As digital continues to evolve, companies are getting more serious when it comes to developing and executing on digital transformation roadmaps. Business leaders across industries are witnessing disruption in areas they did not expect and waiting on the sidelines is no longer an option. These days, it’s go digital or die.

Unfortunately, in the panic to go digital after years of perceived laggardness, some companies try to shoot for the moon instead of focusing on the more attainable basics. We’ve witnessed many companies try to leverage more advanced, splashy forms of technology—like virtual reality (VR) or digital currency—in an attempt to woo more customers. Sometimes the companies behind these attempts are the ones that refused to embrace even basic digital at a crucial turning point in the market.

Both Toys “R” Us and Eastman Kodak are prime examples of this. After announcing bankruptcy in late 2017, Toys “R” Us decided to use augmented reality (AR) via their mobile app, PlayChaser, to get a declining customer base more engaged in the brand. Since announcing the app in October 2017, PlayChaser only has 100K-500K downloads. For context, the AR app Pokémon Go, which saw its peak in summer 2016, has 100M-500M downloads.

Kodak, on the other hand, recently created its own cryptocurrency, KodakCoin. This announcement rocked headlines—especially considering that Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 due to the company’s historic lack of digital investment. This legacy brand barely managed to stay alive over the past few years and now they’re staging a comeback by jumping into the highly volatile digital currency arena. This is the equivalent of diving into the deep end before learning how to swim.

When it comes to digital transformation, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of wanting to go big. Business leaders will see some trendy new technology and want to be the first to grab customer attention by offering it. The problem, however, is that these companies are reaching for the sky and passing up the low-hanging fruit—which our analysis shows is digital channel proficiency.

What is digital channel proficiency?

There are many layers when it comes to assessing and strengthening a company’s digital readiness. Analyzing these layers before developing any digital strategy can help prevent situations like those exhibited from companies like Toys “R” Us or Kodak.

This is one of the many reasons why we created our DIMENSIONS digital classification system to define the six layers of digital: Experience, Channels, Product, Platforms, Processes, and People.

After surveying 620 companies for digital readiness, we found that 50% of companies are below parity level when it comes to channel proficiency. This suggests that even the companies that are heavily invested in the digital space have left the digital enablement of communication channels behind. Some of the key underdeveloped channels include:

  • Customer service

    Enabling customers to get the help they need, the moment they need it, is crucial. Companies need to make sure they’re providing easy access to customer service across channels—whether the customer is in the store, scrolling through the app, or browsing the website. And this goes beyond putting the customer service phone number in bold font—it’s about communicating with your customers the way they want to communicate. This could mean via a 1-800 number but in our digital world, live agent chat windows or online self-help libraries can make a world of difference.

    In Centric Digital’s survey of 620 companies, digital customer service best practices on social just barely eclipsed parity in social media, but continued to lag in all other channels. This ability for enterprises to use a channel other than its own created channel is admirable, but leaving nearly 58% of overall customer services best practices on the table in aggregate speaks poorly to proficiency in customer service across the board.

  • Email to website integration or optimization

    If you’re not integrating your platforms, then you’re leaving key sales opportunities on the table. Companies like Wayfair leverage website and email integration to send real-time, targeted messages with content based on a user’s recent browsing history. These emails typically offer some incentive to purchase. This type of savvy email to website integration it like having a digital sales person assisting the customer at a crucial point in the customer journey.

    Email was among the worst-performing categories in our DIMENSIONS SCAN across the 620 brands measured, scoring a paltry 29.7% of total best practices achieved. Those that did have the capability seemed well-equipped to optimize the experience once won. However, less than 25% of companies were meeting full best practices with integrating opt-in forms into their mobile applications or websites, the very first opportunity to create sticky experiences.

  • Twitter and Instagram advertising

    Among social platforms, Twitter and Instagram have emerged as snappy, quick channels for interacting with customers. As these platforms have developed, so too have the capabilities for businesses advertising on them to integrate more fully with the platform and take advantage of an engaged and captive audience.

    However, unlike in Facebook advertising, where many companies had achieved a certain standard of proficiency nearing leading capabilities, Twitter and Instagram represented less than 50% captured best practices for enterprises in the 620 companies measured.

  • Chatbots or webchat

    This technology is a great option for companies to consider if they don’t have the budget for 24/7 customer service lines. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of chatbots, you can set up a digital customer service representative that can guide customers to the information they may need. The chatbot can then pass customers through to a live representative after all alternatives have been exhausted. The result is a more cost-effective, streamlined customer service department.

    In Centric Digital’s DIMENSIONS classification system, capabilities measured for chatbots and web chat are the two lowest-scoring subcategories of any kind for a dimension measured for more than five companies. More than 95% of best practices are ignored or abandoned here among all companies, and even those companies that do invest in the capability are not fully taking advantage of the potential imbued within the tech.

  • Personalized websites

    If you want to engage your audience and capture leads or sales in the moment, then a personalized website is an absolute must. Even personalizing a website based on user location can make a world of difference in the eyes of your customers. It makes information easier to find and leaves them with a more positive feeling about the brand and overall experience.

    As companies strive for more personalization, a key component of any strategy must include a thought toward omnichannel capabilities — mirroring and adapting information gathered on one channel to influence and improve another. And yet, omnichannel capabilities measured by Centric Digital’s DIMENSIONS scored just above 50% in best practices achieved, with the data element (36% of best practices achieved) of the shared experience dragging the aggregate performance in omnichannel nearly to below parity. Message consistency was a strong suit for companies pursuing a omnichannel strategy, with companies garnering nearly 70% of best practices met, but in order to fully build out an omnichannel capability, the messaging must be supported by a background of data consistency that pushes personalization to the next level.

Rather than building an online marketing game or an elaborate AR app, ensuring consumers can effectively communicate with the brand should be a top priority for companies. Whether it’s simple ecommerce support or being able to send real-time notifications about a service outage, it’s vital to ensure your digital channels can assist customers when and where they need to interact with the brand.

Wrapping up

When it comes to digital transformation, keep in mind that customers are more likely to spend time reading products reviews than strapping on a headset for a VR marketing experience. They want to be able to speak to a representative when and how they want rather than playing a game to unlock a coupon.

By solidifying your digital channel proficiency first, you’ll leave customers with a better impression of the brand. This will strengthen your digital foundation so that you might be able to one day leverage splashy technology when it makes sense to your business and customers.