can satisfy consumer needs through digital channels. Industries such as online grocery, digital-first retailers, financial services including retail banking, technology and healthcare have the opportunity to improve customer loyalty in these difficult times.

“The value of digital channels, products and operations is immediately obvious to companies everywhere right now” says Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.

“This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience.

Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term.”

As brands pivot and focus on the digital experience of their customers, our goal at Qualtrics is to provide guidance on how to best enable digital experience management and help to optimize the end-to-end digital journey. With this in mind, here are some thoughts on how to consider and craft a meaningful digital experience program.

Managing the digital experience

We encourage our customers to focus on three key digital outcomes that will foster a sustainable and differentiating experience:

  • Emotion — how did the interaction make the customer feel?
  • Effort — how easy or difficult was it for the customer to achieve their goal?
  • Success —was the customer able to achieve their goal?

These areas of focus have become increasingly important in the time of COVID-19 and should be considered with the following principles in mind:

1. Emotion

Capturing and conveying meaningful emotion through a website or app often presents brands with a challenge, but those who find the right balance are much more likely to create and maintain a meaningful relationship with their customer base. In today’s chaotic and uncertain world, a focus on empathy is essential. This is an unprecedented time and there are many unknowns. In light of these extreme challenges, brands have the opportunity to convey trust and confidence, even in the face of uncertainty. Understand what is at stake for your customers, communities, employees and partners. Don’t ask too much of anyone at this moment, but listen to your customers, understand their concerns, and deliver service with a focus on empathy across your touchpoints.

2. Effort

The second key ingredient is effort… how easy or difficult was it for your customer to complete their task? People come to the digital environment with the expectation that they will be able to seamlessly accomplish their task - even if there are complexities in the decision-making process - the task itself shouldn’t be too challenging. Now, more than ever before, customers are counting on the digital channel to enable the vast majority of their interactions and transactions. This is especially true for brands that provide essential goods and services, as well as those that can help facilitate a sense of normality, and perhaps provide entertainment, relatability, or comic relief from the exhausting and worrisome news of the day.

Given the current climate, it is essential for brands to communicate clearly. Every brand is impacted in some way by the coronavirus outbreak, and each will be forced to make difficult decisions at an extraordinarily fast pace. Many of these decisions will directly impact customers in a high stakes moment. Providing effective, timely and consistent communication is critical during this time, even if the nature of the update is negative, this could mean the long-term difference between increased loyalty and customer churn. Any efforts made in this space will prove fruitful long after COVID-19 is behind us.

3. Success

Of course the concept of effort is quite variable depending on the task at hand, but the third ingredient, that of success, is a bit more black and white. Your site and app visitors were either successful or not when it comes to completing their task. Maybe it was hard, but they still got it done. This is where it’s important to know your strengths. What strengths does your brand already possess that can make a genuine difference for your stakeholders? How can you innovate on these strengths and be tuned into a human-centric approach to your digital experience? Wherever possible, prioritize what will make your customers successful in their digital experience with your brand.

Digital experience management in action

  • A North American financial services company was really struggling to handle the volume of calls being routed to the contact center. By adding an embedded survey link within their website intake form, bank employees are alerted about the score on the form and they can follow up via email rather than draining resources from the contact center.
  • A global retailer is using Qualtrics for real-time messaging to their customers around the COVID-19 situation and making specific note of inventory based on location. This not only enables them to better manage inventory, but also facilitates communication by informing customers as to when the items they’re looking for will be back in stock, available for purchase or ready to be shipped.
  • An Australian based media company learned through verbatim feedback that their pricing blocks were too aggressive when reporting on COVID-19. This information enabled them to adapt to their customer’s needs very quickly.

Here we see brands being able to quickly acknowledge a widespread customer problem, formulate a scalable user-friendly solution and communicate the availability and benefits associated with that solution - all of which will establish meaningful and memorable experiences with their customers.

Today, perhaps more than ever before, customers and employees have the desire to be heard, and to know that their voices matter. Our current situation demands acknowledgment of the human on the other side of every data point; we have an opportunity to create impactful interactions and experiences if we can learn to listen at meaningful moments, assess each situation within context, and act with empathy and compassion.

The Covid-19 pandemic is shaking the globe. While it continues to bring significant hardship and isolation to the lives of many, it also provides the chance to own your digital experience with a renewed sense of purpose. The role of technology is to serve humanity, not the other way around. And when we get this right, amazing things can happen.

So it’s clear, in this highly competitive, and increasingly tumultuous market, experience will be the one remaining sustainable differentiator. Companies that focus on managing the experience of their customers and employees through digital channels will thrive, while organizations that continue with the status quo or look to avoid change, will struggle. If there’s one thing that’s certain in a time of such uncertainty, it’s that digital transformation is expected and inevitable; an engaging and meaningful digital experience is the required norm today, and in our post-COVID-19 lives.

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Juliana Holterhaus // Senior XM Consultant

Juliana joined the XM Scientist Team at Qualtrics in January of 2016. She has extensive experience in digital strategy and digital experience research. She has worked across solutions such as voice of the customer (VoC), brand health and communications (online reputation management), product and service innovation, healthcare, and retail strategy. In addition to her work at Qualtrics, Juliana currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Marketing Research International Institute (MRII) in a two-year, elected position. Before joining Qualtrics, Juliana was Head of Strategic Alliances for YouEye, a Silicon-Valley based start-up focused on quantifying video-based voice of the customer data. Juliana spent 5 years in the mobile tech space as General Manager of Lumi’s global market research business. In addition, Juliana spent two years as a part of the research team at Massachusetts General Hospital (DCRP) and one year in the marketing department at Harvard Business School. Juliana graduated with honors from Amherst College and received a Masters from Columbia University. Juliana went on to complete her PhD in Psychology and Decision Sciences at Columbia University. During her time in graduate school, Juliana researched environmental, financial, and medical decision making, as well as consumer preference construction. Her dissertation research focused on the motivational science of mobile technology use and engagement.

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