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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
From talking to hundreds of business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders over the last year, one thing is clear: How to best serve our customers as a company is in a state of flux. Recognizing and accepting that the ways we operated in the past might not serve our business or our customers in the best way in the landscape of the future of business is crucial.While the pandemic may have accelerated the uptake of digitalization out of necessity, we need to realize that things will never go back to exactly the way they were before. Nor should they. We must incorporate our learnings into how we do business in the future. Digitalization isn’t necessarily depersonalization. It might even lead to a highly personalized customer experience. A State of Customer Engagement 2021 report by Twilio surveyed 2,500 decision-makers at companies with greater than 500 employees. Some 96 percent of respondents said that not digitizing customer engagement would have negatively impacted their business, and even more interestingly 95 percent expected to maintain or increase their investment in digital customer engagement after the global health crisis ends. The race to embrace digital transformation continues, and as a business, you need to keep up.Related: Here’s How (and Why) You Should Get Your Enterprise’s Customer Experience Ready for the Post-Covid-19 WorldThe customer is in the driver’s seatMany of us have had the experience of talking about a specific topic, maybe a car that we wanted, while next to our smartphone and suddenly, we are being fed ads for cars through social media. Whilst this may be useful, it can also feel intrusive and become wearing. This kind of unwanted messaging can give digitalization a bad name.True personalization is not about using customer data to send people unwanted messaging. This personalization takes place with the customer’s consent and request. The customer is at the wheel and the company has the systems in place to give the customer what they want — whether that is having restaurant food delivered at a specific dropoff point or having a virtual Nike retail employee help a customer order their perfect pair of trainers from home.The customer controls how they communicate and when they communicate with the company.Related: Why a Personal Customer Experience Is Critical to Your Business’s SuccessDigital will not replace analog – it will enhance itThe future is a hybrid world. The best of both worlds.Many of us are digitally fatigued. Hours a day spent on Zoom or other videoconferencing services, lack of human contact, technical difficulties. In my opinion part of the reason for the fatigue is that it is forced upon us. But when we can finally go back to the option of in-person communication, the element of choice becomes important.Personally, I think it would be hard to justify constant flying and traveling around the country and internationally, to have in-person meetings. The time and resources spent on this would no longer be quite as accepted in the “new normal.” Not least because we need to be more conscious about the impact of our carbon footprint on the environment. We will have the option to be more discerning about when in-person is necessary.Even heavily regulated industries are on boardDigitalization is not just the preserve of innovative companies. Many heavily regulated industries, such as financial services, health care and governments, that are usually slow to change have embraced digitalization as well. If traditionally slow-moving or bureaucratic industries are welcoming technology, then, that is even more reason for smaller organizations to follow suit (if they haven’t already).Admittedly, not every company has the budget of a large corporation or a government body. But the key here is innovation. Individuals and small companies have already created amazing solutions to augment existing solutions that don’t require organizational change or a huge budget. A software developer in Massachusetts, for example, built a simple, streamlined, Covid-19 vaccination registration website (while on maternity leave!) The key here is to recognize the opportunity, listen to what people want and create digitized solutions that solve real problems. And look at how to do that with the resources that you have, whether that’s with an individual or a small team.Related: Customer Experience Will Determine the Success of Your CompanyStaying still is not an optionTo build a future intelligent, sustainable business, we need to recognize the trends of the future that are likely to occur and work toward catering to them. Personalization for our customers, based on taking feedback and the resulting information that we learn from it, translated into action is crucial to remain competitive and agile as a business. I suspect that personalization will become the expected “norm.” Technology and digitalization are a way for us to understand and cater to our customers.And it does not need to be a huge cost or complexity for the business. We need to train our employees to develop an open mind and creativity around how they serve the customer well. The question we should ask ourselves is, “How can we use customer insights and data to serve our customers better?”