The unique temperament of daily upheaval meets social quiet made 2020 feel like it lasted a decade. Yet for most businesses, 2020 passed at breakneck speed, marked by compulsory transformation and disruption. Ninety-seven percent of global IT professionals agreed they went through some sort of digital transformation last year, with three out of five claiming a “large amount” of change, according to research by Software AG.

With spring temperatures on the rise and vaccinations accelerating by the day, we feel a resurgence of hope that the pandemic will soon be behind us, with many hoping for a return to normal.

Normal is where today’s cautionary tale begins. And for many businesses, “normal” is where their story ends too.

Status quo in business may feel safe and reliable, but modern business rewards the bold: the risk takers, the disruptors, those in steadfast pursuit of differentiation as a competitive advantage. As we relish in the “next normal,” we must fight every instinct to turn the clock back to business-as-we-knew-it in 2019.

Most every business is competing on customer experience, and your customers won’t accept the inflexible, siloed, or archaic normal business pitfalls of past. Your competitors won’t stand by either: 54% of marketers focused on improving the customer experience throughout COVID-19.

Don’t let a pursuit of normal reverse progress. Instead, continue to embrace change to drive competitive momentum and meet customers’ evolving expectations.

Get Out of the Way: Embrace Digital Transformation

COVID-19’s fast and furious impact accelerated digital transformation for businesses seemingly overnight.

Companies embarked on the great work-from-home experiment, initiating or expanding digital infrastructure to keep teams connected and businesses running. Customer service options — videoconferencing, websites, social media, forums, chatbots, call centers, payment integrations, and more — became mission critical. For the most part, and to the astonishment of many, the headfirst dive into digital transformation worked.

A McKinsey survey shined a spotlight on dubious execs’ timeframe expectations for implementing organizational change, and the results are striking.

Before the crisis, execs expected it would take 585 days to change their organization to meet increased customer demands for online purchasing/services. When COVID-19 forced execs’ hands, it took 21.9 days — a 27-times acceleration. Execs expected increasing the use of advanced technologies in operations would take 672 days. It took 26.5 days — a 25-times acceleration factor.

These numbers show we can quickly execute digital transformation when leadership, bottlenecks, and other barriers (cough: excuses) are removed. To put it simply, anything can happen when we get out of our own way, if the risks we take are tempered, based in data, and centered in customer value.

Related Article: Moving Digital Transformation Efforts Forward, With an Eye to CX

Future-Proof Your Business — Embrace Channel Diversity

Accelerating digital transformation for many businesses meant diversifying channels to add online capabilities. Pandemic-driven restrictions, cancellations and closures showed that keeping all your sales channels in a single basket is risky and unsustainable.

Transitioning into the next normal, business leaders need to stay out of their comfort zones and embrace channel diversity. Customers will not tolerate a reduction in the plentiful options to pick and choose how and where they do business with you.

Learning Opportunities

Ultimately, new behaviors were created and hardened. Your customers got used to browsing and buying online, and 70-80% of B2B decision makers now prefer remote interactions or digital self-service (McKinsey). Forrester echoes this sentiment, with 80% of B2B buyers expecting to do more business purchasing online in the post-pandemic era.

Fondness for traditional ways of doing business cannot supersede your customers’ expectations that they choose to buy from you online, with a sales rep, or at an in-person event. Future-proof your business and protect it against external forces by diversifying your channel mix to give customers’ the purchasing power and options they expect.

Related Article: Why Analytics Solutions Remain Core to the Slimmed Down DX Stack

Give Customer What They Crave — Embrace Flexibility

The pandemic ushered in wide adoption of contactless point-of-sale, delivery, check-in and check-out services, BOPAC (Buy Online Pick Up at the Curb), self-service lockers, vendor machine-style POS, digital restaurant menus and more, all to engage and sell safely.

Customers welcomed these convenient options. In fact, 75% of customers have used some form of buy online and pick up in store program in the last 12 months.

As businesses shift from panic mode to a calmer next normal, stay committed to improving the digital conveniences most critical to your customers’ experience. Determine the pieces of your digital strategy and execution to handle in-house and outsource the rest, but don’t push pause on your business evolution.

Digital experience is synonymous with customer experience in today’s competitive sales landscape. The competitor with better support or faster service is always a click away.

Related Article: What Does Great Customer Experience Look Like Today? Giving Customers Peace of Mind

Don’t Slow Down

We’re all eager to close the six-foot distance between ourselves and our customers. The pandemic revealed opportunities and vulnerabilities, while driving much-needed digital transformation for many businesses. Digital differentiation and creativity was unmatched, and customers reveled in the convenience and flexibility.

Do your business and customers a favor and don’t abandon this momentum. Instead, thrive in unending transformation. Commit to continuous testing and learning. Grow in areas you’d never imagine, and tirelessly seek ways to improve your value offering for your customers.

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