Putting the ‘I’ back in experience in a post-pandemic world

Delivering personalised digital experiences has gone from being an added bonus to an urgent necessity for brands. Bronwyn van der Merwe explains why it is imperative for brands to work collaboratively with customers in order to deliver relevant and highly personalised digital experiences for long term success.

Many Australian businesses have looked to differentiate their digital services and business models through personalisation. Customers trade their personal data – and a slice of their privacy – for services that better meet their needs and likes.

However, as explained in this year’s Accenture Technology Vision report, many people are beginning to feel conflicted about this trade off. The problem: behind the scenes data gathering and analytics that are inadvertently pushing customers out of the equation, causing them to feel out of the feedback loop. Of the 2,200 consumers surveyed for the report, a shocking 66 percent said they’re just as concerned about the commercial use of their personal data and online identity for personalisation purposes as they are about security.

The key to addressing this challenge lies in treating all stakeholders, including and especially customers, as partners. To meet customer demand for control and transparency, digital experiences must be co-created with them. Customer agency is now central to driving brand engagement, and helps companies mitigate many of the concerns people have around privacy and customisation.

With the ongoing effects of COVID-19, it seems clear things will never quite go back to where they were. So, what will be the impact on digital experiences?

Relearning customers

In light of the pandemic, digital experiences have become even more important. With lockdowns and social distancing measures in place throughout much of the world, we’ve had no choice but to live and work online. Zoom catchups with friends have become a daily occurrence, groceries have been bought online, work once only done in a cubicle is now being conducted at dining room tables. Firms that offer digital platforms and personalised digital services should be thriving in times like these. And many are.

However, COVID-19 has brought with it some specific challenges around personalisation strategies that firms will need to consider. For a start, much of the ‘black box’ analytics that have driven personalisation efforts to date rely on historic data. A lot of this data is now relatively useless given the scale of change we’re living through. If businesses are going to deliver services that meet the needs of today’s digitally engaged consumers, they will need to embrace much more agile engagement strategies.

During the crisis, many businesses have shown that they can pivot fast as circumstances demand. Car makers have become medical equipment manufacturers, for example, and gin makers have turned their hand to producing hand sanitiser. But to be able to pivot at the individual level, as personalisation demands, is a whole other ball game. To be successful, businesses need to relearn their customers’ wants and needs from scratch. The simplest way to do this is to turn to the customers themselves. By giving customers control and influence over the services they use, businesses can organically learn about what matters most to them.

Digital transformation goes supersonic

Looking further ahead, we can expect to see the fundamental purpose of digital experience change. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital platforms and experiences, even among sections of the population that had previously been hard to reach, such as the elderly. For many, digital is now the primary source of interaction for a wide range of functions. This is a big change from the past where most digital services were designed to support rather than replace in-person experiences.

Leading businesses are taking this as the opportunity to go all-in on digital and deliver truly shared experiences and communities. For example, beer brand Furphy launched a virtual Friday night pub experience, while the Good Food and Wine Show moved parts of its events online, with virtual cooking master classes and wine tastings.

Other experiences may be harder to digitalise completely, but as technology evolves the task will become easier. Innovations such as HEY Bracelet and Bond Touch are good examples; seeking as they do to virtualise human touch. The bracelets can lightly squeeze the wearer or light up and vibrate when activated by their counterpart. Devices such as these are the beginnings of something big: deeply convincing and tactile virtual experiences that will provide a satisfying alternative to in-person gatherings in the wake of COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic, it was clear that businesses would need to think again about how they deliver personalised digital experiences. The days of opaque data analytics were coming to an end and businesses were already being tasked to work more closely with their customers. COVID-19 has turned this future requirement into an immediate imperative. The companies that build personalised, interactive, and shared virtual communities today will put themselves in prime position for long-term success.

Bronwyn van der Merwe is the general manager, APAC, at Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive).

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash.