Chase Harrington, President of entrata.
The Covid pandemic accelerated technology adoption across all industries, including many that were previously resistant to digital transformation. Businesses everywhere evolved a decade of value in a year or less, while striving to just keep their doors open.
These efforts came about almost overnight and have rapidly changed consumer behavior. People now expect a virtual, fast and clean buying experience for every purchase they make, from clothes to food to vehicles.
Just as important is how this new reality is changing the landscape for businesses. Changing consumer expectations mean that companies are no longer competing solely with their own industries – their biggest competition is now a consumer’s final purchasing experience.
Companies need to think carefully about the experiences they deliver to customers and how they can improve the results to their advantage. The following three suggestions can help companies sharpen their efforts:
Embrace the future, regardless of your industry.
While the pandemic was unexpected, the movement toward delivering premium virtual buying experiences for customers had been gaining momentum for many years. Covid has drastically accelerated the change process for some and the need for it for others. However, with businesses now competing with every customer’s latest experience, no organization that wants to succeed can afford to get caught again. It’s time to look ahead rather than wish for the past – and embrace what consumers want.
The digital offerings from companies like Tonal may have seemed nice to have before the pandemic, but in the past year they have gone viral and have won many new customers for their business. More than just making it possible to connect with others while exercising, leading companies took the opportunity to provide an easier and more convenient experience.
Even my company’s industry – multi-family housing – which has historically been slow to innovate and adapt, is feeling the pressure from consumers for better, virtual experiences when it comes to renting. A recent survey of my company, Entrata, found that more than half of Canadian renters prefer digital experiences when it comes to paying rent and maintenance requests for in-home technology like keyless entry and smart thermostats.
I believe that leaders in every industry need to advance their technology and discover new ways to use digital and virtual experiences to connect with customers. The online experience is a bubble that can’t be let go and companies that don’t look to the future can quickly fall behind.
Look at the leaders.
Most companies have learned to keep a close eye on their main competitors. But when it comes to creating virtual experiences, that’s not always enough. Companies should also remember to keep a close eye on the leading companies in all sectors.
Innovative leaders like Amazon, Netflix or Salesforce may not be direct competitors to your company, but they are constantly changing customer expectations through their software and experiences. It is worth noting that leading companies also closely monitor trends so as not to be left a step behind.
This is because the rate of change is constant when it comes to best practices for online experiences. I believe that companies that want to continue to engage customers should also continue to commit resources and repeat at every opportunity.
Competing with your customer’s latest digital experience means extending your reach to anyone who is doing things the right way. People want clean and easy-to-use processes, and if you don’t deliver, the next one is just a search engine away.
Rely on your expertise.
While it is best practice to follow how industry leaders serve customers, companies should consider differentiating themselves by embracing their own expertise. Delivering a frictionless experience often means carefully guiding customers from start to finish.
A good customer experience should be streamlined and lead people to the inevitable conclusion that they are seeing the best possible result. As the experts in your industry, your company must be in a unique position to deliver on that promise and empower customers to make decisions.
Buy a car online is a good example of this shift; people used to go virtually in the window display for cars, but had to visit a physical location to actually buy one. As car dealers have embraced virtual experiences, more people are also buying online.
The virtual experience makes it easy for customers to find the experts for every purchase. Whether the purchase is $5 or $50,000, customers want a streamlined experience they can rely on. Leveraging your expertise can give you an advantage over the competition and give people confidence in their decision.
It is clear that Covid has irreversibly changed the world. We will be feeling the effects – and struggling to understand the after-effects – of the pandemic in the near future. By providing a streamlined, expert-driven experience that’s comparable to, and even better than, a customer’s last online or app-driven choice, your business can stay ahead of the competition for years to come.