‘Strategists often equate digital transformation with a shift in technology investment. Its true implications though, span far beyond technology and into the realms of infrastructure, organization, and leadership. More so, it leads to and is inspired by a renewed focus on the entire customer experience.’ Brian Solis, Altimeter Group

Not so long ago the buzzword in web circles, especially in the public sector, was channel shift. Deal with customers online, rather than over the phone or in person, the thinking went, and you could save valuable time and resources, maybe even reallocating or reducing staff. Times have changed. Your customers now expect to be able to do everything online – whenever, wherever, and with whatever device they have to hand. Organisations need to put digital at the heart of everything they do in the same way that their customers are increasingly doing with their own lives.

Take me. I’m a so called millennial – I grew up using the technology we now take for granted. I’m excited by, and readily adopt, new technology. I also don’t have time to phone my local council, go into my bank to cancel a direct debit, or even pick up any shopping I can’t get at a supermarket. I leave my house at eight o’clock in the morning and by the time I’ve been to work, done some shopping, or maybe even been to the gym, I don’t get home much before nine o’clock in the evening. By that time my local council offices, my bank, and most shops are long closed. I’m not alone. People in the west are working longer and longer hours and people are commuting further than ever before. Times have changed.   

I think of channel shift as one of the earliest examples of what we now call digital transformation. Public sector organisations realised that they could save money by providing busy customers with the means to find information and carry out transactions online. Done well, channel shift was a customer service revelation. Councils saved hundreds of thousands of pounds by easing the burden on help desks and call centres. Some councils introduced self-service kiosks for customers who wanted to make payments in person. Customers were no longer driven mad by endless hold music and interminable queues at information desks.

The problem with the term channel shift is that it implies something one dimensional. Customers are moved from traditional channels, telephone or face to face, to online channels by organisations looking to save money. This shift was undertaken for the benefit of the business or organisation. But, as desktop usage falls in favour of mobile devices, people become more digitally literate, and technologies become increasingly integrated, customers expectations often exceed the standard of service being provided. The problem with channel shift is that the solution provided often served the needs of the organisation rather than the customer.    

I recently travelled to London for a conference. Leaving my office in a rush the evening before, I forgot to pick up one of the company Oyster cards for my tube journey across the city the next day. As my train pulled into Paddington I was ready to join the queue for the self-service ticket machines when I remembered that Transport for London was one of the earliest adopters of Apple Pay. After a quick Google search on my iPhone to check how the system works, and then a look at Google maps to see which tube line I needed, I was making my way through the turnstiles with a quick tap of my phone on the contactless reader. The system isn’t flawless – the contactless reader took longer to recognise my iPhone than it would an Oyster card. But, by giving people the ability to use technology they carry with them everyday, the adoption of Apple Pay seemed less like a money saving exercise in the mould of self-service kiosks and more like a genuine effort to improve customer experience.     

Of course, as other writers have noted, the technology that makes Apple Pay so user friendly is Apple's brilliant Touch ID. Touch ID uses fingerprint recognition to verify a user's identity. This kind of biometric security removes the need for the user to enter a password every time they complete a transaction. Removing unnecessary effort in this way improves the user experience and makes people more likely to adopt the system.

It’s not just the public sector that has embraced Touch ID in the quest for digital transformation. Online banking has been one of channel shift's biggest success stories. The problem with early online banking is that it was only user friendly on a desktop or laptop computer. A new generation of banking apps for mobile devices has made it easy to manage your account from your phone. I couldn’t live without Natwest’s brilliant iPhone app. Natwest’s developers are fantastic at making use of new technologies to iteratively improve their customer service. When their app first became available, it offered an easy way to manage your banking wherever you happened to be. However, the two step verification process used to ensure security was awkward and time consuming. When Apple released fingerprint support for the iPhone 5s onwards, Natwest adopted the new system, replacing two-step verification and instantly making the app far more user friendly and more likely to be used. This kind of constant improvement isn’t to be taken lightly. There’s little point investing in a new channel if, over time, you let your solution become stale and fall behind ever growing customer expectations.

You can think of digital transformation as user experience design on a large scale. What you’re aiming to do is use the latest technology reduce friction between your product or service and your user. As consumers, customers, and citizens we’re becoming more and more used to being able to do things quickly and easily. You need to put the focus on creating a customer experience that follows the path of least resistance at the heart of your organisation. To paraphrase JFK, it’s time to think not what technology can do for you, but what technology can do for your customers.

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Ryan Bromley

About the Author

Ryan is a digital marketing executive here at Zengenti. He looks after our marketing content, oversees campaigns, and helps teach courses in writing for the web. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing, and has extensive experience in photography.

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