How to reinvent the customer experience in the digital first era

30 minute read 7 Dec 2021
By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

30 minute read 7 Dec 2021

Watch marketing leaders discuss strategies for moving toward a better customer experience.

In brief

  • Customer expectations have transformed to expect digital and physical channels for personalized interactions.
  • Understanding the various customer journeys and building systems around that are essential to reimagining your business.  
  • Employee experience is critical to customer interaction and requires further investment.

One thing we quickly learned from the pandemic was that if you didn’t already have a robust digital presence, you needed to fast-track plans to do so. Even as the economy reopens in fits and starts, renewing the desire for in-person interactions, customers continue to expect and in some cases, demand the convenience afforded by digital commerce. Many would argue that the key to success in this new age is integrating the physical and digital aspects of the customer experience into a seamless journey throughout the marketing funnel.

Digital is not a project. Digital is not an initiative. It’s a way of being. It’s a way of rewiring the company’s operating mechanism and culture to think about digital as just one of a handful of tools to engage the customers where they want to be seen. Thomson Reuters, for example, a $6 billion dollar company with 26,000 employees and 500,000 customers had to completely reorganize their go-to-market model to suit changing customer expectations. Laura Wilbanks, CMO of Thomson Reuters, John Dioso, editor of Ad Age Studio 30, and Chris Gianutsos, Managing Director, Technology Consulting for EY Americas, recently sat down to talk about the blurring of lines between digital and physical interactions and how to create the infrastructure and capabilities to meet your customers wherever they want. Here are the four main takeaways from the conversation:

1.    Digital first, not digital only

One of the things the pandemic has done for many companies, but primarily for B2B companies, has challenged historical norms and has proven that you don’t always need to have that face-to-face or personal experience with a customer to really deliver what they’re looking for. On the flip side, you have to ensure the fluidity of digital and physical models so that a customer has the flexibility to get the information in a seamless and personalized way.

Some organizations attempted to create a fully digital experience; planned around the stereotypical coastal millennial who grew up with technology. They were going to be able to push every transaction into that type of digital interaction. What they quickly learned is that the right answer is more of a digital first than a digital only. Most journeys do start online in this day and age in terms of people doing some of their research, but they will traverse back and forth. There may be people who are uncomfortable going that final mile digitally. The answer is somewhere in the middle with parts of the journey happening online, parts of the journey happening in person. It’s a little bit different depending on the buyer pool or the segment or the persona of the individual.

2. Consider the customer journey

Another thing that will be vital for organizations going forward is understanding the customer journey and building their systems around that. There are going to be customers who want that human touch in every stage and then there’s a big swath of customers who want to interact in a hybrid or digital mode. There will be customers who are going to do a lot of research, understand the products, maybe go through a trial but when it comes time to purchase, they will still want to interact with a direct salesperson.

You have to stop looking at customer thinking as linear and begin to think through each of those customer journeys and be very consistent about how you’re interacting and engaging with them so that you’re not throwing everything at a customer, creating a bad experience and confusing them. That’s a really big part of the transition from one specific to now multiple go-to market models with the customer in mind.

Where it gets hard is making sure there are consistent personas and journeys across marketing sales and service. Customers view the brand in its totality and expect that consistency across channels and across different parts of the organization.

3. Embrace the learning culture

There was a shift towards digital before the pandemic but not nearly enough. As the world came to a shutdown, customers began to engage more with products and services digitally, including customers who would not have done so previously. The organizations that had already made some investments in digital were able to exploit their competitive advantage and those in the early stages really found themselves on their heels. In order to continue to meet the customer expectations of today, you need to be willing to adapt.

Thomson Reuters for example, decided to reorganize how their teams were structured in hopes of changing how they worked cross-functionally. They established mission-based teams, for example one on renewables and one on new sales experience. As a part of that project, they embraced a different way of approaching things; being very comfortable in setting hypotheses, testing, learning, pivoting, taking those lessons, and putting it back into a particular initiative and, frankly, that can be uncomfortable. But the learning culture is paying off in how they are able to respond to and adapt to changes in the market and their customer journeys.

4. Invest in talent

Another challenge we’ve seen rise from the pandemic is the great resignation which has led to such an incredible war for talent. When it came to organizations building their digital plans, pre pandemic, oftentimes they viewed employee costs as a cost to be minimized. What we’ve learned is that your experience is only as good as the people behind it. You’re only one poor customer service interaction or one social media post away from doing a lot of damage to the brand.

With 40% of the workforce expected to leave their current job and do something else, organizations need to double down on investment in the employee experience and understand that they are so critical to how your customer perceives you and how all of those experiences and touchpoints are driven.

The great resignation


of the workforce expected to leave their current job

In terms of workforce, we've seen all kinds of different models of the return to work. Many organizations are allowing employees to work wherever they want, whether that be in the office or at home, as a response to an understanding that the pandemic has shifted people’s perceptions about their work and their relationship to their employer.  Particularly with the latest generation of workers, they think about a job not just in terms of the salary and the career path, but what the purpose of the organization stands for. As a result of that, we’re seeing brands be very thoughtful and intentional about being public with their purpose as a tool, not only to get people to come work for them, but to get them to stay.


In the last year, customer expectations have evolved, forcing a shift toward brands becoming more customer-centric, integrating the physical and digital worlds. Coming out of this, those changes and behaviors are not going away, and organizations are really going to have to think about not just the digital journey but how the handoffs between digital and physical come together. It’s a much more fluid environment from digital to physical and meeting your customers where they are.

About this article

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Contact us

Like what you’ve seen? Get in touch to learn more.

Contact us