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Taking Back the Digital Space

Expert advice on digital transformation from leaders who have seen it all.

Maybe you're wondering if we really need to take back the digital space? Fueled by the necessity of the pandemic, technology has had a pretty good year — maybe the best year ever. When COVID-19 hit, it prompted an acceleration of digital transformation efforts.

 There's no question that the digital landscape is drastically different than it was a year ago. Organizations accomplished a lot — rolling out systems to support a remote workforce and creating virtual experiences to replace in-person interactions with customers.

 But with the focus on responding to the COVID-19 crisis, many business leaders delayed their transformation plans for 2020. While there are many factors at play as we recover from the pandemic, hope is on the horizon for the first time in a long time. It's time to move out of reactive mode and focus on plans that support better relationships with customers and long-term strategic growth.

 So what does that mean for your organization's transformation plans? What do you need to consider when reevaluating your pre-pandemic business objectives? What can we do to make sure that 2021 is another good year for technology, your customers, and your organization?

 For answers, we recently hosted a Concord Tech Talk: Taking Back the Digital Space with a panel of digital experts with experience from across the B2B and B2C sectors. We were pleased to be joined by Mark Hansberry, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at HealthPartners; Tammylynne Jonas, Global Chief Information Officer at Self Esteem Brands; and Matt Gilliss, Executive Creative Director at Goddard Systems. Read on for highlights from our conversation.

Screenshot of the four panelists with text stating "Taking Back the Digital Space".

How COVID-19 changed the customer experience

To say that everything has changed isn't really hyperbole.

"There's been a fundamental change in how consumers work, how they learn, how they communicate, how they shop, how they live, how they play, how they travel, and how they view their health," Mark said.

The changes in healthcare are especially pertinent to Mark, who is responsible for positioning and growing HealthPartners. Leveraging the power of digital has been a priority for several years, but the pandemic moved the timetable for digital care experience.

It wasn't that long ago that seeing a doctor required walking into a clinic. But all that has changed. "Today, you can get your end-to-end care done through a digital experience, through booking an appointment, having your appointment, and having your bill come thereafter," Mark said.

Likewise, education systems hastened technology adoption to meet the demand for virtual learning — but it wasn't always easy. This was something that Matt saw firsthand while helping a leading provider of childhood education services navigate the technological challenges of COVID-19.

For the private education side, Matt says, "COVID has forced the hand on ushering in new technology, the way we are conversing, and working day in and day out."

And, of course, there were numerous changes in shopping behavior. Consumers shopped online, on apps, and took advantage of curbside pickup, BOPUS (buy online, pick up in-store), and other conveniences that companies rolled out to keep customers — and their bottom line — healthy.

COVID even shifted how people consume fitness. "We pushed a lot of our content and workouts online," Tammylynne said about the Self Esteem Brands of Anytime Fitness, Basecamp Fitness, and The Bar Method.

Of course, once we recover from the pandemic, everything will go back to normal, right? Not even close.

Digital will remain at the core of the customer experience

It turns out that people really, really like many of the conveniences and alternatives that stemmed from the necessities of the pandemic. The majority of employees want the option for remote work to continue after the pandemic. Consumers want to continue using different shopping methods for retail stores. People still want to be able to meet with their doctors through virtual appointments. In many ways, the pandemic whets consumers' appetite for a more robust customer experience.

So, what qualities are essential in the future of customer experience? "Personalization and hyper immediacy," said Matt.

Mark expanded on the topic. "Consumers are going to expect more integrated omnichannel experiences. So when I go from my phone to my laptop to my in-person encounter, that's all going to be expected to be completely integrated."

Mark notes that planning for a consistent omnichannel experience should be inclusive of things like cloud migration, stability, accessibility, SEO, blog optimization, tool implementation, among other factors. Journey mapping can also help you understand what customers want at each touchpoint as they move from awareness to customer loyalty.

How do you know what your customers want from a relationship with your company?

"You have to ask and listen to your customers," Tammylynne said. However, she thinks you should take what your customers say with a grain of salt. After all, they may be thinking too small because they don't know what's possible.

That's why Tammylynne says, "You also need to take a leap of faith where you're helping shape the customer expectations as well."

Must-haves before you start your next transformation project

Whether you're resurrecting delayed plans or hatching new strategies to improve the customer experience, there are some proven ways to make your next project a success.

Alignment to business strategy

An effective transformation project starts with aligning your digital strategy to your business strategy.

"I'm not really interested in digital transformation," said Mark. "What I'm interested in is business transformation by leveraging digital. Ultimately, digital should be a catalyst for the organization to ultimately achieve its vision, goals and execute upon its strategies."

"They should be inseparable," Matt agreed. "But we still see that tendency to separate digital as its own strategy and channel when it should be a part of the broader business strategy."

Funding — for everything that matters

"When we're talking about things like features, benefits, optimization … that's actually, in my experience, easier to get funding for," said Mark. "What's harder to get funding for … are things that allow us to scale and sustain the work that we're doing."

These include factors such as building a solid technology foundation, supporting cloud migration, improving site stability, upgrading functionality, and A/B testing.

"Front-end experience … is so heavily dependent on what's happening in the back end. But, getting the time, the attention, the funding to fix what's broken there — to clean the data, to house the data, to make more efficient systems to facilitate the experiences that we want — that's a larger uphill battle," said Matt.

Tammylynne feels there's something else that you should make sure you budget for: Change management.

"[It's] the single most important part of any transformation project," she said, also noting it's the "first thing to get cut and the most important thing to get overlooked."

"It's not just the strategy; it's also the execution," she said.

Engagement at all levels

Engagement at all business levels is essential to ensure the success of any digital transformation project, particularly when a project fundamentally changes people's jobs or how the organization provides value to the customer. Something that helps?

"Finding evangelists throughout the organization to help spread the message on why the change is underway and what it really means — why we're doing it, what's the impact is going to be, what's the outcome going to be, and how they'll be a part of it — I think that's a critical component to the strategy," said Matt.

A team that thinks differently

Consumer expectations have changed. So, it's no surprise that the mindset and skillsets of the people working on transformation projects also need to evolve.

"[User Experience Design] people need to be omnichannel thinkers, so they need to be thinking about, at least in my industry, shopping for an appointment, booking an appointment, but what happens when you hit the clinic, and what happens after you hit the clinic because that value chain doesn't end when you book the appointment, it ends when the consumer finishes that journey," Mark said.

The ability to think differently is especially vital in those leading transformation projects.

"The whole notion of a digital transformation is that you're asking people to do things differently — to change their processes and their technology and completely reform how they do things," said Tammylynne. "And, it's hard to do when relying on your existing leaders ... because if they knew how to think differently, they would have already done it."

In Tammylynne's opinion, the companies that have done it well "bring in a new thinker, a new leader who is digitally native who understands how things should be different."

"It's very hard to shake people's thinking, especially since they've always done things a certain way," she said.

Getting started on your next transformation project

It can be hard to get your projects started. After all, the investment in time and resources is significant. But, Matt reminded us, "there are plenty of Kodaks and Blockbusters out there that serve as motivations as to why you need to forge ahead."

Digital navigators can guide you through the challenges of starting transformation projects — and keeping things on track. These transformation leaders have expertise in business planning and strategy, user experience, cloud and integration, data, and analytics. To learn more, visit Concord Digital or download our ebook, Into the Wild: The Modern CMO's Guide to Mapping Digital Strategy to Outcomes.

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