Digital transformation: 3 ways to better understand your customers

The most successful digital transformations are driven by customers, not technology. These 3 strategies help you identify what your customers really want 
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While many leaders have long thought of digital transformation as driven by emerging technology, it has become apparent that consumers are the ones who are driving it. Being digital-first requires you to understand how your customers want to interact with your brand.

As we adapt to a post-COVID world, business leaders need to listen to their customers and strategically rethink what their customers’ needs may now be and how their business addresses those needs. Moving forward, this approach will be critical to long-term success long after the pandemic abides.

Digital transformation: The new, digitally conscious customer

Smartphones, mobile apps, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have enabled customers to get what they want when they want it. This has contributed to a shift in customer expectations and created a new kind of consumer – one that has changed the way business is done in specific industries.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

These changes have particularly impacted the retail and healthcare sectors. Before the pandemic, for example, almost all retail outlets were dependent on direct interaction with consumers. However, to stay viable in the COVID world, retailers had to reimagine consumer relationships by providing a digital experience that aligns with their expectations.

Previously, if a retailer had an online component to their business model, it was generally viewed as an “addition” to in-store contact – now it’s a necessity. Many retailers have introduced new digital touchpoints such as mobile apps to prioritize online sales channels.

The same shift applies to telehealth. Many aspects of an in-office visit are now done through videoconferencing. Although this technology has been around for years, many healthcare professionals have been slow to adopt it for various reasons, particularly a lack of infrastructure and inadequate reimbursement.

Now, however, the urgency of minimizing risk and protecting frontline healthcare workers has created an industry-wide shift toward virtual care that is likely to continue well after the pandemic fades away.

Three ways to rethink your customers' needs

Customer needs and behaviors are constantly evolving as the world changes. Taking the time to consciously ensure you’re in tune with what your customer needs is essential. That said, how can you get started?

Here are three techniques I use when re-evaluating my customers’ needs:

1. Begin with empathy

Everything I do at Clearbridge Mobile always starts with empathizing with my clients. As the first stage in the design thinking process, empathizing helps me, my team, and many business leaders develop a deep understanding of the problems and realities of the customers we are trying to serve. Business leaders must step outside their frame of reference and take the time to understand their customers before they can develop a product or service that stands out in the market.

Business leaders must step outside their frame of reference and take the time to understand their customers before they can develop a product or service that stands out in the market.

Empathizing requires you to observe and engage with your target customers. To fully understand their digital behavior, you need to experience their physical environment, learn their challenges, and discover their unexpressed needs. Practicing empathy and adopting your customers’ perspective will enable you to think above and beyond your assumptions and extrapolate customer needs more accurately.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

2. Track real-time usage metrics

Business leaders should track more than just a customer’s place in their sales cycle. Most importantly, leaders need to measure and understand if a customer is finding value in their offering.

The best way to do that is to visualize how customers are using your business’s digital touchpoints. Which actions are they are taking – and which ones are they not taking?

For example, if you’ve introduced an e-commerce option to your website, it’s vital to track bounce-rate and identify where customers are dropping off and why. If you’ve introduced a mobile app, follow sessions and session length. These insights will help you better understand how your customers want to use technology and help guide your future digital transformation strategies.

3. Ask for feedback

The best way to find out what your customer’s needs are is to ask them. When you value direct customer feedback, you create an opportunity to improve your company’s experience before it’s too late.

Offer customers multiple opportunities to send you direct feedback – through reviews, surveys, direct messages on social media, or other means. Additionally, monitor social media for any mentions and comments to see what your customers are saying about your company. Immediate feedback is the best way to determine how you can immediately improve your overall digital experience.

Never stop listening

Once you’ve taken the time to evaluate your users’ needs and rethink how your business can meet those needs, then you can find the technology that will drive your digital transformation to success. Keep in mind that your goal is not necessarily to tap the latest tech trend, but to find the tool that will solve your customers’ problems. That is the only way to a successful transformation.

The most crucial thing you can do is to listen. Only then will you be able to effectively assess if your current offerings will meet changing customer needs – or if it’s time to make changes.

[ Will your organization thrive in 2021? Learn the four priorities top CIOs are focusing on now. Download the HBR Analytic Services report: IT Leadership in the Next Normal. ]

As CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, Sanjay Malhotra has built an agile team of mobile experts who have created award-winning solutions for media, telecom, fintech, healthcare, mobile payments, and QSRs.

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