Article | by Alan Cooper
I’ve increasingly observed businesses experiencing challenges during the COVID-19 crisis. That’s a fairly trite statement, few businesses haven’t. But the context here is about the consequence of not being ‘digitally ready’ to adapt and to counter these challenges.
In particular, I’ve seen large businesses and membership organisations experiencing the greatest struggle in this area. They share a complexity in their audiences which is at the heart of my thinking here.
Essentially, it’s nothing more than being able to deliver a better brand experience online, no matter who you are or who the audience is.
So it doesn’t just mean ticking the ecommerce or marketing automation box, or even being really good about your social media relationships.
As consumers of services and products, whether professional or personal, we expect more now.
When we engage with you, we expect speed, reduced friction, clarity, and things to ‘just do what they should’. When we visit your website, receive emails, use your app, or otherwise engage digitally with you, we expect you to be ready for us. I visit you as an individual, not as a generic ‘user’.
So digital readiness is about an organisation’s ability to deliver that better brand experience no matter what gets thrown at it. Pandemic, economic crisis, product recall, CEO change, legislation, rules, or even just BAU, whatever.
Well, there are numerous reasons.
Particularly under current circumstances when maybe there's a little more time to explore alternatives.
Here’s an example - how many clicks does it take to try and get a refund from an airline instead of being coerced down their voucher/rebook route. Is that a good brand experience? And what kind of loyalty will that drive? Especially if the rest of the experience (like waiting months for the cash) is sub-par. Not that I’m angry or anything (!), but it will absolutely make me think about alternatives next time I book a flight.
You want me to buy more from you, or renew my membership, or join, or otherwise invest more of ‘me’ in ‘you’. So treat me as an individual or I’ll find someone new who does.
Think energy company switching, if customer service is poor, or changing allegiance in membership organisations if one of them has failed to address your personal change in circumstances
Well, basically those organisations that make it easy for me to buy, get information, solve problems, all the time.
Those that make themselves relevant to me - so I don’t have to wade through a ton of generic information before I find what’s specific to me. Personalise, target, individualise and improve my experience.
There are now so many ways our industry can achieve that digitally, and routes to that purchase or information have never been so rich and varied. We have at our disposal voice activation, web platforms using AI and other mechanisms to surface specific, relevant content, virtual assistants, web/mobile apps, marketing automation.
Digital Transformation has been liberally applied to internal mechanisms (Industry 4.0, dark factories, calendar booking, and more recently remote access to systems), but external transformation has been slower to take off.
It’s no longer good enough to just publish content and let your visitors find it. And amongst larger and membership organisations we often see similar patterns. Reliance on traditional means, reliance on internal legacy systems - ‘they don’t work that way’.
Sometimes the scale (perceived or real) of upheaval is a factor preventing activity: older systems with limited interoperability, no API or other open access points or architecture.
Sometimes there’s internally-led thinking, ‘our business is structured like this’ rather than customer-focused thinking.
Traditionally this has caused tensions around the board table, especially between CTO/CIO and CMO.Tensions around who owns the budget, who owns the systems, who owns the customer experience. Often, in my experience, it’s been top-heavy IT and MIS teams who have created complexity and infrastructure and have not been able to secure either budget or motivation to shift to cloud-based open architecture. They cite security or expense, both of which are valid.
Transformation on this scale is going to be costly, so initiatives often get held back until every t is crossed. Sadly this percolates down to even smaller opportunities to be innovative and agile, and even nimble projects don’t get off the ground.
Long term this hesitancy spells disaster for these businesses. The customer finds someone else who has innovated, and the business suffers as a result; it becomes an inward-bound spiral as it’s harder to prove ROI with the business diminishing.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The new generation of CTO and CMOs are pushing this legacy thinking to change, even if it’s starting small. They’re working more collaboratively, allowing each other’s strengths to support each other and are making rapid progress in their organisations.
It needs bravery across all the three stalwart attributes; people, processes, technology. All 3 need to change or the stool falls over.
Sometimes it's a rush to a new ‘thing’ without the ‘why’. Organisations have been so keen to transform, it’s led to lipservice or experimentation to be seen to be on trend.
We saw that with the rush for mobile apps where they weren’t necessary; corporate Facebook pages which were a mirror of the annual report. We’ve all seen them. Again, much of this challenge is an inward thinking, and lack of focus on the Brand Experience for the Customer.
Even a rudimentary analysis of the audiences of these organisations reveals some vastly different requirements or perspectives.
Take a membership organisation. How many personas or audience types?
Casual member, ardent fan, supplier, strategic partner, prospect member, influencer, competitor, regulator, funding body.
Often, these personas are looked at during a specific project, and rarely re-visited. Frequently this project is a new website or app or other digital product (I’m only writing about digital readiness here, there are other readinesses!). And the net result is all too often a navigation architecture that each one of the personas can follow on their journey if they try hard enough.
But consider the current perfect storm by way of an example. As any one of those personas above, I might need different information about how my membership organisation is responding. The organisation is doing a sterling job of publishing its content and daily updates. But I don't want a daily update on the number of physiotherapists currently furloughed. I want to know when my gym is reopening. Or I want to know how to deliver my essential supplies to the key workers still operating.
The closer you can get me to an individualised journey through your organisation, the more I will buy, connect, engage or remain loyal.
Start small, but start something. Walk in your customers’ shoes and make rapid changes where you can - in your communications, web content, UX, customer journey, web functionality. Adopt an agile approach - not necessarily the entire methodology, but be prepared to take a few bites of the elephant.
Dream bigger and think differently; would an app be better suited to your audience? Do you need to change your web platform? Do you need a digital product to get more targeted information to your members or prospects?
And plan for a new eventuality (if that feels too far-fetched, you’ve been under a socially distanced rock for the last 4 months) to protect you from being unready next time around.
Adopting ‘new’ approaches like Design Thinking, Experience Design is an excellent way to start. They are frameworks that don’t try to race straight to a solution. They give you a set of priorities and a way of thinking which will help develop the right tools at pace to make you digitally ready.
When extended into rapid prototyping and MVP development, they can start to address your individual audience needs and you can make a start on your digital readiness journey.