According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022, 60 per cent of global GDP will be derived from digital sources. Australian organisations, recognising the benefits that digital delivers to customers, will be enthusiastic in their adoption of these trends, with this year\u2019s Deloitte Digital Pulse showing that by 2027 there will be more than one million technology workers in Australia.\nDigital is likely to be the principle driver for Australia\u2019s economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession. As the Deloitte report notes: \u201cMany businesses have undergone a digital transformation to deal with the challenges of the crisis. This transformation has taken place in every part of business \u2014 products, channels, people, customer service, operations and systems.\u201d\nWhat this means is that organisations of all sizes and scales that are unable (or unwilling) to participate in the digital economy are going to find themselves increasingly marginalised. As a KPMG report, Customer experience in the new reality notes, consumers are more comfortable than ever in interacting with brands online. They\u2019re reducing the number of purchases they physically make, and 82 per cent of consumers are now more likely to use digital wallets or cards in the future.\nDelivering on the changing way that customers interact with brands requires a complete focus on the customer experience, and it\u2019s important to have a robust digital foundation to maintain that focus. Mid-market businesses often aim to compete effectively with large and innovative digital-first enterprises, as those large enterprises are becoming better at reaching the niche demographics that the mid-market has previously been servicing.\nFor those that haven\u2019t previously made the digital experience a priority, an important step in addressing their transformation needs is to consider how the network capability can support them. As the digital backbone of Australia, the nbn\u2122 network is designed to support a range of business requirements to help enable strategic and operational objectives.\nHow businesses deliver a leading digital experience\nRunning an effective digital-first operation involves more than simply maintaining a website and online sales platform. True digital engagement involves an omnichannel approach to the customer, with real-time updates and 24\/7 support, the use of voice and video, and personalisation. As just one example of this complexity in motion, KPMG notes: \u201c[The] use of chat technologies and social media has grown with a threefold increase in consumers claiming they will use social channels, webchat, messenger apps and SMS chat as their main means of communicating with organisations in the new reality.\u201d\nThese service models and communication channels are all driven by data, and are likely to benefit when businesses actively consider how a network solution can be designed to support unique needs of their operations such as real-time data applications or business critical data applications.\nAlmost every sector has leveraged digital technologies to engage with their customers through social distancing and lockdowns in a way that was not previously done at scale. Telehealth is a clear example. As the CSIRO notes, Australia averaged just 8.8 telehealth consultations per 1000 people prior to COVID-19; but in April and May 2020 alone there were close to six million telehealth consultations conducted. Without robust Internet connectivity thanks in part to the initial volume roll out of the nbn\u2122 network*, telehealth would have faced increased challenges in meeting the rise in demand for how customers prefer to access their services.\nMany other sectors have turned to online interaction as a solution to the limitations placed on ways in which they engage with customers. Remote learning became the norm in education, and with art galleries and museums closed, virtual tours provided people with cultural experiences. Interactions with customers such as virtual tours are likely to perform best with increased upload bandwidth that enables pushing high quality content out to large audiences.\nFor medium-sized companies looking to participate in this new digital-first environment, shifting thinking away from simple Internet speeds, and taking a more holistic approach at what their data needs to do for them may bring better operational and performance outcomes. Businesses should consider starting a conversation with a service provider on the direction of their digital strategy and ambitions, and use that as the foundation to determine if, or which, business grade network features, such as though available on wholesale business nbn\u2122 solutions from a service provider, may be available and best serve them.\nEqually important to businesses when considering their competitive advantage is the risk of reputational damage: it\u2019s all-too-easy for a customer to find another brand online. A McKinsey report titled Survey: US Consumer Sentiment During The Coronavirus Crisis, noted that one of the major impacts of COVID-19 is that consumers have become more fluid in their spending and loyalty, trying new brands and channels in looking for better value and convenience. The risk of losing potential customers due to site or service downtime grows as more companies become digitally, and customer, savvy. Service levels need to be considered, as the cost of even minutes of downtime can become a by-the-minute hit to cashflow. Businesses may have the option to arrange a plan based on enhanced service agreements between the provider and nbn for network fault rectification specific to their business, to help add confidence around how network issues will be resolved.\nEquipping employees with the tools that they need to drive the customer experience relies heavily on digital technology, too. There has been a surge in the use of video conferencing applications, which have allowed for employees to continue to collaborate when offices have been closed.\nLikewise, companies have adopted cloud technologies in a big way, with nearly half of Australian organisations (45 per cent) increasing cloud spending, and 46 per cent now having \u2018cloud first\u2019 policies when making new technology investments. These investments allow organisations to work faster and with greater innovation, which ultimately results in better outcomes for customers. As noted by Accenture in its Put Your Trust In Hyper-Relevance report, 58 per cent of customers would switch half or more of their spending to a provider that excels in personalising experiences without compromising trust. The opportunity is there for businesses to leverage the digital-first approach to capture customer mindshare.\nWhat\u2019s next for the digital experience?\nThe changes in how customers interact with brands, and the drive to deliver better customer experience through digital, are permanent trends. As noted by the McKinsey Survey, China, which was one of the first countries to open up again after gaining control over the pandemic, saw a 55 per cent increase in consumers intending to permanently shift to online shopping.\n\u201cMaintaining a strong customer experience in crisis requires rapid research to understand changing dynamics and new pain points as well as agile innovation to address them,\u201d the McKinsey report notes. These capabilities around innovation and agility were enabled through a renewed focus on the network as the foundation.\nThe advantages for mid-market businesses that are able to build a strong digital presence are clear: they\u2019ll be able to access a broader customer base than ever, and develop new products and services to deliver digitally. These trends will also be a great equaliser between regional businesses and those in cities, as the geography of the customer base is no longer an issue. Digital-first businesses can also develop a global presence and find new markets and customer demographics they had never anticipated.\nDue to this opportunity, the accessibility of technology to drive new customer outcomes is going to become a key theme in the coming years, as what was previously enterprise-class will become available and accessible for small and medium businesses.\nFor example, AI previously required enterprise-class advanced analytics solutions, including having access to vast data lakes and extensive DevOps teams. Increasingly, however, AI is becoming accessible with solutions specifically targeting the mid-tier. Other enterprise-class technology ideas that can enhance the customer experience, such as IoT and augmented reality, will also become accessible to mid-market businesses that have the right network foundations for it.\nIn the years ahead, as businesses emerge from the current challenging conditions, they will be looking to new opportunities to rebuild. A renewed focus on the customer experience, driven by digital technologies sitting on a robust, fast and stable network will deliver mid-market success.\nThis article was sponsored by business nbn\u2122. Click here to find out more about business nbn\u2122.\n* nbn\u2019s build completion commitment was that all standard installation premises in Australia are able to connect to the nbn\u2122 access network as at the build completion date. This excludes premises in future new developments which will be an ongoing activity for the Company beyond the build completion date. It also excludes a small proportion of premises defined as \u2018complex connections\u2019 \u2013 which includes properties that are difficult to access, culturally significant areas and heritage sites \u2013 where connection depends on factors outside nbn\u2019s control such as permission from traditional owners, and where network construction to allow such premises to connect will be an ongoing activity of nbn beyond the build completion date.