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Customer experience and digital transformation concepts are merging during the pandemic

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List of various years on computer display, focus on the year 2020
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Customer experience and digital transformation are two terms we’ve been hearing about for years, but have often remained nebulous in many organizations — something to aspire to perhaps, but not take completely seriously. Yet the pandemic has been a forcing event for both concepts, thrusting the ideas front and center.

Suddenly startups that help with either of these concepts are seeing rising demand, even in a year with an overall difficult economic climate. If you are fortunate enough to be helping companies digitize a process or improve how customers interact with companies, you may be seeing increased interest from customers and potential acquirers (and this was true even before this year). A case in point is Twilio acquiring Segment for $3.2 billion recently to help build data-fueled applications to interact with customers.

Even though building a positive customer experience has never been completely about digital, at a time where it’s difficult to interact with customers in person, the digital side of it has taken new urgency. As COVID-19 took hold this year, businesses, large and small, suddenly realized the only way to connect to their customers was digitally. At that point, digital transformation became customer experience’s buddy when other ways of contacting one another have been severely limited.

Pandemic brings changes

Just about every startup founder I talk to these days, along with bigger, more established companies, talk about how the pandemic has pushed companies to digitally transform much faster than they would have without COVID.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, says that the pandemic has certainly expedited the need to bring these two big ideas together and created opportunities as that happens. “The coronavirus, as terrible as it has been in so many ways to so many people, has created opportunities for companies to build direct-to-consumer (D2C) digital pipelines that can make them stronger companies despite the current hardships,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The cloud plays a big role in the digital transformation process, and for the last decade, we have seen companies make a slow but steady shift to the cloud. When you have a situation like we’ve had with the coronavirus, it speeds everything up. As it turns out, being in the cloud helps you move faster because you don’t have to worry about all of the overhead of running a business critical application as the SaaS vendors take care of all that for you.

As a result, as Box CEO Aaron Levie told us at his Extra Crunch Live interview at the end of May, suddenly companies are accelerating their digital transformation timelines. Necessity has become the mother of adoption, as one startup founder put it.

“Well, what’s happened is that nobody has the time for that regular adoption cycle. In a matter of weeks and months, companies have had to basically dramatically accelerate the kind of technology adoption maybe they would have done over a two or three or five or 10-year period into a matter of weeks,” Levie said in his Extra Crunch live interview.

That shift to the cloud and that willingness to digitize processes is the core of what the concept of digital transformation has been all about. It’s turning these workflows that might have been done off the computer or mobile device into processes that are suddenly on them, even things as unexpected as yoga classes and meeting with your physician are being done online in a digital context.

The digital future is now

Customer experience matters more now

As companies make this digital transformation out of necessity this year, they are doing so in the context of wanting and needing to improve the customer’s digital experience as it relates to how they do business. But delivering a quality customer experience online (or even in person) is not a small matter.

As Salesforce president and chief operating officer Bret Taylor told us in August, it requires a complex set of technologies working together to deliver the optimal online experience. Salesforce has created an end-to-end solution, but startups can work to disrupt different aspects of that pipeline.

“When you think about what are the technologies required to produce that customer experience, you need e-commerce to actually transact. You need an order management system to orchestrate the order from the time of purchase to showing up on that curb. You need a customer service system so when people are showing up and they have questions about their order that you can engage with them and you need that single source of truth about the customer in the order to manage the entire life cycle,” Taylor said in August.

You can see how all of that activity could be and is being digitized along with other workflows as the situation demands it, and the amount of opportunity that could exist there. Leary says it’s important to make this transition in a thoughtful way as customer experience and digital transformation come together.

“Companies have to create experiences and services that meet and exceed customer expectations as they change over time. That calls for organizational transformation that has to be committed to in order for the digital transformation to be successful,” he said.

That is of course easier said than done, and always has been. Transforming the way you do business does, as Leary points out, take an organizational commitment to changing.  As these two ideas move closer together, it’s important to get them right. In fact, at a time when your business survival could depend on it, it’s time to stop talking about them and start implementing.

Digital Transformation Requires Total Organizational Commitment

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