Things Are Different Now — and That’s Good

May 18, 2021

By David Carrel

DrAfter123/Getty Images

The early pandemic was a period of rapid-fire innovation, because there was simply no alternative. Businesses learned to sell online. Consumers learned to buy online. And video conferencing became a staple form of interaction both at work and at home. Many of us found new, creative ways to connect virtually, while looking forward to the day when life will go back to some semblance of normal.

Now, with increasing access to vaccines, that time is on the horizon. But what “real life” will look like has changed for good. Many of the digital innovations developed at breakneck speed in response to the pandemic have turned out to have major advantages over traditional approaches — such as greater flexibility, choice, and connectedness.

To get a better idea of just how different life has become, Adobe commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey businesses and consumers around the world about which pandemic-era innovations are mostly likely to stick. And the results are clear. Digital experiences that allow people, professionals, and brands to connect will be with us for the long haul.

This post will highlight some of these experiences in a variety of industries — and provide insight into how automation can produce interactions that can actually feel more human than their in-person analogs.

 

Innovations That Are Here to Stay

As the pandemic began, both businesses and consumers swung into action. Nearly half (47 percent) of businesses quickly rolled new features to improve digital engagement. And forty-three percent of consumers either started shopping online or began doing it more often. It’s no surprise, then, that 70 percent of businesses saw website visits increase.

Over the past year, leading businesses continually refined their digital experiences, while consumers showed a willingness to try new things. Generally speaking, consumers gravitated to experiences they found convenient (57 percent), informative (41 percent), and authentic (35 percent).

Consumers Demand Digital, Forrester and Adobe

The Forrester survey revealed that a wide variety of experiences across many different industries met these criteria and are likely to endure.

Healthcare: the rise of telehealth

For years, the traditional doctor’s visit has followed a familiar script — fill out forms, sit in a waiting room, spend 10 minutes with a busy, multi-tasking doctor, and settle the bill. Telemedicine was barely a blip on the radar. And no one had any incentive to change this, since most insurance carriers didn’t cover it.

During the pandemic, however, both doctors and insurers saw telemedicine as a way to keep healthcare professionals and their patients safe. Many routine doctor’s appointments and consultations moved online, and something surprising happened. Doctors discovered they were able to spend more quality one-on-one time with patients.

"Telehealth is like the old-fashioned house call,” says Thomas Swanson, director of health and life sciences industry strategy at Adobe. “The doctor is coming to you at your convenience, in a place that’s comfortable for you. And I hope the industry never recovers from that.”

Financial services: low stress banking

One of the worst parts of the pandemic for many people was the financial uncertainty. Whole swathes of the global economy — such as travel and hospitality — were essentially shuttered. Both businesses and individuals needed flexibility from financial institutions as well as fast, easy access to assistance.

Banks and other financial services firms rose to this challenge. They overhauled online banking to make a wide variety of transactions more convenient, and they allowed businesses to apply for assistance and bridge loans online. In fact, 82 percent of customers surveyed were satisfied with online financial services — one of the highest industry satisfaction rates during the pandemic.

“Investing in digital helps banks be more proactive and less reactive, strengthening customer trust,” explains Christopher Young, director of industry strategy for financial services at Adobe. “And it adds more than convenience — it helps customers make smarter decisions.”

Retail: pulling it all together

During the pandemic, even a routine shopping trip could be a nerve-wracking event. Consumers wanted safe and predictable in-person interactions as well as more options to buy online.

Retailers responded by re-inventing the entire customer journey and unifying their channels. They introduced home delivery, curbside pickup and returns, personal video shopping and even augmented reality (AR)-powered dressing rooms. Some retailers went even further, using AR to create virtual pop-up stores and allow consumers to create avatars and shop together online.

They also began using data to better understand — and personalize — customer journeys. “Personalization, a longstanding business necessity, is even more important now as customers sift through infinite choices online for the products they need,” observes Michael Klein, global director of retail industry strategy at Adobe.

Media and entertainment: winning the virtual race

When the pandemic hit, housebound consumers were hungry for entertainment to take their minds off an unrelenting stream of grim news. Entertainment companies rose to the challenge. Blockbuster movie releases moved to streaming platforms, and sports leagues pioneered virtual matches. Media companies also began creating online communities where fans could connect with each other and their favorite entertainers.

Michael Grier, industry strategy leader for media, entertainment, and communication at Adobe believes events like NASCAR’s virtual race series can create a more human and connected experience. “If you’re in the driver’s seat with them, seeing their expressions and reactions, that adds a little more humanity than being just a tiny fan in a huge stadium,” he says.

High tech: even more cloud

Underpinning digital experiences in virtually all industries is cloud computing, big data, and sophisticated automation powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Cloud infrastructure expanded during the pandemic to support massive growth in demand for digital services, and engineers applied AI to large data sets to solve a broad spectrum of challenges from streamlining supply chains to creating more targeted and personalized experience.

 

The Personalization Paradox

It’s counterintuitive, but many online interactions now can feel more human and personal than their in-person versions. Take the telehealth example. Doctors and patients can actually communicate more effectively without the distractions and administrative hassles common in a typical in-person healthcare setting.

“As the [high-tech] industry responds to the pandemic, companies and customers are looking for ways to form deep, authentic human connections through technology,” notes Jill Steinhour, director of high-tech and B2B strategy at Adobe.

Similarly, AI can now provide online shoppers with personalized content and product recommendations that can be vastly more accurate and relevant than what they’d receive from a busy sales rep. Of course, AI can also provide detailed intelligence on customers’ likely interests to retail and call center staff, so those interactions become better and more personalized, too.

 

The Connected Future

The pandemic has fostered the emergence of digital experiences that feel human and connected. And businesses that deliver these experiences are poised for long-term success. They are 3.3 times more likely to have significantly increased customer lifetime value and 3.8 times more likely to have significantly increased average order value.

To learn more about how businesses are bringing technologies and insights from the pandemic era into the future, read the full-length Forrester study, “Consumers Demand Digital.”

David Carrel is VP of digital experience marketing at Adobe.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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