By Catalin Stancel, co-founder and CEO of digital transformation specialists ddroidd, which has offices in Cluj-Napoca, Romania and Leeds, England.
Though 2020 has been a year few will look back on fondly, we should at least be thankful for the resources we have had at our disposal to get through it. Imagine for a moment there was no social media to stay in touch with friends and relatives. No 24-hour live streaming news to keep abreast of developments. No videoconferencing to participate in personal conversations, whether for work or just to see the face of a loved one. No digital community groups to organise help and support for those most in need. No platforms to send a quick message to check in on someone.
Yes, it’s been a difficult time, but without technology our experience of it could have been much worse. It is precisely this role that technology has played which has spiked our interest in how it can be further evolved to strengthen social bonds and empower communities. Rather than fixate on celebrating the part technology has played in 2020, we wish to explore how its successes can be built on. To look at how solutions can be developed that maintain and enhance a more connected and capable world. To use technology for good.
At the forefront of such endeavours will be the business community. In this piece, we will look at how the 2020 digital experience has been altered by the pandemic and how digital strategies can be refined to help the post-COVID-19 planet be a better one.
Covid-19 has disrupted the digital experience
And more than likely, permanently. Whereas pre-Covid, many digital technologies were generally viewed as tools which complement the human experience, their significance has since enjoyed a renewed appreciation. For example, Mastercard saw a 40% jump in contactless payments — including tap-to-pay and mobile pay — during the first quarter as the pandemic worsened. Meanwhile, the stocks of technology companies which facilitate safer living, such as Zoom, skyrocketed. It took a crisis for many to realise that these were more than just tools. – They are the cogs which keep the machinery of human civilisation moving and progressing.
As more people began to engage more deeply with digital solutions, expectations shifted accordingly. Sitting front and centre was the expectancy of flawless user experiences.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We talk often about the ‘digital experience’ without ever really stopping to think, “What does digital experience mean?”. Quite simply, the digital experience is the user experience. It’s an encounter with technology that is easy, understandable, fast, and which delivers the desired end-result. Covid-19 has disrupted this experience only in so much as it has intensified the demand for solutions to deliver these very attributes.
Using technology to support the development and preservation of communities
Through the optics of Covid, technology’s greatest challenge is the development of solutions which directly stem the viruses’ rampage. Mostly, this is through the likes of contact-tracing apps and early warning systems. But we also need to look beyond Covid, and the ways technology can be leveraged to not just get the world moving again, but to improve it.
A key part of this will be drives to encourage digital inclusion. Certainly, from a tech company’s perspective, the more digitally enabled people there are, the better. However, the prospect of a wider customer-base shouldn’t be the sole motivation. By providing the tools and resources to include and empower the hard-to-reach, societies at a broader level become more cohesive and its stakeholders more active. Long-term, this translates to a greater normalisation of digital interaction that can benefit everyone.
The consequences of poor digital strategies in 2021 and beyond
To be blunt, they don’t bear thinking about. The trends are quite clear; when people go digital, they stay digital and the more digitally savvy they become, the more elegant, versatile, and feature-rich they expect solutions to be. A digital strategy that fails to account for this is doomed to fail.
In delivering the high-quality digital experience customers demand, businesses must first ensure that they are as up to date as is feasible. They must also prepare each employee for success as a driver of further transformation.
Internally, this incorporates everything from the purchase of new hardware to investment in bleeding edge back-end technologies such as machine learning. Businesses might transition employees from desktop to laptop so they can work from any location at a moment’s notice. They may extend to integrating automation technology, reducing time-consuming, manual processes to the click of a button.
At a consumer level, businesses must invest in and become adept at using digital optimisation tools designed to increase website and application performance. A critical component in enhancing the customer experience. This focus on making digital spaces easy and enjoyable to use will help to broaden the number of people willing and able to access them. It will also go some way in helping to curate deeper customer loyalty.
Important as ease of use is, businesses also need to implement the tools that allow them to communicate with customers in real-time, providing the responsiveness which keeps them engaged. This means website accessibility for diverse audiences, personalised content, and instant alerts where online visitors are having trouble or where there might be system failures.
Functionality should be also be explored which provides clear information around potential product and service scarcities with solutions that give priority to older and more vulnerable buyers. Moreover, businesses having instant and full visibility of how people engage with their channels (websites, mobile apps, live chats etc.) will become critical for acting on customers’ needs and expectations faster and more effectively.
ddroidd’s vision for supporting online communities in Covid-19 recovery
For us, support for online communities as we move through and beyond Covid rests on three pillars: digital inclusion, fusion of the technological and the creative, and lasting relationships.
It has become too easy to dismiss certain demographics as being ‘not tech savvy’ and thus de-prioritising efforts to make digital spaces more accessible to them. The more digitised the world gets, the more disadvantaged these groups will become if we do nothing.
Of course, stating that we need greater digital inclusion is easier said than done. It is also an objective that will not be realised simply by throwing money at it. We need to see more collaboration between businesses and institutions to find ways of bringing down the barriers that prevent people from going online. This begins by clearly identifying what these barriers are. For example, digital illiteracy, expense, and poor connectivity are all known barriers and initiatives must be devised which look to target each one. It will involve investments of both time and resource. However, not only are the financial incentives of having more people online compelling, there is a moral obligation on those in a position to help, to help.
Fusing the technological and the creative
Good technology companies already possess a flair for the creative. The problem is that their creativity is often stifled by clients who view them as little more than a supplier. They are contracted to integrate off-the-shelf solutions for an agreed price and that is about it.
Fusing the technological and the creative therefore requires a shift in mindsets rather than methodologies. It depends on businesses resisting the compulsion to exercise excessive control over their transformation processes. They must learn to give tech companies the freedom to explore their clients’ needs and challenges so they can create solutions specific to the client.
Underpinning both these pillars is the pillar of lasting relationships. Digitisation is too important, too pervasive a process to be reduced to a series of short, transactional interactions between client and provider.
The nurturing and development of long-term, trusted partnerships is mutually beneficial. The tech company is freed to innovate and implement bespoke solutions that maximise potential and can respond more quickly when problems arise. As for the client, they can then enjoy the many advantages these two crucial capabilities provide.