In the Aftermath of the Pandemic, Unexpected Industries Are Placing a Renewed Emphasis on Digital Experiences
Before COVID-19, we often talked about what we called the connected customer. At the time, it was a somewhat unique subcategory of consumers who moved seamlessly across various platforms, appliances and tools when shopping. Many assumed that it was predominantly the younger generation of digital natives, and for many industries that was correct. But then the pandemic forced everything to change. Almost overnight, everyone became accustomed to having access to almost anything right from the palm of their hand. Very quickly, a new range of shopping channels emerged, putting almost anything that customers could need or want at their fingertips. Suddenly, whether we wanted to or not, we all became connected customers and the future of mobile and digital consumer touchpoints changed forever.
Rapid digitization has accustomed customers to immediate and seamless customer experiences. It’s reported that 32% of all customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience. Therefore, the race to become best in breed is more competitive than ever. Businesses must realize that their competition isn’t just direct competitors in their same industry, but rather any digital experience that consumers frequently enjoy. And that’s a long list. Even before the pandemic, it was commonplace for sectors like retail and hospitality to double down on digital experiences, leveraging and connecting various touchpoints like point of sale and mobile ordering.
But now, even industries which traditionally favored in-person encounters or more traditional processes and procedures must now adapt to customers’ and employees’ new expectations. Experience is increasingly at the core of companies’ strategic plans no matter their industry, with digital experiences continuing to emerge in some less expected locations.
The New Face of Customer Experience
Now, with the dust settling after 2 years of forced digital shopping, companies are struggling to recalibrate. Many need help to hit the right balance between high-tech innovations and the human touch of in-person interactions. Companies that don’t personalize their experiences to cater to their customers’ individual shopping preferences will struggle to retain even the most loyal of customers.
One conventionally in-person sector which is now turning to digital transformation to engage with the connected customer is the beauty industry. COVID-19 forced many beauty stores to close, pushing beauty retailers to embrace immersive experiences and augmented reality (AR) to help customers choose the correct shade of foundation for their skin tone. With foundation a highly personal purchase, AR helps customers visualize what a particular tone will look like on their face. This practice is even more refined today, and as speed and convenience become bare-minimum essentials, makeup and skincare businesses are leaning into omnichannel digital experiences to provide their customers with higher levels of customization than ever before.
Beauty retailers are now back to in person business-as-usual, but they haven’t forgotten the digital lessons they learned during COVID-19. Alongside their in-person offerings they’re utilizing mobile apps to create a personally tailored customer experience. These digital experiences enable customers to quickly and effectively locate items while maintaining a relationship with a human beauty consultant who can guide their decisions. Customers can peruse goods and products and make purchases inside the app, and a human expert is always within reach for insights and personal guidance. At the same time, businesses now have an easy channel to keep in touch with their clients, anticipate their requirements and use automated reminders as well as push notifications to inform them about new items and impending deals.
Another area which is seeing rapid advancement is education and training. It wasn’t long ago that learning was primarily limited to the four walls of a classroom, but when COVID-19 sent learning online, technology quickly developed to make the experience as engaging as possible. School children were given laptops and other gadgets to facilitate their remote learning. A boom in eLearning commenced.
Now, improved optics, faster networks and more efficient chipsets allow extended reality to become more and more immersive. Edtech is reaping the benefits. It is becoming possible to provide more instruction to students in a virtual realm, with the student monitored and given up-to-the-minute feedback on their performance via artificial intelligence. With schoolteachers still on hand to offer their own expertise, the ability to provide every student with their own custom-built learning environment that matches their own progress is opening up new possibilities to teach a wide range of skills. This could look like a pottery student plugging into a training program and learning to use a wheel to make a bowl, or a piano student mastering a new piece, with the eLearning program suggesting actions and responding to questions, all from the comfort of the student’s home. While still expensive, VR headsets continue to drop in price, meaning more schools will utilize them. Sophisticated eLearning courses, once the preserve of the elite, are becoming more accessible for individuals too.
Naturally, the industry most affected by the pandemic was likely healthcare, and many of the innovations that social isolation necessitated remain in 2023. Rapid digitization meant that almost overnight patients were able to access consultations online through teledoctors. Today, telehealth solutions, digital healthcare assistants, and smartphone-based healthcare platforms allow patients without easy access to healthcare to gain the treatments they require.
This goes beyond the occasional online consultation to include services that help patients with cognitive impairments keep up their treatments. Digital health assistants remind patients to take their prescription when they need to, file medical records and send reminders for doctor visits. Meanwhile, for lower-income patients who lack a personal computer, mobile health platforms offer a similar service with a lower barrier for access. Vending machines used during the pandemic to dispense sanitizer and medicine are now used by pharmacies to create an easier option for collecting prescriptions any time of the day or night.
Even if a patient can’t get to a physical medical practice, they will have access to a range of touchpoints which at every step make accessing care seamless and so leading to vastly improved health outcomes.
Building Customer Loyalty
The pandemic demonstrated the power of omnichannel digital experiences to provide a more personalized and rewarding service. Customers now expect to move from one first-rate digital experience to the next, and they expect a similar digital flourish in their every brand interaction.
No matter the industry, the success of a connected customer’s whole experience—across all contact points—centers around how they feel. In industries where digital experiences are unconventional, suddenly consumers want technology to aid them as seamlessly as an Uber or a Netflix. The union of technology and people in unexpected places will see untold innovation and creativity in the coming years, helping customers to feel truly connected to brands in every industry. On the other hand, if they don’t adopt the fresh solutions that technology brings, businesses risk falling into the inescapable black hole of the failed and forgotten.
Jana Boone is SVP of Marketing at Bottle Rocket