Focus on Digital Customer | Customer & Marketing | Deloitte Netherlands


Focus on Digital Customer

Driving Growth and Digital transformation after COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has led to overnight shifts in consumer behaviours, values and needs, of which many will become permanent. This opened a window of opportunity to accelerate on the digital transformation and tap into the potential of new growth opportunities. This article focuses on the ‘customer’ side of what is required to drive top-line growth and thrive after initial recovery.

Business leaders are being forced to rethink how they do business, and conduct primary research into who their customers are and how they will react. 

As an inevitable response to the pandemic, there have been shifts in concerns, values and needs, prompting changes in customer behaviour almost overnight. Many of these new behaviours, such as working from home, forgoing unnecessary travel and choosing to shop online, will likely become permanent. At the heart of nearly every change observed is the accelerated engagement of customers with digital platforms. To embrace that acceleration, and meet customers where they have landed, digital transformation is necessary.

Any pre-pandemic strategies and programs for digitalisation must be scrutinised, to gauge their applicability in the ‘new normal’. This is a monumental effort that could demand business-wide reorganisation. It certainly demands a well-considered, comprehensive digitalisation strategy – reflecting customers’ evolved needs, values and concerns.

As discussed in Deloitte’s article ‘Digital transformation after COVID-19: Acceleration with control’, the goal is not just to ‘do digital’ but instead ‘be digital’, and to become future proof – able to weather future disruptions. Three interlinked, vital domains require attention: Digital Customer, Digital Core and Digital Work. Each of these contribute to success: Digital Customer largely drives top-line growth, Digital Core improves the operating margin and Digital Work is the indispensable link between the first two domains, provided that the workforce executes effective new strategies. In this article we focus on the Digital Customer realm.

In April 2020 the coronavirus sat firmly at the top of everyone’s concerns, and governments worldwide were working to identify cases quickly and efficiently. A tracing app was developed in Australia at great cost, but was poorly received by the public – users were outraged that their personal data would be stored on a cloud platform. The Australian government’s digitalisation decision clearly overlooked a value held by potential users: data privacy and security. Months later, the global environment still reflects enormous change and uncertainty, and missteps are still a very real possibility. 

The Digital Customer domain mainly concerns growth. To drive growth that helps your organization progress quickly, it should be driven from a deep alignment with your customers' shifting behaviours. Finding opportunities to move through and beyond the pandemic involves two challenging questions: What do you bring to customers to satisfy their new needs and behaviours? And how do you bring those products/services and solutions to them, and engage with them in new ways to reinforce your brand’s relationship with your customers?

The goal should not be growth for the sake of growth; businesses must be precise in reimagining how they deliver value to customers. Only then can they hope to build trust and thrive beyond the next wave of the pandemic.

Customer behaviours are shifting

The pre-pandemic social contract that securely bound businesses, society and customers has dissolved, and the ‘old normal’ will not be restored. This rare moment of introspection is a chance to recalibrate organisational values, sharpen growth efforts and redesign engagement models to accommodate a major customer evolution.

Customer service companies have seen self-service rise dramatically overnight – an audacious pre-pandemic goal they had been unable to achieve; now they must work to identify the reasons behind that shift, and understand how to sustain it. There are obvious factors, such as people increasingly using digital channels to manage their lives online. But there’s insights to be gleaned even from the obvious, such as the fact that customers now value safety above physical contact, which is seen as risky. Face-to-face service is no longer the desired default priority; it has become an option reserved only for certain critical circumstances.

Accompanying safety-induced behavioural changes are new values and perspectives related to wellness, responsibility, stability and sustainability. There are more socially conscious shoppers buying more locally sourced items, and they will continue to do so after COVID-19, even if the cost is slightly higher. There are also people who are more willing to spend a bit more for convenience, as revealed by Deloitte’s State of the Consumer Tracker. And there is value being placed on security, reliability and stability; this has been evident in the reduced churn of telecommunications customers after the pandemic began – those who decided to remain with their chosen providers.

These subtle and not-so-subtle behavioural changes have blown apart many assumptions on which our businesses were built – including what makes a good customer experience and how to effectively utilize the most relevant growth levers. By analyzing customers' evolving expectations, concerns and values, and also the data underlying recent market performance, traditional assumptions about how to drive growth can be challenged. With this insight, companies can make the right decisions on how to precisely invest in growth that is measurable and creates greater customer value.

Connecting with customers for the right growth

In the next few months, there are critical decisions to be made that will determine which businesses survive and which thrive in a post–COVID-19 reality. Now that we have more perspective on the immediate responses to COVID, it’s time for business leaders to ask:

  • What value does our organisation create for customers and society? 
  • What kind of growth will help our organisation progress in the right direction?
  • How can we maintain some of the recent environmental and business benefits (e.g. shift to digital self-service, reduced churn)?
  • How can we use technology and capabilities to exceed our clients’ expectations and push our brand to the forefront?

To ensure a swift return to growth, organisations should reassess investments across their growth levers, organisational capabilities and customers’ emerging behaviours, asking five key questions:

  1. What will customer needs look like in the future, and how can we respond?
    This will enable planning for a roadmap that anticipates changing customer expectations.
  2. Which growth levers will maximise the potential upside?
    The answer will enable you to select the most attractive opportunities for growth based on return on investment (ROI), such as new customer acquisition, growth from existing customers or pricing optimisation.
  3. What type of growth is most readily attainable?
    Assess whether you have the capabilities required to grow in specific ways, to determine the feasibility of any opportunities.
  4. Which opportunities for achieving growth are the most appealing?
    Examine the potential growth propositions within each opportunity area, and gauge their desirability, feasibility and viability, to assign priorities.
  5. How to execute growth propositions?
    Consider not only how to order the propositions, but also which capabilities will be built or developed in-house and which will be acquired, plus which go-to-market strategies are needed. In addition, decide how to continue monitoring propositions for long-term sustainable progress.

Digitalisation decisions must be made with care and responsibility. There will be some situations where human interaction continues to be valued as a premium, and others where companies can do customers a far greater favour by digitalising. Each organisation needs to challenge its traditional biases and long-held beliefs, and examine its own unique offerings to make deliberate but cautious decisions. Remember the Australian virus-tracing app? Any change must reflect a responsibility to only implement appropriate, contextual, acceptable solutions (while still challenging conventional thinking).

Guiding principles behind growth decisions
Prioritising growth levers and opportunities is both an art and a science. In considering qualitative and quantitative inputs, keep these principles in mind:

  • Place a deliberate focus on the growth opportunities that will drive a disproportionate amount of ROI in a resource-restrained world.
  • Embrace speed to deliver a growth proposition to the market as quickly as possible.
  • Exercise an agile test-and-learn approach, taking risks to develop solutions ahead of the competition.
  • Practice highly interactive decision-making, moving quickly as a team.

The power of the adaptable social enterprise

Be aware that the next wave of growth will certainly come from unexpected sources. With the recent rapid shifts in customer behaviour – and a future that will certainly bring more such shifts – adaptive organisational ‘muscles’ are needed, to quickly understand and respond to any new reality. Becoming more adaptable means moving away from one-off, cost-cutting projects and toward strategic, strengthening, holistic transformation. The aim is to become resilient enough to not just recover from COVID-19’s shocks, but endure through any shocks the future will hold.

In Deloitte’s view, the organisation most likely to thrive is an adaptable digital-first enterprise: purpose driven and human centred. Its leaders look beyond the company’s borders into the ecosystems it operates in, to better connect with customers and talent. It endeavours to break out of historical silos, building the capabilities to rapidly sense, shape and adapt to changing customer behaviours faster than the competition.

Attaining this kind of status means taking a hard look at each organisation’s individual capabilities. The following will be especially important.

  • Insight – Scale research operations to develop an embedded, continuous research capability; this will require the injection of specific skills and attention into your operational teams.
  • Precision growth – Target the right drivers for growth to direct your organisation’s energy at opportunities that deliver real progress and attainable growth for your business.
  • Digital enterprise – Build a continuous capability for digital solutions to be default across the organisation, with agile teams that imagine, deliver and run customer-centric digital-first solutions. This will enable you to launch viable business offerings and services rapidly, successively and at scale.

Keeping a close eye on the many changes COVID-19 has brought, business leaders should be on the alert for which will bring value, and make careful, data-driven-decisions about how their organisations can rise to the challenge and tap into new opportunities for growth.

1Deloitte state of the consumer tracker”, Deloitte,, accessed 7 September 2020.

2 Ibid.

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