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Article 5 min read

The year of the digital tipping point - seen from the UK and continental Europe

While it can be difficult to justify big budgets to spend on digital transformation in times of economic crisis, the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term cost cutting, because we simply need to invest now, or risk getting left behind.

By Michael Schweidler, EMEA Marketing Manager

Last updated June 4, 2021

Our Customer Experience Trends 2021 report demonstrates that two-thirds of European decision makers are saying Covid-19 has sped up the adoption of technology. It’s probably unsurprising, a little over a year ago the idea of much of the world being plunged into lockdown was unfathomable. But spring 2020 was the Covid tipping point for Europe and the UK, and suddenly the majority of citizens were forced to stay in their homes to control the spread of the disease.

The one thing that made this slightly more bearable was technology. Just think for a second and imagine being locked down without your smartphone? We in the West and those privileged enough to have access to phones, tablets, laptops and a Wi-Fi connection were able to stay connected with family and friends as well as order in food, watch movies, shop, and even partake in an Instagram live yoga class if they so wished. Many were even lucky enough to continue to work from home – suddenly consumers were living almost their entire lives online.

The most successful brands have always been the ones who understand their customers through and through. And those who were able to spot these rapidly changing consumer habits and react to them quickly in times of crisis were the ones who will stay at the forefront of customers’ minds going forward. This is highlighted in our report, with 70% of companies saying they are looking for new ways to engage with both customers and employees.

Speeding up the digital transformation journey

But in order to offer a seamless service to these digital-first consumers, your own business must be digitally ready. So many companies – large and small – were in the middle of digital transformation plans before Covid even hit, forcing them to move at speed in order to offer services customers need, not in five years down the line, but right now.

The grocery sector is an excellent example – as Covid’s impact deepened in the UK, Tesco announced its intentions to create 16,000 permanent jobs to fuel its expanding online grocery business.

This area of retail was one of the first to offer an eCommerce solution many years ago, but the costs of fulfilling online orders seriously impacts profitability compared to in stores where customers do all the hard work themselves. But Covid has led to grocery shoppers discovering just how convenient shopping online actually is.

Asda CEO and president, Roger Burnley, said over the summer that the pandemic had created a “structural shift” in customer behaviour towards grocery shopping. “We have accelerated our online capacity expansion to meet levels we had anticipated reaching in eight years within a matter of weeks and we will continue to expand this offer.”

In France Carrefour also went into the pandemic certain that customer trends were about to drastically change and pointing to its transformation plan as putting it in a strong position to rise to the challenge of meeting these changing consumer needs. Meanwhile, at a time when hygiene and social distancing is of the utmost importance, Casino-owned Monoprix chose the middle of a pandemic to open its first unstaffed store, under the Monop’ Box brand.

Covid has clearly accelerated change. And the retailers in our survey agreed, saying they’ve seen years of change compressed into months, with a quarter of decision makers saying the speed of change has sped up by over four years and two-thirds say investing in digital technology will help grow revenue going forward.

Mindful digitisation

At the same time, companies need to be mindful that not every customer will be comfortable with digital technology, and indeed some consumers may find they have been overexposed to technology over the last year and may be craving more in-human interactions as we step out of the pandemic.

In fact, the annual D21-Digital-Index which measures the progress of digitisation in Germany suggests that over the last year citizens have only slightly increased their digital behaviours and when it comes to certain areas of life – like receiving medical treatment via video-call – consumers are more wary of digital, suggesting a divide in society that we all need to be mindful of, so let’s not replace humans with robots just yet. It’s about offering choice to consumers – online or in-store, phone call or WhatsApp message – be there for your customer in as many seamless channels as possible.

Creating a digital workspace

And it’s not just about offering a joined-up omnichannel service to customers in an unreflected way. Being a digital-first business requires agile technology and practices to be woven into the very core of your business – which is why modern, pureplay retailers like Asos, Cdiscount and Zalando do such a good job, as they are not weighed down by incumbent technology and old processes, which one CIO once called “legacy spaghetti”.

Ensuring your colleagues are working within your business using the best digital tools possible is critical to ensuring your business is digitally ready. Creating collaboration tools and a digital workspace should be high on the investment agenda.

Siemens Financial Services (SFS) rolled out Zendesk to streamline the company’s customer service pipeline and data management and remove its reliance on email inboxes and spreadsheets to track customer data. In three days, the international B2B financing arm of Siemens was seeing improvements in its reporting, response times, and collaboration, while also having a platform the company could comfortable pivot purely online when teams were forced to work from home as the pandemic worsened last year.

Meanwhile, maritime transportation company Baleària implemented Zendesk Chat and WhatsApp in just two days to enable agents to seamlessly work from home even as ticket volumes surged and the need to keep in touch with customers was more important than ever.

The pressure is clearly on. And in times of economic crisis it can be difficult to justify big budgets to spend on digital transformation. But the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term cost cutting, because we simply need to invest now, or risk getting left behind.