curbside pickup sign in parking lot
PHOTO: F Armstrong Photo

Digital adoption had been on an upward trajectory for years. Then 2020 happened. Just about every type of business scrambled to establish new digital capabilities for engaging with customers, partners and employees. For many, digital acceleration was a matter of survival.

Retailers overhauled apps for arranging curbside pick-up and delivery capabilities to keep revenues coming in. Banks moved critical services, such as account opening, online. Healthcare providers fast-tracked telemedicine to meet healthcare needs safely. At my firm, West Monroe, we quickly adapted from flying to meet clients in-person at their offices to consulting and serving clients via video calls.

While the uncertainty is far from over — 38% of respondents in our October C-Suite poll said they don’t expect operations to stabilize until at least the second quarter of 2021 — companies are eager to get back to a growth agenda. That path has been turned on its head for many. The digital innovations that have been critical to survival over the past few months are here to stay, and are likely to continue evolving at a rapid clip. Moreover, digital customer experiences will be increasingly pivotal in resuming growth. CX professionals must look to this convergence of CX and digital to help drive loyalty and growth into 2021. Following are three key areas of focus for doing so.

1. Accelerate Rapid Innovation Through Agile, Adaptive Business Models

Companies have had to rapidly adapt their business models in 2020. With so much ongoing uncertainty, expect this to be the new norm. Many aspects of the business model — from the value proposition, to delivery models, to costs and infrastructure — may look far different at the end of 2021 than they do today.

This will be a challenge for CX leaders, who must keep recalibrating their strategies for new realities. Digital enablement will drive CX innovation. In an increasingly digital world, companies will differentiate through unique and competitive digital experiences that draw people to their brand.

Agility will be key. In that same C-suite poll, 75% of executives believe the pandemic’s lasting effects will have us working faster and with more agility. Organizations stuck in rigid systems are already missing opportunities. Among other things, agility requires strong internal alignment. Indeed, in its report, Accelerating Out of The Crisis (registration required), Forrester predicts that marketing and CX functions will become more intertwined — with spending on loyalty and retention marketing increasing by 30% in 2021.

Agility also depends on a simpler, more manageable infrastructure. Therefore, CX leaders need to become more strategic about use of technology to drive customer experience, focusing less time on back-end point solutions and more on front-end revenue-enabling customer functions and technology. Customer research and prioritization will make it clear where to focus and drive the most value. In its report, Forrester predicts greater emphasis on consolidating and optimizing CX technology — for example, one voice of the customer program versus many — to increase value and reduce costs.

Finally, it is impossible to adapt quickly without an engaged workforce. Given the sudden and very possible lasting shift to remote working, CX strategy must include more attention to designing, managing, and measuring employee experience. To be productive, remote workers will need new types of support through collaboration, automation, and artificial intelligence tools — like chatbots — to streamline their workloads and focus on higher value activities. Forrester’s report projects that by the end of 2021, one out of every four remote workers will be supported, directly or indirectly, by new forms of automation.

Related Article: Agile Marketing Your Way Through the Next Recession

2. Connect Digital and Analog Experiences Across the Customer Journey

Buyer engagement will only continue to shift toward digital and away from in-person — or “analog” — touchpoints. Many organizations have implemented point solutions, from ecommerce to remote workforce platforms, to accelerate their digital push. But humans are inherently social creatures and will want (and need) to be around a community, so analog touchpoints will remain a mainstay of customer journeys.

To deliver differentiated experiences, we need to coordinate and orchestrate all of the digital and analog touchpoints to make them feel connected and easy for the customer.

Consider the example of drive-through COVID testing. Digital innovation facilitates tasks such as scheduling, providing information, and delivering results, but the experience still takes place at a physical site. A clumsy on-site experience that doesn’t connect the analog and digital — for example, the site doesn’t have a record of the customer’s appointment or needs to gather information the customer has already provided — makes an already stressful experience even worse.

The same is true of curbside retail pick-up. Ordering may be effortless, but if the signage outside is unclear or the product ordered isn’t actually in stock when the customer arrives, the experience will fail.

Related Article: When Online and In Person Meet: The Challenges of Takeout and Curbside Pickup

3. Leverage All Customer Data to Drive CX Strategy

In the past, we could run segmentation exercises and rely on the insight for at least a little while. Today, customers’ definitions of what “good” looks like evolve continuously, changing their behaviors and purchasing patterns in turn. And as business models shift to accommodate new expectations, target customers are also changing. To build loyalty, companies need to understand who their new customers are and what they want. Segmentation, therefore, must become a continuous rather than a periodic practice.

Customer data is the thread that connects all aspects of the CX strategy. It allows us to meet customers where they are with what they need. For years, we have been the beneficiary of increasing volumes of customer data. With the accelerated digital engagement journey of the past six months, we now have even more data at our disposal to understand key customer segments.

In our C-suite poll, nearly 30% of leaders believe that customer data and surveys are important for informing business decisions right now, behind only financial data. To get maximum value from that data, we need to align it throughout the customer journey. Depending on how a customer journey progresses from purchase to success, this type of analysis may require moving data among parties — for example, from a web portal to a contact center to a physical location to a third-party implementer. This will be a particular challenge for organizations that haven’t already adopted analytics or considered the possibilities for using new data.

Given both the volume and sources of data involved, companies will need to add power to their analytics capabilities. Nearly 60% of respondents in the same poll said their organizations have tried new data/analytics platforms in the last six months. More than 20% have tried artificial intelligence, which can help surface patterns, guide the right actions at the right time and through the buyer’s preferred channel and create next best experience that drives loyalty and revenue growth.

Additionally, well-integrated systems leveraging tools, can easily load activity data to CRM systems to alleviate the administrative burden of data entry — providing more time to conduct deeper customer research, cull insights from data, and orchestrate more meaningful interactions with buyers.

Related Article: The Data-Driven Organization Is an Endangered Species

Position Your Organization to Thrive

No organization can change its technology stack overnight to become “all digital,” so pick your spots —– the best opportunities to create new customized, digital experiences, that enhance and support the overall customer journey, creating a differentiated experience that gives you competitive advantage.

We may not know what the state of the world will be in the year ahead. But we do know that companies that prioritize the convergence of CX and digital are positioning themselves to thrive and grow, rather than simply survive.