The Next Boom: Entering The Year Of The Digital Customer


This is the latest installment of my ongoing series of discussions with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and corporate leaders on what to expect as the world recovers in the post-Covid era in terms of technology and innovation.

The Covid crisis has put digital transformation front and center with CEOs and boards. All well and good. “But what is digital transformation?” asks John Rossman, former Amazon executive, founder of Rossman Partners, and author of The Amazon Way.

Digital, Rossman believes, boils down to two core traits: speed and agility. “Speed is about world-class operations,” he says. “Agility is the ability to sense and make change – both big and small, happen. Coming out of the pandemic, more leadership teams now truly respect and recognize that their biggest risk is not innovating, not forcing faster evolution. So we are going to see more innovation. Some will be fantastic, some will be either misguided or poorly executed.”

Don’t rely on digital alone. When it comes to considering the customer experience, look to the fundamental factors that have guided successful businesses for millennia, Rossman urges. Those factors are price, selection and faster delivery. Who wants “higher prices, less selection or slower delivery?” he asks. “Underlying customer needs don’t change – the way they get met needs to always be innovating.”

The essential innovations that companies needed to embrace during the Covid crisis included the ability to order online, pickup at store, Rossman continues. “I see continued rapid innovation in this broad set of use cases. It’s amazing how many companies can’t do this, or can’t do this in a profitable, economically sustainable basis today.”

The greatest change in business models over the past 18 months “has been how many companies are going direct to customers and investing in their own digital and delivery channel,” agrees Alex Atzberger, CEO of Optimizely, and former president of customer experience with SAP. “Equally, you see many companies look to bring subscription-based services. You see this across streaming services but also at small retailers that ship you a monthly candle or outfit.”

It’s important to remember that technology is an enabler, not the end goal. “Every business leader needs to first think about the outcome they’re looking for,” says Atzberger. “For instance, increasing revenue over digital channels requires the ability to deliver relevant and personalized content. Technologies such as AI, natural language processing and others are relevant to achieve this at scale but there is also a lot of noise out there.”

Rossman singles out the healthcare industry as an example of an area ripe for greater innovation to deliver on the customer experience in a more profound way, “Who is happy with the healthcare system of today?” he asks. “Healthcare workers are frustrated and exhausted. Employers are frustrated not just with the cost, but with the satisfaction of their employees with the status quo. And patients are generally not satisfied. We still ‘treat illness’ versus ‘manage health.’ The customer experience hasn’t changed much – I still fill out forms I have filled out 50 times and my health information is scattered across many organizations. The health insurance industry and healthcare industry, today at approximately 18% of GDP, is a tax on our economy. The next boom will predictive, personalized health optimization taken to market. A patient experience which can be flexible, done remotely, has integrated data from your entire patient history, focuses on behavioral changes and supports, and that works around your busy schedule. That’s the health care experience everyone deserves.”

The lesson that will continue to be learned is that “falling short of customer expectations and missing the mark on their preferred methods of engagement are the greatest risks ahead for business leaders,” says Atzberger. “Those who fall back into old patterns will be left behind.”

With connected technologies enabling the collection of more data, businesses are at the risk of abusing this data to the point of coming off as creepy, cautions Norman Guadagno, CMO of Acoustic. “In order to leverage psychographic information without prompting consumer concern over the misuse of their data, businesses will need to be more transparent with their use of data and devise new strategies for allowing consumers to be more involved in how their data is used.”

Along with basic automation, “artificial intelligence may create more opportunities for businesses to have more meaningful connections with customers and prospects,” Guadagno adds. “It can be a powerful tool for predicting trends, analyzing large amounts of data quickly, and creating more personalized engagements. While AI is still maturing, we’re seeing more businesses understand how to leverage it effectively throughout their organization.” “The push for authentic engagements won’t be going away, so business models will need to continue shifting to support them in order to realize success,” says Guadagno.


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