Bridging the expectation divide with a digital-first approach

Key takeaways

  • A great digital experience is necessary to keep customers delighted, but keeping them satisfied relies on how a business is constructed underneath.
  • Customer interactions should be seamless, painless, deliver on the brand promise and continually get better.
  • A digital-first organisation has the foundations in place to provide great service along the entire customer value chain.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last decade about the importance of taking business digital. Equally, there have been a lot of organisations who have embraced the idea, ‘gone digital’ to draw in online customers, and then found it either hasn’t made a difference, or worse, has been detrimental to their normal operating rhythm or sales. There have been many failed experiments.

One reason for this is that often businesses are only placing a digital veneer over the top of their existing organisational cavities. Instead of becoming a digital-first operation, they have varnished their legacy tech and siloed business units with a flashy online experience. 

It’s understandable that the idea of a truly digital-first experience, or indeed, a digital transformation that reaches down to the nuts and bolts of an operating model, are daunting prospects in perceived time, effort and cost. And so it isn’t unreasonable that the placement of a digital top layer is seen as a viable stop-gap measure to skill-up the customer facing part of the business. 

In doing digital half-heartedly, however, organisations risk creating something worse than remaining analogue in a digital world: an expectation divide. 

What a customer wants, a customer should get

Importantly, digital-first does not mean digital-only. There are many instances where customers want more human touch with an organisation than less, and this will be particularly true the more sensitive the nature of the product. For example, while car insurance may lend itself to a digital-only experience, life insurance probably won’t. Both however, could start with a digital-first interaction.

A digital-first organisation is one that really thinks about what customer experience is, why it’s important, and how they can deliver on its promise. It means taking a leap to ensure that the experience is designed properly, not just to surprise and delight customers, but to satisfy them the whole way through the interaction and beyond. 

Customer experience cannot be underestimated in its importance when it comes to expectations and resulting brand loyalty (and yes, sales). But to be genuine, it must be more than skin-deep, supported by underlying enablement. There is nothing worse for a customer than having a seamless online experience with a brand only to find that a parcel takes months to arrive or that if something goes wrong with the product, the service experience to rectify the issue is cumbersome and unhelpful. 

This divide highlights that making the customer happy must go deeper than making the initial sale, and that in many ways, when one experience is delightful and the other is not it’s even worse than no digital experience at all — the trust has been built up and stings all the more when lost.

All of us have stories of such disappointment and we don’t hesitate to share them: A mobile phone purchased and activated online that can’t be fixed without in-person visits and long wait times. An insurance claim that was purchased in a couple of clicks but a claims process that is phone-only and opaque. A bank loan that is initiated online but can’t be viewed there once submitted.

Good experiences — truly digital experiences — must hold up through all parts of the experience journey. Service needs to be as good, if not better, than the sale. Organisations not willing to do things in parallel — providing great experiences through all key moments by lifting the digital capability of the organisation — run the risk of upsetting customers and losing their business.

Strong foundations provide stability

It’s important to recognise that in order to be truly digital there are behind-the-scenes foundational tasks that businesses simply have to get right. Here are four that are key:

  1. Make it easy — If a customer decides they want to interact with a human being, that needs to be really, really easy. Companies need to have a brilliant contact experience. Whatever it looks like or is called, be it a contact centre or an omnichannel experience, it must be well mapped out so that when a customer does need to contact a brand’s human representative, through any channel, it is seamlessly easy. This is also true of cross-channel promotions. If a customer wants an online discount, but needs to talk to a human before purchasing? They should not have to go back online to get their 10 percent off.
  2. Trust and authentication — A brand must know who they’re interacting with. Customers expect that organisations they speak to are talking specifically to them. While ecommerce has been focused on ‘knowing a customer’s needs and preferences,’ all that is irrelevant if at the first hurdle, business fails to know (or trust) who they are talking to. This means authentication steps can’t be onerous, and they must be seamless. If a customer verifies themselves online and the inquiry then escalates to a phone call, they shouldn’t have to start verification from scratch. The number of organisations who are still failing at this is truly staggering. 
  3. Continuous improvement — To be truly successful in the digital era, businesses must have their underpinning operating model and culture right. The ability to keep adapting and updating is the only way to get truly continuous improvement of the customer experience. Whether that ability is via an agile mindset, test-and-learn, BizDevOps or BXT, the ability to provide continuous value to the customer so their experience is constantly improving is more important than ‘big bang’ projects. Company culture must empower the team to focus on customer value and improving the digital experience instead of navigating organisational silos.
  4. Supply chain success — These days, organisations need to collaborate across the customer value chain, because the customer needs them to. Whether it be shared partnerships, or larger ecosystems, companies must collaborate in order to provide the very best experience to their customers. The digital value chain will be critical if a business wants to make sure it can give people a true digital-first experience. For example, it isn’t enough for a customer to simply order a pizza. They now want to see what time it will be on the table; that won’t be a restaurant’s core business, so a partner will be critical.

Where to start

With these foundational pillars in place, becoming a truly digital-first company will be much easier. Coordination will be needed across the four components, of course, but it will go a long way to ensuring that there is no expectation gap for the customer.

If digital transformation is centred only in one function, say sales instead of service, or pricing instead of fulfilment, customers will inevitably see the underlying ‘tooth-decay’ and shop elsewhere. If amazing ‘wow’ moments are contrasted to terrible ones, it’s time to think about ensuring that all your customer moments are consistently ‘pretty good’ instead. It may not be as whizz-bang, but it won’t lead to the broken promise of the expectation divide that will truly drive customers away.

Remember, customers judge a company as a whole, so a business needs to operate as one. If the functional legacy of the business means that one area can’t live up to the expectations set by another, then the answer isn’t to slap on another digital veneer, but to systematically step away from old structures and incentives, progressively moving towards a model that will support a consistent experience across the board. 

For information on how the right approach to digital can enable your business to thrive, even during challenging times, download PwC’s Australia Rebooted report, Where next for accelerated digitalisation and data reliance?


Matthew Benwell

Matt is a partner who leads the Technology Advisory practice in Consulting, PwC Australia