Digital first: How companies transform customer relationships

Companies are increasingly changing how they connect and serve by rolling out digital initiatives aimed at improving customer engagement and breaking down legacy barriers to new opportunities.

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Need help picking out the right wine? If you’re shopping at a BevMo store in Silicon Valley, just ask the robot. The box-like digital clerk will greet you at the door, escort you to the correct aisle, and let you know what’s on sale.

In Long Island, New York, meanwhile, Alexa and the Google Assistant are helping customers of the NEFCU credit union manage their accounts from home. And when those depositors go to a brick-and-mortar branch, the teller that helps them will likely be miles away at a call center, connected via video link.

Welcome to the age of digital first. Driven by the increasing sophistication of consumers and enabled by the ubiquity of mobile broadband and technologies like machine learning, data mining and the internet of things, companies are looking for competitive advantage via new ways to reach — and be reached — by their customers.

Don’t confuse today’s digital-first drive to that of 20 years ago when building ecommerce sites, intranets, and online news outlets were on the cutting edge. “A mobile app or a new feature on your website is not digital first,” says Varun Jain, senior investment manager for Qualcomm Ventures. “A digital-first company has changed its thinking as an organization. It’s bringing software-driven ideology into every product and business decision it makes.”

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