What’s working in the new digital experience.
We commissioned Forrester Consulting to understand what changes made during the pandemic worked. Here’s what the research says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses who thought they were “customer first” learnt what that phrase really means. Instead of just segments, customers became real people who needed real help. And businesses that met those needs with more human experiences fared better.
Brands that can successfully translate what they learnt from those must-have transactions into more empathetic and creative digital experiences going forward will be poised to lead the way in our post-pandemic world.
“When you look at what we did with the COVID-19, it was about serving patients and saving lives. For us, metrics aren’t numbers — they're individuals.”
- Ken Kellogg
Vice President, Brand and Digital Experience, Mercy Health
Being prepared paid off.
Across all respondents, 94% of businesses claimed they were at least somewhat prepared to adapt to pandemic-induced changes. But digitally advanced companies were able to pivot faster in the midst of so much uncertainty.
There was an overall spike in digital experiences for both businesses and consumers, across all of the industries we surveyed.
Digital connection was the first priority.
During the first three months of the pandemic, it was clear that the biggest problem was simply one of connection—not emotional connection, but the literal ability of consumers to engage with brands at all. The research shows this clearly.
Convenience to connection — a healthcare example
Not only did consumers do more digitally, they also began experimenting with highly sophisticated digital experiences — like virtual care.
“Health is one of the most personal things in the world, says Vineet Mehra, CMO of Walgreens. “And if there’s one category that needs to be personalised, human and customised to each and every one of our customers and patients, it’s got to be healthcare.”
While the healthcare industry reported being as well-prepared for COVID-19 changes as any other industry, it’s had a slower transformation to digital. Prior to the pandemic, there were no universal requirements for insurance companies to cover telehealth, so many stuck with the status quo and doctors followed.
“And if there’s one category that needs to be personalised, human and customised to each and every one of our customers and patients, it’s got to be healthcare.”
Global Chief Marketing Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Chief Customer Officer, Walgreens
But when the pandemic hit, they had to catch up — and fast. The American Psychological Association reports that many governors issued emergency orders to increase access to telehealth providers. And consumers responded in a big way. Many felt telehealth had been a long time coming, but for most, it became the primary means of interacting with their doctors. Today, telehealth represents about 80% of all appointments.
“It’s odd when you think about it, but virtual appointments have actually resulted in a more human interaction,” says Thomas Swanson, director of health and life sciences industry strategy at Adobe. “Patients have said they trust their doctors more and have developed a better relationship with them through virtual appointments.”
Virtual reality is having a big impact, too. The Mayo Clinic reports that it’s making huge inroads in treating balance issues by stimulating the areas in the inner ear important for balance. It’s also being used to treat mental illnesses like phobia and PTSD, gradually exposing patients to the things they fear — in a controlled virtual environment.
Where empathy meets need — more industry examples
Like healthcare, every industry found unique ways to respond to their customers’ most pressing needs. The most successful responses were those that re-created the connections we so desperately missed while being stuck at home. Going to the films. Chatting with our favourite teller. Asking if a pullover looks good on us.
Many of these of digital experiences were new to consumers, yet they demonstrated what a great digital experience can look like. And they raised the bar for businesses looking to earn their loyalty. Consider these examples.
Retailers responded with tactics like home delivery, curbside pickup, personal video shopping and virtual dressing rooms.
One holiday market went completely virtual with the ability to create avatars, meet friends and chat with vendors.
Media & entertainment
Media and entertainment companies quickly found ways to continue production during the shutdown.
One global company sent studio necessities to their chefs so they could film their cooking classes at home.
"Financial institutions have always been about relationships and trust. So many banks quickly stepped up with relief programmes, PPP loans and more communication about their digital options."
Director of financial services industry at Adobe
These are just a few examples of how businesses have forged more human connections. And they’re working. The survey revealed that when consumers have more meaningful digital experiences, they act with their wallet. Almost half of all consumers say they will recommend a brand to their friends, family and colleagues as a result of a great digital experience. This effect is even greater among a segment of consumers we call “tastemakers” — those who self-identified as being most willing to try emerging technologies. Thirty-four per cent of respondents in this group are also more likely to pay for more or higher-quality products or services and 55 per cent are more likely to seek out additional offerings from that brand.
Amidst all of the pandemic-induced changes, we saw that being relatable and empathetic pays off. Not only on the bottom line, but in the connections that businesses can forge with their customers. And with that knowledge comes new opportunities.