Of all the ways our lives have been altered by the Covid-19 pandemic, our collective, rapid shift toward online experiences is one of the most profound. Before 2020, the digital world served as an addendum to our lives: Think, the ecommerce site that helped us track down obscure products from across the globe. The ride-sharing app we used to get to the office on a rainy day. The mobile banking app whose balance alerts helped us manage our money. Now, digital experiences are in many ways primary — the locus of where we shop, work, bank, learn and even socialize. In fact, U.S. e-commerce sales grew more than 30% during the height of the pandemic regional lockdowns, while responses to Covid-19 accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by seven years.
But if our center of gravity has shifted toward digital experiences, those experiences need to change in profound ways, too. They must be frictionless and anticipate customer needs. They must retain an element of personalization and humanity that we’ve come to expect from IRL services. They must intelligently blend aspects of in-person and the online convenience that consumers now expect. And, they need to do all this at a greater scale, speed, and security than ever before to keep pace with rapid shifts in consumer behaviors.
If it sounds like a daunting challenge, it is — but the next generation of successful businesses must quickly evolve to meet this challenge with a smart blend of future-focused technology and human-centered design. Ahead, we talk to industry leaders about key insights they’re using to design more holistic digital experiences for their customers, what the future holds, and why it’s more important to get it right now than ever before.
Intelligent and connected
The businesses that succeed now, our experts say, are those that understand how to meet customers’ need for intelligent digital experiences — that is, they must be connected, relevant, and frictionless.
In a time when people may be less likely to feel comfortable stopping by a branch or popping into a store in person, “it’s increasingly important that digital experiences are proactive and intelligent, anticipating customer needs even before they do, and engaging customers when it’s contextually relevant,” says Ron Secrist, Managing Vice President of Digital Customer Experience at Capital One.
In the early days of the pandemic, Secrist’s team anticipated customer needs by continuously updating answers to the most commonly asked questions on the Capital One homepage and simultaneously retraining its intelligent assistant Eno to direct customers to the information they needed on Covid-related context and information like relief programs, help with money management, and more.
Well before the pandemic, the bank built a seamless ecosystem of tools that have helped to make online shopping easier, faster — powered by data and machine learning. For example, the Capital One mobile app and digital payments tools provide a frictionless experience, making it easy to pay — anywhere, anytime. To effortlessly save money while shopping online, Capital One Shopping automatically finds lower prices, coupons and online credits. Meanwhile Eno, Capital One’s intelligent assistant looks out for unusual charges to help to stop fraud in its tracks. Together, this seamless experience provides the effortless transition from one touchpoint to another that customers have come to expect.
Suzie Reider, Global Managing Director at Waze, the navigation app with 140 million users worldwide, sees integrations as key to removing friction. “Customers always want an app that’s seamless and speedy,” Reider says. “But increasingly, customers also want integrations across their most commonly used apps.” So at Waze, they’re building smart updates that allow users to do more within the app — from accessing their favorite music streaming services, to buying online from the stores they navigate to, and making contactless fuel payments right at the pump.
As digital adoption took a quantum leap, existing technologies and tools have refocused, becoming more intelligent and connected to nimbly adapt to changing customer needs. Reider explains this as part of the recency effect, where recent heightened emotions leave a bigger impression in people’s minds. She believes “recency” may even take on a larger role in our future. “Recency is super relevant now, because what was true last week may not be true three weeks from now.” The fact that Waze’s maps are continuously updated by its 140 million-strong user base is already a selling point for many users. “This time has taught us that it’s important not to rely on data that’s 30 days old, because things are continuing to change so quickly.”
Personalized and contextually aware
“People have a huge desire for connectedness right now,” says Secrist. Perhaps that’s why our experts see an increasing demand for digital experiences that are personally tailored to each user. To meet that need, customers who log onto the Capital One homepage or open the mobile app may see different menu options based on their most common banking needs.
As the pandemic supercharged our shift to online shopping — the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that online sales spiked 31 percent in the three months following the pandemic’s outbreak in the U.S. — our need for better online security has grown exponentially. Enter: Capital One’s Eno browser extension. With the free browser extension, Eno is ready to automatically generate a virtual card number from any checkout page. Users can get a unique virtual card number for each merchant they shop with. Virtual card numbers from Eno help protect our customers from potential fraud by allowing them to shop online without sharing their actual card number In a way, it’s the ultimate form of personalization, and one that upgrades online security in a powerful way.
The need for contextual awareness drove Waze to update its maps in March with “Location Personalities” that allow businesses to put badges on the map indicating their choices for Covid-safe options like contactless payments and curbside pickup. The popular feature is part of Waze’s overarching desire to provide users with an experience that’s not only useful, but empathetic, says Reider.
Another facet of contextual awareness is simply ease of use — after all, no one likes navigating a complicated app or website, least of all when stress is already high. “People are overwhelmed — they want things to be easy,” says Secrist. “This is particularly true with screen fatigue and the mental load people are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. So businesses must make it especially easy to do what’s needed, for example by reducing the number of steps you need to pay a bill or make a transfer.” Understanding and anticipating customer needs so you can provide the right solutions, at the right time, is the key
Best of both worlds
The world’s turn toward online services and experiences doesn’t mean the end of a human connection. In fact, our experts see them as equal counterparts. Moving forward, many predict a blurring of boundaries between the online and IRL shopping experiences. “Before the pandemic,” says Paul Moreton, Managing Vice President for eCommerce at Capital One, “you had physical point-of-sale payments, and online shopping — now the two are blending together. You might order ahead and pay online, then pick up in-store. Or you might shop in-store, and have things delivered to your house.”
An ideal model is one which automates the details, while preserving a sense of human contact and personalization — think the local bakery which now provides the top three brioche and sourdough loaf recommendations you might like based on your personal profile and lets you pay online. Secrist believes we’ll see more of this hybrid digital and physical experience in the future, where customers can “remain safe, but also get the goods and services they need, continue to support the local businesses they love, and have a sense of normalcy and human connection through this time.”
Looking ahead, we can expect to see more of these integrated approaches to digital products and services. For Secrist, continuing to streamline customer experiences, while making sure that online commerce works seamlessly as the holiday shopping season ramps up is key: “The percentage of online holiday shopping will be even higher this year than in years past, so we’ll continue to make it easy for customers to integrate their Capital One card to whichever payment service they choose, whether that’s Google Pay, Apple Pay, or PayPal.”
As the world adjusts to changes large and small, consumers undoubtedly appreciate these more connected, and increasingly human digital experiences. As Secrist says, “Five years ago, the focus was on creating a beautiful mobile app you could navigate easily. Now, the focus is on bringing the experience to you — personalized for you — in the moments that matter most.”