Customer-focused IT: A key CIO imperative, post-COVID

The pandemic has amplified the need to reach customers through digital channels. Here’s how IT leaders in nearly every industry are responding.

Customer-focused IT: A key CIO imperative, post-COVID
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When you’re selling an active retirement community and medical care to seniors, high-touch, in-person interaction is the gold standard. At Erickson Living Management, prospective clients are typically courted with one-on-one tours of facilities and amenities, a walk-through of their potential residence capped off with a meal in one of the company’s many on-site restaurants.

Erickson’s proven relationship-oriented customer experience was upended last March when COVID-19 bore down in full force. The company had to scramble to translate the intimacy of on-site visits, in-person group events, and shared lunches into a virtual experience that not only fully represented what its communities had to offer, but also engaged potential customers, many not overly digital savvy, in ways that were both comfortable and compelling.

“We needed a virtual experience, but considering the demographics of our residents, how we made that shift was important,” explains Hans Keller, the company CIO. “We found creative ways to meaningfully engage with prospects and to keep in touch with people who were looking at our communities.”

Erickson Living, like most companies prioritizing customer experience these past few years, has had to completely revisit its strategy for customer engagement — and do so in record time due to the seismic shifts triggered by COVID-19. As the lockdowns of the spring morphed into on-going restrictions and lingering concerns about the safety of in-person experiences, companies turned to advanced technologies such as analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality, among others, to innovate new digital models that meet customers where they are comfortable and enable new forms of contactless transactions.

As part of a special COVID-19 edition of its 2020 Global Customer Experience research, KPMG confirmed that the global pandemic has amplified the need for easy access to products, services, and information while increasing customers’ comfort levels with digital channels, including a growing preference for touchless shopping and contactless payments. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed said they were more likely to use digital wallets or cards than they had been prior to the pandemic.

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