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How the next phase of digital transformation will supercharge your business

Customers have come to expect a robust digital experience when they interact with a brand, this Salesforce exec says.

How the next phase of digital transformation will supercharge your business
[Images: Yagi Studio/Getty Images; Simon Potter/Getty Images]

The pandemic kicked digital transformations into high gear across virtually every industry, but what happens next? One thing is absolutely certain: digital transformation is not slowing down any time soon.

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Consumers are driving this global shift, and demanding better experiences across every digital channel. According to a recent study, 88% of consumers say they expect companies to accelerate digital offerings because of the pandemic. Meeting—and exceeding—these expectations is critical to staying competitive and fostering loyalty at a time when customers have endless choices and are willing to walk away from companies that don’t measure up. 

Digital transformations will look different going forward, forcing brands to push boundaries and deliver new thinking that upends conventional wisdom. It is more than moving to the cloud, building a website, or making multiple channels available—it’s about providing a digital experience with the customer at the center, powered by integrated data and driven by a digital-first mindset across the organization.

Upending Conventional Wisdom

Five years ago, digital transformation was about embracing an omnichannel approach. For example, customer service channels historically operated in silos, with disconnected systems and disparate data. A company would have no idea that someone walking into a physical store was the same customer who had previously reached out via email and chat. An omnichannel strategy brought all these channels together to provide organizations with a single view of the customer, enabling companies to deliver connected and personalized experiences. 

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Now, successful companies are taking the next step by becoming digital-first. But what does that mean, exactly?

Over the past two years, and for obvious reasons, customers have demonstrated a preference toward digital whenever they interact with a company—whether it’s for commerce, service or marketing purposes. Salesforce data shows that during Cyber Week last year (November 23-29, 2021), online sales hit an all-time high of $275 billion. Our data also showed that there was also a surge in digital marketing communications with 40 billion push notifications (a 34% increase year-over-year) and email volume increasing by 25%.

But the digital-first transformation doesn’t stop there. Artificial intelligence continues to play a large role in how consumers shop. Cyber Week shoppers engaged with 73.6 million AI-driven product recommendations, according to our data. Those recommendations provide consumers with curated, personalized experiences tailored to their specific needs and interests.

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Becoming digital-first means understanding the value of relationships and using digital channels to wrap your arms around customers and better connect with them, wherever and whenever they prefer. Moving toward a digital-first experience is a win-win: Not only does it reduce the cost to serve customers, but it also leaves them more satisfied. 

An industry-specific sport

A one-size-fits-all approach to digital transformation will not work. Buying car insurance, signing up for unemployment benefits or scheduling a vaccine appointment all require a unique customer journey. Different industries also demand their own rules (e.g. HIPAA compliance for the healthcare industry) for training machine learning algorithms on how to treat customer segments, whether offering a new product or providing a more personalized level of service. 

Digital transformation is most effective when organizations adopt industry-specific best practices when designing their customer-facing sites, workflows and AI tools. This will be especially important going forward, when businesses are keen to move to digital as efficiently as possible. Those companies that beat the competition to simplified, automated and seamless digital engagement are the ones likely to rise to the top in their industries.

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Southwest Airlines and Bose are two companies who are digitally transforming to meet the changing demands of their customers. 

Southwest Airlines has found ways to digitally optimize its customer service and consolidate several systems to create a single view of customers and free up agents to handle multiple customer interactions at a time. They have seen a tremendous jump in customer service scores since making these changes. 

And, Bose is driving more personalized customer experiences for its audio products, while simultaneously improving customer service operations through an enterprise-wide integration that gives them a single view of customer information. This expansion of their robust direct-to-consumer business will pay dividends for them and their customers.

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Digital transformation = cultural transformation

Having the technology in place is an essential first step, but there’s also a human component: Without alignment around digital transformation initiatives, different departments, product divisions and geographic regions are likely to do things the old way or embark on their own path. Additionally, at a time when companies are facing unprecedented turnover and burnout, digital transformations that enable cultural changes can awaken creativity and drive renewed engagement among teams. The benefits extend to consumers who – through this ubiquitous transformation—can now expect a consistent experience, regardless of channel.

Paypal is a great example of this phenomenon. They navigated the pandemic by quickly adapting to the digital-first, work-anywhere world. They’ve implemented new digital tools to empower remote teams to deliver the best possible customer experience, making it easier for them to collaborate, and in turn, benefitting customers by providing better services across multiple communications channels.

Digital transformation isn’t magically complete when a company buys a piece of software; it’s just as much about changing an organization’s mindset. A key part of this shift is moving toward data-driven decision-making. With the explosion of digital channels, most companies have more data than ever before at their fingertips, but it’s often fragmented across hundreds or even thousands of disconnected systems. Organizations need tools that can integrate these applications into a single source of truth, help them analyze and visualize the data, and turn insights into action.

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Transforming to Thrive

Before the pandemic, digital transformation remained a buzzword or far-off objective for many business leaders. Now, CEOs in virtually every industry and region have grasped that going digital-first as quickly as possible is key to their future.

Traditional channels are not disappearing, but a return to growth is predicated on building relationships with customers who expect stand-out digital engagement tailored to them as individuals and to the product or service they’re seeking.

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While the last two years were about survival for many companies, the next phase is about using digital transformation to thrive.


David Schmaier is president and chief product officer at Salesforce.


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