"People often think that corporate maturity is the problem or the government isn’t supporting digitalisation, but ultimately it comes down to what the consumer can actually consume.” - Boyle
Despite the rapid digitalisation seen in Asean during Covid-19 lockdowns, little has been done in terms of increasing digital experience maturity in the region. Asean has always been known as a “mobile first’’ region, but the mobile economy’s sophistication does not translate into a good customer experience. This has created a gap between what the community needs and what an organisation offers.
Nick Boyle, vice-president of Asia at Sitecore, a content management system provider tells Digital Edge that the maturity of the market does not refer only to the digital maturity of organisations (basically, the ability of an organisation to respond and take advantage of technological developments in the emerging digital competitive environment) within that market but that of the day-to-day consumer as well.
“We are all the consumers that organisations are trying to attract. Thus, [each organisation] will have different maturities around different things, so they need to understand the ecosystem and customer base, and then work out what their customers can ingest and what would be the output [of that interaction],” Boyle explains.
“There is definitely this divide between the huge opportunity for digital transformation in Asean and what regional consumers can ingest from a maturity point of view.”
But attaining digital maturity is not a one-off thing. As technology develops, companies need to keep advancing to remain digitally mature.
“It’s not something you tick off a list and say you’re now mature. Consumer demand and trends evolve,” says Tim Sheedy, principal adviser of research at advisory firm Ecosystm.
“We all have brands we love dealing with and, now, everyone needs to be that good. Otherwise, you’re just wasting business.”
It is the attention to customer behaviour and experience that makes the difference, says Sheedy. Most of the time, it is as simple as gathering feedback from consumers about their likes and dislikes when engaging with the company via digital means. Companies need to take the time to understand that different customers have different needs.
“For example, if they look at Nick and me as consumers and understand our differences, they can create that optimised and personalised experience [for each of us],” says Sheedy.
The shift in priorities
Digitalisation was hyped even before Covid-19 hit. Boyle says, at that time, when he engaged with clients, he witnessed digital strategies that did not get the support of senior leadership. He also noticed that some organisations failed to have a clear idea of how they would execute their digital strategies.
But what was interesting, he says, was watching the entire globe forced to embark on this digitalisation journey because organisations still had a bottom line to protect, revenue goals to achieve and employees to keep.
He points out that many organisations dithered about going digital, but now they were forced to do it, and quickly. “Everyone has different styles of funding and prioritising ongoing projects and, for us [at Sitecore], it is about supporting customers clearly on their journeys because it’s not easy moving from one very specific go-to market strategy to another.”
Sitecore commissioned Ecosystm to do a report on digital experience maturity: “The Digital Mindset of Business Leaders in Asia Pacific: Benchmark Your Digital Experience Maturity”. In the report, it says about 56% of businesses have an integrated marketing technology (martech) stack. About 44% of the companies did not integrate their backend to core systems. These include enterprise resource planning, customer relationship manager and general delivery logistics systems.
Sheedy explains that integration is a difficult challenge for companies because they need to have the right holistic strategy. If their systems are not integrated from the get-go, it might be problematic down the line, he points out.
He adds that solutions today are more easily integrated and will take data feeds quite easily compared with legacy systems.
Customer experience as a business initiative
Singapore scored among the highest for digital experience maturity, its overall scores lifted by its banking sector, which is known for its global best practices, Sheedy says.
This is because Singapore recognised the importance of providing good customer experiences early in the game, while Malaysian and Thai companies are still in the process of creating good products and offering competitive prices to gain customers.
Indonesia is an interesting market, says Sheedy, because it embraced digital banking before the rest of the world, offering SMS banking way back in 2011, at the height of the popularity of Blackberries.
“It was a niche activity because no one else was doing SMS banking. What we saw in Indonesia is a real digital mindset among businesses. They realised if they want to interact with customers, it would most likely be on a basic feature phone rather than a smartphone,” he says.
“They are digitally native in their thinking, but what I’d argue is the digital experiences they are offering are simple ones and not as rich as what we’re seeing in Singapore. Indonesia’s overall maturity is pretty high, but the ability to offer a really rich digital experience is still lacking.”
Boyle adds that it also goes back to what the consumer can consume digitally. Indonesia has a highly proactive digital economy, owing to the size of the country and population. The majority of mobile phone users are on postpaid plans, and the only way to engage with them is by digital means because there is no shopfront in every remote location.
“People often think that corporate maturity is the problem or the government isn’t supporting digitalisation, but ultimately it comes down to what the consumer can actually consume. Digital maturity has more to do with the consumer than the organisation’s digitisation intent.”
The governmental challenge
Boyle says governmental digital transformation is geared more towards enabling government officials to talk to their constituents and how people interact with the government from an employment, tax, education and healthcare perspective.
Digital transformation for a business, on the other hand, needs to be profit-based and is built around the products and services it offers.
Take, for example, retail, manufacturing or even banking. These industries want to offer a great experience so customers will come back again, Sheedy points out. But it is different for government agencies, which is why they need to establish their digitisation motives, he adds.
Unfortunately, he says, for most government agencies, the major motive for digitisation is cost savings. They measure the success of their digital transformation programmes based on the reduction of footfall at their branches or calls at their call centres.
“Data has shown over the years that the more you focus on cost as part of your digital customer initiative, the more you drive up cost because what happens is governments or companies are not focusing on creating a happy customer,” Sheedy says.
He adds that most government agencies do not really think about creating positive digital experiences. “So, they create a digital experience in which a person gives up halfway through the process, gets on the phone and calls the contact centre.
“That’s where you’ve driven up your cost, because you need to maintain a digital touch point as well as your traditional ones.
“But if you do it well, you can drive down costs, but it’s really a matter of motivation. Getting re-elected could be a motivation for some governments but, as we know, three- to four-year cycles are not enough for them to make big investments in this area.”
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 21, 2020 - December 27, 2020.