Gregg Shupe of Progress: "Once you experience that peace of mind when something works exactly the way you want it to, of course you are going back to that."

A few years ago, Gregg Shupe struck up a conversation with an attendee following a presentation he delivered. They began talking about the evolution (or lack thereof) of products and, by comparison, the incredible transformation in consumers driven in large part by Amazon.

“Amazon hasn’t so much transformed products; it’s all about the evolution of the modern consumer that Amazon has facilitated, to some extent,” Shupe said. “It’s about, ‘I gotta have it now. I can’t wait three to five, or — God forbid — seven to 10 days for shipping! Now!’ And they have to have all the information right at their fingertips to make these decisions."

“So, this audience member said to me, ‘OK, I’ve seen these trends come and go, and sometimes they come true and sometimes they don’t. So … why should I believe you now?’ And I thought, ‘Wow. That’s a great question.’”

Consumer Behavior Is Driving Digital Experience Transformations

His answer is to look around at the current landscape of ecommerce and digital experience, and even at our own behavior as consumers. It’s not so much that the retailers and services companies themselves have changed, it’s that we have. And those companies that aren’t willing to adapt and change to meet our behaviors and preferences will not survive.

“The fundamental nature of buying and selling is changing. We’re no longer a relationship-building, face-to-face-selling society,” said Shupe. “We want to engage digital-first, and I think that’s tied loosely to digital experience first. Do companies have the right levers to pull so that I am comfortable engaging with them? We can still market to the traditional customers, but those people are going away. Companies that don’t feel they need to make these changes because it’s been going fine for the last couple years — that’s dangerous. No company who sticks their heads in the sand and tries to pretend like this isn’t happening is going to succeed.”

Shupe is Digital Experience Thought Leader at Progress, a sponsor of CMSWire's Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit 2020, taking place online on Wednesday, Oct. 21. Shupe will be speaking at the event.

We spoke with Shupe to get his perspective on the shifts taking place in retail, ecommerce and digital transformation, and why an economic downturn is the best time for companies to go all-in on creating digital experiences.

CMSWire: Where do you see the biggest gaps between the optimal digital experience and the reality? Why are companies missing the mark, and how can they do better?

Shupe: What does success look like? And how do companies get from where they are to success? If you start with the premise that success is an ideal digital experience, then, what does that look like?

Digital experiences are all about engagements — and I break this out into three distinct groups: Customers/prospects, and I’ll put those in the same bucket for this discussion. Then we have our business partners, and then our employees. So I look at a digital experience as meaning it’s not isolated just to customer experience, first of all. It’s about different users. That said, how are users engaging with the business on a customer front, a partner front, on an employee front? Each group has different goals and objectives they’re trying to achieve through this digital experience. So, in my opinion, success looks like, ‘Can I accomplish my goal and be transitioned between devices and transact when I’m ready?’ That’s the framework.

What I explained is simple on its face, but behind the scenes, on the backend, it’s a complicated mesh of how to connect these ERP systems and CRM systems that can transform into something seamless you can experience on a device. And from a business level, can you accomplish those goals and interact with that on a regular basis? From a customer basis, do they give me what I expect? From a partner perspective, is it easy to do business with them? And from an employee perspective, is it efficient and am I getting out of the low-level operational tasks, am I getting away from the things that are leaching value from my opinion, my humanity, my cognitive abilities?

CMSWire: What’s an example of an ideal digital experience? How does that differ from what most companies today are delivering (or not)?

Shupe: The best example of that I can think of off the top of my head comes from the customer front: Nike, a few years back, announced its House of Innovation. And from a tech standpoint it was impressive — because it developed and executed on a frictionless experience for its products. You would download a Nike app on your device, you would see ads from Nike on social, and if you were interested, you could click and it would open within that app, identify the clothes or shoes that interest you. Then, you chose the ones you want, and it would tell you, ‘OK, they’ll be ready at this particular store close to you within a certain timeframe.’ You go down to the store or the product locker and scan a QR code, and select what you want from that locker. Whatever you take out of the store you’re going to buy, and anything you leave will stay in the store. So you can then go from the Instagram account, to the app, to the store, only pay for the stuff you want and leave satisfied.

That, to me, is a great digital experience. You’re using all the different tech, and all the different touchpoints to produce this seamless experience for the customer.

Instagram in general is doing this micro-experience thing very well. You see the ads, you click on it, you can transact right there and then be done. It’s all within the app, it’s all simple and frictionless, and it’s held very closely and optimized to you and your preferences.

That is the exception, though. I was just looking at a website earlier today, and on this single website I noticed four different logos. And I’m looking at its URLs, and when I’d navigate, it's bouncing me around, and the products and pictures change as I move within the site. Sure, it has an app, but even that is completely different. It was a mess!

Especially in the B2B world, it’s not good enough anymore to just have a website with the basic ecommerce functions. You have to do better — especially as the chasm gets wider between the companies that are doing it well and those that aren’t, it’s really noticeable. You’re going to drive people away, now more than ever, with the pandemic and the declining economy. The only way out of this is to double down, commit and invest in the digital experience.

CMSWire: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted organizations’ digital transformations (or, in some cases, lack thereof)? Their digital experience projects?

Shupe: The last two major economic downturns are indicative of how the digital economy reacts — I’m using 2001 and then late 2008 into 2009 when I talk about these downturns. Companies that invested during an economic downturn, especially in digital, came out way ahead, and not just by a little.

The winners coming out of 2001 were Google, Yahoo and Amazon. You hadn’t heard much about them before that, but look at where they went — you sure heard about them after that. Amazon now holds over 50% of every dollar spent online. Google has 80% of the marketshare — it turned the name of its company into a verb. Yahoo — well, it had some missteps later on, sure, but back then it was strong.

Fast-forward to 2008-2009: then it’s Facebook, Instagram and Airbnb. Facebook IPO’ed in 2009! I remember watching the stock market literally stop. But Facebook looked around and said, ‘Well, it’s the perfect time to go public.’ So I look at that and think, ‘Why are companies retracting right now?’

I know their thinking is, ‘Let’s hold on tighter and put our head in the sand and wait to grow until conditions are better,’ but the lesson here is you cannot wait to grab hold of a competitive advantage. And that’s the importance of digital experience — it’s a major competitive advantage, so if you let go of that now, well, let’s just say it won’t go well.

When a Digital Advantage Is all You Have

Downturns like the ones I mentioned and what we’re seeing today is where the rubber meets the road — especially now, because right now, digital experience is all we have. We don’t have the opportunity to visit clients and go to a restaurant or shop at stores. I haven’t been home this long in decades. I’ve had to adapt and change and deliver that same energy virtually, and leveraging digital to deliver the same experience. And that’s what everyone is struggling with.

CMSWire: What lessons can the B2B market learn from B2C when it comes to digital experience? Why are those becoming increasingly important?

Shupe: I think the lines are blurring, because of what I mentioned earlier about consumer transformation. You are always a consumer, whether it’s B2B or B2C, but your consumer experiences are so different. And when you start realizing that, oh, ‘I can’t just throw my credit card at this and go? I have to use pen-and-ink to fill out or sign something and fax it to someone?’ You start feeling uncomfortable and it becomes incongruous because you’ve blended your expectations.

It used to be we’d have a B2B or a B2C mindset, and you could consciously shift that mindset depending on where you were and what you were doing. Now, you often don’t have to make that shift in places, so when you do, it’s even weirder. ‘I don’t have to do this at other places, why do I have to do it here?’ I don’t think there’s even B2B or B2C differentiation anymore; I think it’s all first-party and third-party buyers.

When you’re trying to do business using the old archaic systems; say you’re having a customer service interaction. You have a problem, you look it up online. You get some information, but it’s not enough, you still have to call someone. And then, you have to reiterate what you learned online, and they don’t get it. Then, if you are asking questions the customer service person doesn’t know the answer to, they have to escalate it up the chain, and bring in another person, and then it gets more and more frustrating. As these experiences merge, B2B experiences that don’t evolve are sitting on around $1.3 trillion worth of potential that they’ll lose out on.

When you have these seamless, frictionless experiences you gravitate to them. Once you experience that peace of mind when something works exactly the way you want it to, of course you are going back to that. B2B and B2C are blending — 86% of customers will leave a bad experience to go to a good one — and I don’t think we’re going to be able to separate those going forward.

CMSWire: What do you think the next 12 months will look like as things shake out in this space? What technologies are going to win, and which are going to lose?

Shupe: I was working with an analyst earlier this year, and we were talking about this. I said I thought near-field communications (NFC) was going to take off. Also, touchless and contactless payments. And along with those, driven by the pandemic, I think RFID payments — because that’s one less thing you literally have to touch.

I think ads in social media are also really going to advance. They’re going to have their own self-sustaining ecosystem that you can transact within. The analyst said they thought e-signatures were going to also increase in popularity, too — I can’t believe I missed that one.

Finally, I think we’ll see a rise in P-cards, which is purchase-order technology. You create a purchase order and that has a finite amount of money associated with it, and then you can pay your invoices using that instead of going through the manual process and having to go, ‘Who do I write a check to? What’s the invoice number?’ You just use the P-card.

The big, overarching takeaway is that technology is starting to overtake that personal touch, and that need for a physical experience. I think we’ll see a huge shift in the market between those who had the forethought to invest in digital experience and those who tried to wait out the storm. Companies that succeed and have long-term growth will be those who’ve initiated the convergence of physical and digital experience. That might happen right now because we literally can’t go anywhere, but when we do, having that fluidity of going to a store, seeing a digital sign that recognizes me, displays something on my phone or device that I can use to transact, completing that and then I’m done — that’s an incredible experience.

I think we’re going to see a bit of a delayed reaction down the line, too. First-party transactions are going to have to modernize, and there’s a lot of burden for companies to update their infrastructure, their technologies, processes and push forward their digital transformation initiatives. I’ve seen it first-hand with friends whose companies decided not to go this route. They’ve decided not to invest, and instead, they’re contracting and letting people go. Even if it wasn’t them, it left a bad taste in their mouth. Now you have to think, where are those people going to go? Right now, maybe they’re holding onto their job, but you can bet at the first chance they get they’re going to look for a job elsewhere, to the companies that are investing. So there’s a whole delayed reaction of talent leaving. Even if the companies do make it through the downturn by sticking their heads in the sand, they’re shooting themselves in the foot and will lose out even more further down the road.

CMSWire: What are you currently watching on TV? Do you see similarities in how series are keeping viewers engaged and excited and the current digital experience landscape?

Shupe: I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I have been watching a lot of TikTok. It’s totally new, it’s fresh, and if I don’t like something I can swipe up and get something new. It’s completely personalized and tailored to me and what I want. I think that’s the way things are going in that realm, too. Of course, the downside of that personalization is that it’s only stuff that I like. That has to figure itself out, when and how you show different things that will lead you to additional content, to other viewpoints and ideas.

Also, I recently signed up with Audible, so I’ve been listening to a lot of books. One of the first ones it suggested was "Ready Player One," which I thought was fantastic! It just blew me away with the nostalgia and the storyline and — wow. I love that I can just stick my headphones on in between flights, at airports, or put it on in the car when I’m driving and just be in my own little book world.

And I think that speaks to how this digital experience is no longer just a marketing initiative, this is a CEO-level initiative. And companies that don’t understand that and start investing that way are not going to be successful.

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