Chase Harrington, president of Entrata.
The Covid pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology across all industries, including many that were previously resistant to digital transformation. Companies everywhere evolved a decade’s worth in a year or less as they scrambled to simply keep their doors open.
These efforts sprang up virtually overnight and have quickly transformed consumer behaviors. People now expect a virtual, fast and clean buying experience for every purchase they make, from clothing, to food to vehicles.
Just as important is how this new reality changes the landscape for businesses. Shifting consumer expectations means that companies are no longer just competing against their own industries—their biggest competition is now a consumer’s last purchase experience.
Companies should carefully consider the experiences they are delivering to customers and how they can improve outcomes in their favor. The following three suggestions can help businesses sharpen their efforts:
Embrace the future, no matter your industry.
Although the pandemic was unexpected, the movement toward delivering top-tier virtual buying experiences for customers had been gaining momentum for many years. Covid drastically accelerated the process of change for some and imparted its necessity for others. However, because companies are now competing against every customer’s last experience, no organization that wants to succeed can afford to be caught out again. It’s time to look forward instead of wishing for the past—and embrace what consumers want.
The digital offerings of companies like Tonal might have seemed like nice-to-haves before the pandemic, but in the past year, they have gone viral and won their company many new customers. More than just making it possible to connect with others while exercising, leading businesses used the opportunity to deliver an easier and more convenient experience.
Even my company’s industry—multifamily housing—which has traditionally been slow to innovate and adapt, are feeling the push from consumers for better, virtual experiences when it comes to renting. A recent survey from my company, Entrata, found that over half of Canadian renters prefer digital experiences when it comes to things like paying rent and maintenance requests to in-home technology like keyless entries and smart thermostats.
I believe leaders in every industry must push their technology forward and discover new ways to use digital and virtual experiences to connect with customers. The online experience is a bell that cannot be unrung, and companies that fail to look to the future might rapidly fall behind.
Look to the leaders.
Most companies have learned to keep a close eye on their key competitors. However, when it comes to creating virtual experiences, that’s not always enough. Companies should also remember to carefully watch the leading companies across all industries.
Innovative leaders like Amazon, Netflix or Salesforce may not be direct competitors to your company, but they are constantly reshaping customer expectations through their software and experiences. It’s worth noting that leading companies likewise follow trends carefully, so they don’t fall a step behind.
This is because the rate of change is constant when it comes to best practices for online experiences. I believe companies that want to continue engaging customers must also continue dedicating resources and iterating at every opportunity.
Competing against your customer’s last digital experience means expanding your scope to include 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.
Lean on your expertise.
Although it’s a best practice to follow how industry leaders are serving customers, companies should consider differentiating themselves by embracing their own expertise. Delivering a frictionless experience will often mean carefully guiding customers from beginning to end.
A good customer experience should be streamlined and move people to the inevitable conclusion that they are seeing the best possible outcome. As the experts in your space, your company should be uniquely positioned to deliver on that promise and empower customers to make decisions.
Buying a car online is a good example of this shift; people used to virtually window-shop for cars but had to visit a physical location to actually purchase one. As car dealers have embraced virtual experiences, more people are buying online as well.
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 trust. Leveraging your expertise can give you an advantage over the competition and help people feel confident in moving forward with their decision.
It’s clear that Covid has irreversibly changed the world. We will be feeling the impacts—and struggling to understand the aftereffects—of the pandemic for the foreseeable future. Offering a streamlined, expert-driven experience that compares to and even beats a customer’s last online or app-driven choice can help your company stay ahead of the competition for years to come.