Would you rather spend an hour waiting in line at the bank to make a money transfer, or complete the same task on your phone from the comfort of your couch? It's a no-brainer. The majority of us would choose the online banking option.
When looking for a new product or service, most people choose the option that provides the best digital experience. Why? We're living digital lives. Anything that isn't digital –– like lining up at the bank –– is considered too inconvenient and inaccessible. It pulls us out of our natural rhythm, which, in the past ten years, has decidedly become decidedly ruled by technology. The simple truth is: the digital-first era is here.
If you want to meet your customers where they are, then you need to meet them online. It's now fundamentally important for leaders to adopt a digital-first mindset. That means making your services and products as digital as possible from the outset. Technology’s role in your business shouldn’t be an afterthought or a nice-to-have. It needs to be part of your foundation.
Make your products and services as digital as possible from the start
The digital-first era marks a movement away from the businesses interacting with customers in person. This includes a move away from the brick-and-mortar store, or even using representatives or salespeople.
That isn't to say that we should start boarding -up stores and firing poor Susan from sales. It's not about “canceling” an industry. It's about recognizing that every service or enterprise has a digital model. Even the most physical of industries can be transformed into digital-first enterprises.
The digital-first era calls for you to prioritize your digital offering first and then tackle everything else after, including the storefront. It's about committing to making the experience as digital as possible. The digital-first era flips everything on its head.
Consider the case of an eye glasses manufacturer. Finding a new pair of glasses is traditionally a very physical activity. It requires you to try on multiple pairs of glasses to see what suits your face. If you've ever bought glasses without putting them on, you'll know that it's tough to pick a pair that suits you without this extensive process. No one style of glasses suits everybody. So, how could such a hands-on experience ever become digital? Surely, this is an exception to the rule that every business has a digital model?
Nope. Virtual fittings for glasses have become commonplace. Most retailers use face-tracking technology paired with augmented reality. This way, the customer can use their smartphone as a mirror to visualize eyewear — no need for going into a store. As a bonus, customers can try on every pair in the store if they like. For those who have trouble choosing a pair, companies often send multiple pairs to try on. The customer just has to return the pairs they don't like.
Why does this work? Because it's convenient, accessible and customers can shop from their couch.
The digital-first era asks that you commit to your future market
If Spotify hadn't thought about its future market in its early days, we wouldn't have unlimited streaming of music or podcasts. To the consumer that idea seemed too good to be true –– and yet, that is what we have today.
Same goes for ridesharing apps. Ten years ago, we would have never have imagined getting in a stranger's car instead of a taxi. Now, rideshare is normal and doesn't raise too many flags.
The digital-first era requires us to design for today’s products, but also the unknown products of the future. And, not only do new technologies change all the time, but human behaviors also change — sometimes radically. When you don't design for the future, you can be left scrambling to adapt quickly.
It pays to be prepared for a customer that doesn't exist yet. How do you do that? Design your business with today’s most -advanced technology and keep your eyes on what’s next. Make sure you’re digital from the beginning, working with agile workflows and pay attention to what’s next. The more your business is designed to be digital, the easier it becomes to adapt to new digital requirements.
What technology does the digital-first era demand?
What goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to a future market? An extensible and flexible technology stack that is ready for anything.
In the digital-first era, you need to think of your software as a strategy. If you don't plan on expanding your digital offering past a website, there is nothing wrong with working with a traditional CMS. But, if you want more, you need more. Your tech dictates your capabilities, your processes and what is possible now or in the future. It can be your most limiting factor or your most valuable asset.
Customizable and extensible tech gives you the flexibility to adapt for the future. While we can guess at the new digital experiences headed our way –– tech like AI, VR, and more personalization –– we can only predict the trends of the next couple of years.
When you invest in tech that can be customized to new workflows and is extensible to new digital experiences, you're preparing for whatever is next. You won't have to start again with a new platform or solution.
Get the right people on your team
If you have ever managed a team of people, you recognize there are some people who can come up with a good idea and run with it until it’s a completed product. It’s even better when they’re not acting alone and can work as part of an agile, functional team.
We like to call these people digital builders. Digital builders are people who can envision an idea, experience or product and make it happen. Like a traditional builder needs the right tools, so does a digital builder. Except instead of bricks, they need the right technology, content, features and the freedom to experiment.