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Digital Transformation: The User Confidence Test

Digital transformation is happening. Avoid "channel inertia" with the User Confidence Test, and by understanding your customers' needs as they go digital.

The User Confidence Test That Will Determine Digital Transformation And CX Success

From the moment COVID-19 emerged, the idea of pursuing digital transformation as a way to enhance customer experiences shifted from a long-term opportunity to a critical business imperative. The risk we run now is to move so quickly that we lose sight of what excellence in digitally-enabled CX should look like.

In sectors such as financial services and retail, for example, organizations had already been exploring ways to take a range of manual processes and bring them online. The pandemic has significantly accelerated that opportunity as companies ramped up e-commerce, set up virtual ways to engage with customers and other natively digital experiences.

According to Arnie Guha, PhD., a Phase 5 Partner and the leader of our User Experience Strategy and Design practice, technology is only one of the elements organizations need to consider as they take a step back and fine-tune their efforts in 2021 and beyond.

While it’s now possible to do everything from opening a bank account to registering a birth certificate, for instance, simply making digital channels available is never enough. The real challenge is in overcoming what Arnie calls “channel inertia.”

What Businesses’ Reaction To The Pandemic Might Overlook

People get used to doing things in a specific process, even if it’s an analogue, time-consuming and cumbersome process. That means digital transformation in the context of CX is really the art of deploying the right technology while paying close attention to what kind of process changes will influence new behaviors.

“You need to make sure their experience is not just good, but that they feel they are able to do what they need to do to fulfill their needs,” he explains. “People still phoned into call centers after they were given the option to reach out for support online. This often comes down to a sense of user confidence in the new channel they’re being offered.”

Recent research into the financial services sector across the U.S. and Canada from Phase-5 bears this out. While branch visits and ATM use have declined for obvious reasons amid the pandemic, 48 per cent of U.S. survey respondents said they were not at all comfortable applying for a new credit card online, and only 27 per cent of Canadian consumers said they would be comfortable applying for a mortgage through digital channels.

In a sense, Arnie says, COVID-19 has forced many customers to temporarily get over channel inertia because they have no other option. When bank branches close during a lockdown period, for instance, online or telephone banking is the only way to manage your account.

Even if that’s the case, the most successful organizations will be those that take the time now to continue transforming process to build user confidence in these new processes. Market research can play a strong role in helping provide visibility into these areas, Arnie suggests.

“The first thing you have to do is map out the old process — what might have been done offline — and look at the digital or hybrid process,” he says. “What did they like about the old process? What were the inertia anchors?”

Identifying The Emotional Undercurrents

The result of that research will often uncover the emotional undercurrent that digital transformation may obscure. Just look at the process of getting insurance coverage or obtaining a mortgage. As Arnie points out, the reason some of those areas were slow to move online had little to do with technology or governance concerns, but with user confidence: the fact that customers often feel more confident when they can talk to a human being at critical decision-points.

Brands also need to keep in mind the differences across various demographics. Our financial services research showed those 55 and older were 10-20 per cent less comfortable with online banking than other groups in the U.S. In Canada, the difference was even greater, with those over 55 showing 30 per cent less comfort in digital channels.

When you think in terms of user confidence, it’s possible for organizations to think through innovative approaches to address the emotional needs customers have, even as digital technologies are introduced.

“Think of how the financial services sector developed the idea of the security guarantee,” he said. “It was that simple notion that if you make a mistake or your money gets stolen that the bank will put it back. No wonder every bank adopted it.”

For all the CX community’s talk of “journey mapping,” digital transformation can take us on a trip that diverges widely from the expected route. Or at least it should.

Hidden Lessons In The Journey From Paper To Digital Forms

Arnie recalls how in the first wave of businesses moving online, a common fallacy was to take a paper form and essentially replicate it on a web site. Customers would still be expected, in many cases, to print the form out, fill it out by hand and then fax it back to a company for processing.

By conducting the necessary research upfront, a UX approach can be developed that is more likely to provide meaningful value to customers. Eventually, organizations realized it would be helpful for those online forums to come with a “wizard” that could pre-populate their data and common answers to questions.

The next generation of online forms reflected the fact that as customers fill out a form, they might have additional questions that need to be answered. Today, you’ll often see little question marks where customers can hover their cursor and have the terminology in a form explained to them, or a rationale for gathering certain information. There are also online chat tools next to many forms now that offer another form of “intervention” that improves CX, Arnie adds.

The point is not to slow digital transformation down again. Organizations simply need to ensure that they work with both speed and true customer-centric thinking. Or as Arnie says, they need to think beyond technology and focus on the front-end experience, which in turn will determine what kind of a relationship a company wants to build, and the waves of positive returns that these relationships will yield. 

“We need a more thorough understanding of how customers feel and behave,” he says. “That — more than just responding to the pandemic — should feed your strategy.”

Written by Stephan Sigaud

Stephan Sigaud, MBA, is Phase 5’s EVP of Marketing. Stephan is passionate about partnering with clients to address their challenges and opportunities around customer centricity. With more than 25 years’ experience in Market Research and Customer Loyalty and Experience, Stephan has been volunteering with both the Customer Experience Professionals Association (as Board member and past Chair of the CXPA Toronto Network) and the Canadian Marketing Association's (as member of the Leaders Network and past co-Chair of the CMA CX Council).