9 signs you’re ready for the customer experience challenges of 2021

Consumers today expect brands to offer seamless, relevant and tailored experiences. The New Era in Experience report examines the qualities that define organisational readiness.

Graphic swirl in pink, blue and green

A little over a year ago, we were catapulted into a new era in which the customer experience is increasingly digital. Consumers now expect brands to adapt instantly, offering seamless, relevant and tailored experiences at rapid speed. As it stands, there’s no going back. But are we ready for the organisational challenges ahead?

Businesses have had to adjust quickly to deliver against those new customer needs and expectations, often implementing changes in just weeks that, prior to the pandemic, would have taken months, rapidly accelerating digital transformation timeframes.

The new landscape in which we find ourselves is “defined by speed, agility, and personalisation” and dictated by “ever-shifting customer behaviour and expectations”, according to London School of Economics and Adobe’s New Era in Experience report.

As per the report, which examines how organisations can meet the customer experience challenges ahead, standards have changed, and the bar has been lifted. In this state of flux, some organisations have been left treading water, some benefiting from increased consumer demand in their category, and others pursuing innovation to own new competitive positions and generate growth.

But how do you know you’re organisationally ready to meet today’s higher, redefined customer experience standards?

The New Era in Experience report, together with insights from high-performing organisations, highlights the practices and qualities that define organisational readiness in 2021- and the collaboration required between brand and technology stewards to achieve it.

Quote from Ton Chirathivat, President of The 1 "You have to be fast and agile. Fail fast and learn fast."

Business strategy linking objectives, technology and people

A defined strategy that links business objectives with technology and people through a digital transformation roadmap is a prerequisite for ongoing success in the new customer experience landscape, in which standing still equates to falling behind.

High-performing organisations are looking to technology to help them achieve clear business outcomes, and involving the broader organisation, including marketing, to put those plans into action.

Central Group, a Thai conglomerate with more than 3700 physical outlets in retail, property, hospitality and financial services, is a case in point, outlining its objective of transforming from a predominantly offline business to an omnichannel operation.

In line with these plans, the group, which also operates Thailand’s top loyalty program, The 1, with more than 17 million members, is transforming into a new digital lifestyle and loyalty scheme that can mine deep insights into members’ needs, enabling precise targeting of optimal customer experiences for every member, increasing response rates and conversion.

“This latest iteration of The 1 will renovate Thailand’s experience economy like never before and is part of Central’s digital transformation,” according to President Ton Chirathivat.

The group’s omnichannel strategy contributed 10 percent of total sales in 2020, up from 3 percent in 2019, as consumers took up omnichannel offers during the pandemic. It’s expected to grow to 15-20 percent this year.

Engaged management that embraces change

High-performing organisations boast “deeply engaged management teams who embrace change in the business process”, coupled with the “emotional intelligence to trust others and collaborate effectively,” according to the New Era in Experience research.

They also display “empathy and resilience” as well as the ability to learn from obstacles and quickly recover.

WooliesX, the technology, digital, ecommerce and customer experience expertise of the Australian supermarket chain Woolworths helped drive a remarkable recovery after the supermarket was forced to suspend the bulk of its home delivery and click-and-collect services during the height of pandemic-induced panic buying last year.

The organisation regeared and rebuilt its website to enable it to resume normal service in April last year, and followed that with a broad rollout of its Scan & Go mobile app, which allows people to pay for items without going to a checkout counter, making it easier to limit time in stores and observe social distancing requirements.

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci praised the “ingenuity and agility” of the WooliesX team. “We will come out of this with a much better digital and e-commerce capability across all of our businesses,” he said at the time.

Balance of short and long-term investment in brand and technology

In marketing, it’s well established that if you stop advertising support and reduce marketing spending in a recession, your brand will make a slower recovery once the economy picks up.

A seminal study into the value of long-term brand advertising compared with short-term performance-based advertising, The Long and the Short of It, indicates CMOs that maintain longer-term brand support at 60 percent of spend achieve optimal performance and brands that maintain or increase their ‘share of voice’ in a recession are actually making a great investment in improving their competitive position on the other side.

The New Era in Experience report reveals a similar trend in technology spending, indicating organisations that stop investing in technology are more likely to exit the slowdown in an uncompetitive position.

High-performance organisations include those whose CIOs achieve rapid adoption of both short-term digital solutions and long-term digital innovation, enabling them to react quicker than competitors and win more ground.

Woolworths’ Brad Banducci says the retailer brought forward digital and ecommerce investments by up to two years during the pandemic and then condensed more than a year of effort into eight weeks to improve its omnichannel operations.

Data integrated for optimal customer experience

Whether it’s through a cloud-based data management layer, adopting a unified customer experience platform or API-based integrations of disparate tools, high-performing organisations prioritise integrating data across the business to achieve a single view of the customer.

Mature organisations “foster data-rich cultures” by providing access to enterprise-wide data across sales and marketing, operations, and reporting, the New Era in Experience report observes.

India’s HDFC Bank has dramatically evolved its marketing to favour digital channels during the pandemic, creating a data-rich culture. In doing so, it has been able to leverage its in-house capability in deep analytics and machine learning to personalise offers for customers, according to Parag Rao, Country Head — payments business, consumer finance, digital banking and marketing.

“That customisation is riding on a platform of data and also predicting through algorithms what is the next best choice for individuals based on their transaction patterns,” Rao says.

An agile organisation

Organisations were not served well by traditional hierarchies with slow decision-making processes during the pandemic, where rapid societal change necessitated quick organisational responses.

Rather, the establishment of cross-functional teams that brought together departments such as marketing and technology allowed businesses to quickly address short-term emergencies and implement long-term solutions, research from the New Era in Experience showed.

High-performing organisations also learned to enhance services with a “test-and-amend approach to refine offers and rapidly re-deploy”.

Thailand’s Central Group nominates its agile organisation and “resilient adaptation”, which helped drive customer-centric omnichannel marketing at scale, as crucial to its strong recovery in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“To effectively manage the synergy and reach alignment for all, and to make sure customers and partners all move in the same direction is extremely hard because we are now such a big ecosystem,” says Ton Chirathivat, President of loyalty platform The 1. “You have to be fast and agile. Fail fast and learn fast.”

Personalisation at scale

Speed to data and insights enables personalisation, driving engagement and conversion in the new customer experience economy. But preparing an organisation to conduct personalised marketing at scale is no simple matter.

Aaron Chiew, who heads up mobile, payments and digital sales at United Overseas Bank in Singapore says the bank is well advanced on the personalisation journey. Through their unified customer experience platform, they can now analyse customer transaction data, allowing them to share tailored insights about spending habits and serve customers bespoke screens featuring personalised recommendations in its app.

Chiew says the benefits of being able to offer personalisation at scale based on unified customer data are “at the customer level” because it enables the bank to meet customer expectations in line with cross-channel experiences online, on the app and in branches.

“They don’t expect these to be disconnected,” Chiew says. “The more we can combine it together, the better it is for the customer.”

Continued emphasis on innovation and automation, not just cost-reduction

High-performing organisations invest in technology to achieve innovation and automation, as well as to drive cost-efficiencies, according to the New Era in Experience study.

To achieve its goal of offering contactless customer journeys, HDFC Bank extended its customer experience partnerships in 2020 as part of its strategy of removing the need for in-person and paper-based processing, using analytics and automation to help remove friction from the customer onboarding process.

Connected and trusted workforce

The pandemic not only forced organisations to rapidly adopt remote working practices but also ushered in an era of flexible work in which digital collaboration tools are deployed for employee wellbeing, rapid collaboration with colleagues, and to promote supplier and customer engagement.

Four in five CEOs who introduced work practices to support digitalisation expect to retain them after the pandemic, the New Era in Experience report found, with many brands and employees in a wide range of organisations unlikely ever to return to the office full-time.

CIOs are being called upon to continue to remove friction from remote work, as well as managing and measuring the uptake of new video, chat and workflow tools required to make it successful.

Woolworths Group introduced a remote work team website during the pandemic, offering staff tips and advice on leading and working remotely, as well as virtual training sessions on remote collaboration tools. It also launched a wellbeing app that staff could access for help during the crisis.

Heads in the cloud

Operationally, if your technology is not hosted in the cloud, your organisation is missing out on the flexibility and scalability that is essential to the success of the innovative customer experience organisations that are outperforming the market in 2021.

WooliesX rolled out enhancements to its cloud infrastructure in order to accommodate the huge surge in online visitation driven by the pandemic and can now double capacity in minutes, rather than the hours and days it would previously have taken.

Ultimately, organisational readiness for this New Era in Experience involves bringing the CIO, CMO and their teams together to work collaboratively and at speed, supported by the long and short-term investments in the integrated cloud-based technologies and data that enable enterprises to deliver frictionless, personalised customer experiences at scale.

To hear more about how brands such as HDFC Bank, Central Group’s The 1, WooliesX and others are driving digital transformation and growth through the pandemic and beyond, watch Adobe Summit 2021 on demand now.