Digitally transforming for true customer engagement

Jason Hemingway, global CMO, Thunderhead, says that, 30 years after the birth of the World Wide Web, for most businesses, the digital transformation journey is only just beginning.
The World Wide Web recently celebrated its 30th birthday, marking the beginning of what was swiftly to become a communications revolution. And what would we do without it? Since then, despite the term ‘digital transformation’ becoming a ubiquitous buzzword within many organisations over recent years, the radical evolution of communication technologies has been the primary driver behind the growth of the digital economy.

In fact, if we step back and take stock, it appears the digital transformation journey is only just beginning. Given the pace at which advances in communication changed the ways in which businesses operate, it’s worth considering where this transformative process might lead, and how companies should invest if they are to reach the next stage of digitalisation.

The rise of the connected customer
Consumer brands in particular are facing a period of significant transformation. The growth of direct-to-consumer (D2C) and subscription economies, for example, are changing the rulebook for marketers. At the same time, an increase in demand-led, consumer-centric business models require brands to nurture their relationships with customers like never before, helping to meet their needs and, by doing so, create value over the long term.

When interacting with a brand, a customer is actually interacting with a collection of different moving parts, including sales and marketing, service, mobile and ecommerce management, in addition to various back-office functions such as inventory and supply chain management. Delivering a quality customer experience relies on ensuring the customer doesn’t notice.

The failure to deliver a seamless experience across all channels can hamper the efforts of a brand to establish a relationship with its customers. According to Salesforce’s 2018 State of Marketing Report, “a staggering 91 per cent of high performers agree that a connected customer journey across all touchpoints and channels positively impacts customer loyalty. Another 89 per cent say the same for the impact on revenue growth.”

Many brands will turn to tech in an effort to ease them through this period of transition. However, before a brand can even contemplate a process of business transformation, it must have a complete understanding of how customers are engaging with it across every one of its touchpoints and silos. Once this is achieved, a brand can orchestrate the appropriate response for an individual customer. In short, effective customer engagement is the primary objective of any brand’s digital transformation, and mastering the omnichannel customer journey is key to achieving this.

Applying omnichannel journey analytics can provide the necessary understanding, delivering base-line insight into both a business’s processes and into their potential for digital transformation. Then, once that transformation is underway, the ongoing application of journey orchestration will be critical to optimising customer engagement and monitoring its success.

Mobile first and always
When considering a digital transformation initiative, it’s important to remember the communications revolution that preceded it – from the advent of email to the ubiquity of the smartphone, and all stages in between.

For this reason, mobile has to be a critical element of any brand’s customer engagement strategy. After all, every consumer business will effectively be at some point on the mobile-first and mobile-only continuum. What’s more, the insight that mobile devices afford into aspects of a consumer’s behaviour such as location and real-time context are invaluable in driving the utility of many of a brand’s applications and business models.

The peak of the communications revolution, a single mobile device can include a number of different touchpoints such as apps, web, messaging, and voice, with which a consumer will engage with a brand. And, of course, it’s not uncommon for people to have more than one device. Ensuring seamless continuity between these touchpoints – and devices – is therefore essential to delivering the required customer experience.

The real challenge for brands, however, lies in mastering both their online and offline touchpoints, weaving them into seamless experiences and journeys. Even in today’s largely digital world, offline experiences matter. Bank branches, showrooms, and physical retail spaces are all still important, even for D2C and digitally-native vertical brands (DNVBs), as are flesh-and-blood service agents and contact centres. The digital opportunities for brands are exciting, but we should never lose sight of the fact that online and offline touchpoints complement each other, feeding into each other in an online/offline/online loop.

Looking to the future
Over the next few years, we can expect to see the emergence of some truly transformative business models based on platform and ecosystem thinking. Brands will have the ability to understand the activity and behaviour of their customers across any device or touchpoint, evaluating the unique journey of any given customer in real time. By analysing and visualising these journeys at increasingly granular levels, brands will be able to better understand how their customers engage with them, and use this insight to improve their processes and fix any problems that arise.

This next phase of the digital economy will make new demands of businesses, however, and will require them to move from a more traditional reductionist, analytical and siloed view of the world to something far more holistic and integrated. To achieve this, companies need to invest more in innovation – and not just in technology. While technology is undeniably important in delivering the transformation necessary for greater customer engagement, innovation in an organisation’s services and business model are equally, if not more, important.

More than just a buzzword, digital transformation is impacting the way in which customers engage and interact with brands. 30 years on from the birth of the World Wide Web, though, the importance of the communications revolution and its effect on the omnichannel marketing landscape should not be overlooked.

It’s essential that brands listen to customers’ journeys to deliver true customer engagement across every touchpoint and every device, to fully understand their behaviour, transforming their business models from the inside-out in order to deliver exactly what their customers want, where and when they want it. Without this understanding, the revolution will see some brands left out in the cold.