When it comes to mobile apps and digital transformation, many think of flashy new features that will fundamentally change an industry. But that’s not always the case, for the average of reviews that mention a specific feature remains low at 2.5 stars.

With this in mind, how can businesses quickly develop a digital experience that is both business-ready and user friendly? Chief Creative Officer, Mike Welsh of Mobiquity, a digital consultancy, tells Digital Journal why companies should be primarily focusing on integration with existing systems.

Digital Journal: How is digital transformation an imperative for businesses?

Mike Welsh: Digital transformation is imperative for businesses because, now more than ever, companies are being asked to do more with less. They have fewer resources – in terms of people and budgets – yet they are being asked to maximize efforts with minimal investment. So while businesses were focused on growing their company pre-COVID, the key now is survival. Especially because of the added pressures around online ecommerce, companies that want to survive and thrive will need to digitally transform if they want to remain viable.

Let’s take a look at one way digital can create more organizational and customer efficiency. A good example of this is a quick service restaurant looking to help customers place, pay for, and pick up a meal more easily. Restaurants that launch a curbside experience online or via a mobile app take away some of the manual labor needed to place the order and service customers by replacing it with digital tools that do the work for them. By doing this, the restaurant can reallocate its existing staff and use them to help fulfill orders carside, triage order intake, etc. From the customer’s perspective, the process of ordering food has also been simplified. With a few clicks they can have food ready to take home and enjoy.

Digital transformation is absolutely imperative for businesses right now. If they don’t start rethinking and replanning soon, they’ll find themselves doing it after everyone else – including their competition – has already successfully launched their new normal.

DJ: Who should own digital transformation within the organization and why?

Welsh: The most successful digital transformations happen when organizations form a cross-functional team of people to see the project through, from strategy and planning to execution and launch. Companies should include every group that will be impacted by the transformation, which is likely the majority of any business. I recommend this because when a company has made the decision to invest in innovation that will accelerate them forward, they are also committing to change the company’s environment. Therefore, anyone impacted by a change in their company’s culture should be included in the digital transformation process.

Our advice to companies is to start by identifying the people that bring unique perspectives to the table and factor those voices into the decision making for your program. By including a diverse set of stakeholders, true transformation will happen. It’s about creating an environment where the company and its customers can really thrive – and that’s why we encourage our customers to make digital transformation a team effort.

DJ: Why should companies be primarily focusing on integration with existing systems?

Welsh: The reason that companies should be focusing on integrating with existing systems is because oftentimes it is the only gateway to innovation. That’s because many of the existing systems that organizations have today were purchased decades ago, and if they still work companies hesitate to retire them or change their process. However, companies looking to move forward with a digital experience need to recognize the importance of maintaining their existing systems because they are the single source of truth for most organizations, and the data within those systems can be leveraged later when an organization wants to innovate. In other words, well maintained, roadmapped sources of record can help businesses leapfrog digital solutions, such as a smart speaker, mobile app, etc. That’s why system upkeep is so important – it makes integration easier, which provides a faster track to digital transformation.

That said, I would challenge businesses to start by asking themselves if they truly have an infrastructure that will protect their existing systems. If the answer is no, they may want to consider retiring the systems and start fresh. If the answer is yes, then integration with existing systems will be easy.

For these reasons, every organization should be evaluating their existing systems of record and creating a plan for them. Are they getting the maintenance that they need? Is there an end of life plan in place for them? These are efforts that the teams responsible for these systems need to be thinking about in order for innovation to work – especially in times like COVID-19, where businesses that were prepared for a digital takeover have succeeded.

DJ: How can struggling businesses stay afloat as well as prioritize their app’s features to best assist customers?

Welsh: In a stable economy, businesses thrive by doing a great deal of work to acquire and retain customers. It all starts with creating a strong value proposition and understanding how to deliver value to the customer. However, in times of uncertainty and instability, companies need to think about three things: 1) what experiences are we trying to create, 2) what experiences are our customers currently having, and 3) what experiences do customers want. After you map out the answers to these questions, you can begin to understand what initiatives should be prioritized and which pieces are less important to conquer right now.

For example, if a chain of grocery stores or convenience stores knows that customers are more likely to purchase a gallon of milk when a snowstorm is coming, this information can guide them to make the best decisions that support customers and staff. Perhaps this means that the stores need to scale up cloud computing to give more power to the influx of mobile orders. Similarly, backend systems can tell store associates which items to stock based on what customers are known to buy during an inclement weather event.

Mapping out the intrinsic and extrinsic factors at hand will help businesses stay afloat by guiding them toward the mobile app features that will provide the most value for their customers and their business, empowering the people who feel the most powerless as a result of COVID-19.

DJ: What basic designs can increase easy customer accessibility?

Welsh: Accessibility is an increasingly important topic that companies must prioritize in order to create inclusive customers’ experiences. A few of the basic design considerations that should be factored into digital programs include:

Big buttons for people with low vision

Chatbots for people with mobility issues or low vision (interacting with a chatbot by answering a series of questions may be easier than navigating a restaurant menu, for example)

Alt text tagging for images so that users can hear what others can see

Responsive font sizes on mobile app screens or web pages

TTY for people who have speech or hearing impairments

Voice options for anything on screen (images, action items like buttons, or anything else that users can interact with) must be translatable via voice for users with low vision or people with cognitive differences

All of these are great ways that companies can be more inclusive and accessible for every kind of customer that engages with their digital channels. It’s important to note that these features are also useful for consumers without disabilities. For example, someone using a mobile app during a big conference or tradeshow may have less cognitive function if they are trying to interact with the app while multitasking. Another example would be someone who steps outside on a sunny day with sunglasses on. Regardless of the use case, companies need to test their designs and experiences to ensure that they are accessible in any given scenario. This is especially important in the current climate, where most people are relying heavily on digital to stay safe during the pandemic.

DJ: How can businesses adapt their cultures to make digital transformation a success?

Welsh: Changing a culture starts with removing expectations. Companies looking to create and launch a new digital channel, for example, may be tempted to put expectations around what the launch will do for their business. At Mobiquity, we encourage our clients to flip their thinking and instead follow the behaviors and patterns of their customers.

For example, let’s pretend a convenience store is working on developing a loyalty program within their mobile app. Rather than pushing a company goal to sell more smoothies by offering the consumer .50 cents off, the convenience store should launch their mobile app and then watch and learn their customers’ behaviors. Then they can collect data about their consumers, such as: are customers buying smoothies or are they buying a morning cup of coffee every day during the work week? If they are buying a cup of coffee everyday, this data can be used to offer up a reward for continuing that behavior. Perhaps the consumer can be encouraged to purchase a cup of coffee on a weekend day in return for a free coffee during the work week, building more loyalty to the brand while also extending the customer’s willingness to purchase coffee on a day that they don’t normally buy it.

In this example, the pretend convenience store learned that in expecting a consumer to adhere to the behaviors they think they are important (such as offering them a reward if they buy a smoothie), they do less for their loyalty program than they do if they are actively watching and listening to the real behaviors of their consumers.

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