David Turner, UK CEO, Webhelp

Many of us are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic with an even greater appreciation of how much we can achieve in the virtual world. The recovery from this crisis will begin as it was lived — in a digital environment.

But business leaders are under no illusion of just how much work there is still to be done in order to boost productivity and thrive in the months ahead. Research by the Corporate Board Member Institute found that 60% of executives believed that their company is behind in their digital transformation processes and, within the past three years, only 54% had started these projects.

The pandemic has reinforced the importance of making well-executed digital transformation programmes a priority for every organisation. Investment in technology infrastructure has been crucial in recent months and companies must continue to closely evaluate how they can get the most out of what they have now and what they need to grow.

Focus on your people

It’s particularly important to think about your people in every instance of digital transformation — and listen to their advice. Recent research by Lenovo found that business and shareholder goals come before all else when new technology is being rolled out. Only 6% of IT managers consider those using it to be the first priority when investing in new solutions.

Meanwhile, almost half of those surveyed said that the way new technology was implemented “actively inhibited their teams’ ability to operate”. It was even stated that technology actually slows down business processes 21% of the time.

Recruiting and retaining the right people is absolutely key to the successful growth of any campaign or company — particularly at a time when resilience and digital skills are in high demand.

Businesses must take time to assess what makes the company appeal to a diverse range of talent. This can’t be a one-off exercise but rather a continued process of engaging with employees, gathering feedback and taking action to improve the experience for everyone.

Strengthen human connections

Digital technology has been an enabler rather than a barrier to human connection during the lockdown. Families and friends of all generations have kept in touch over video calls, and communities have mobilised over social media to support the vulnerable and key workers on the frontline. We have seen how important human interaction is and also the need to go a step further to create a positive emotional connection.

Emotion is linked to heightened learning and memory, particularly where motivation and attention are concerned, so any positive experiences that customers have with a company will affect their decisions in the future.

Our own research found that customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are 55% more likely to purchase other products or services from them and 63% are more likely to recommend them to friends and family, so there is a clear incentive for businesses to make stronger connections whilst becoming digital-first organisations.

Build the business around behaviour

Many of the digital behaviours arising during the lockdown experience are here to stay. Take online grocery shopping as one example — in spring of this year, 7.9 million British households placed an order, which is up from 4.8 million in 2019. This includes 1.1 million new online shoppers who will have enjoyed the newly-discovered convenience of having the weekly shop arrive at the door.

Even more significant changes in consumer behaviour are likely to be driven by new innovation. For L’Oréal, digital makeovers and beauty consultations lifted online sales in the first quarter by 53%. During the pandemic, visitors spent an average of nine minutes on the cosmetic brand’s virtual try-on technology, up from just two minutes at the start of the year.

The new challenges — and opportunities — encountered in recent months are prompting organisations to radically rethink the fundamentals of their business and could prove vital in helping them become more successful in the future.