For professional service providers, an inclusive digital experience will bring long-term success.
Consumers are familiar with online shopping and digital marketing, but working online with a lawyer or an accountant is still a pretty new experience. Not all consumers are comfortable with a fully digital experience, especially with professional service providers who have traditionally relied on in-person meetings.
But, the pandemic continues to impact our health and safety, and technology is stepping up to meet the challenges of social distancing. You need to create a positive digital experience for your customers—one that builds a long-lasting relationship and is welcoming to all consumers.
To help you, we surveyed 557 consumers who had at least one fully digital experience with a professional service provider in the last six months to find out how they felt about the all-digital interaction, what they’re expecting in the future, and how professional service providers like you can prepare for this.
Using these findings on current consumer expectations, we’ll guide you on how to move from a mere digital presence to a comprehensive strategy to foster long-term relationships and online business for all consumers, now and post-COVID.
What does a digital experience look like for a professional service provider?
For professional service providers, it’s time to go beyond digital marketing to provide your customers with a digital experience that meets their new expectations.
To start, Gartner recommends shifting your thinking so that “digital is now the context in which business occurs, not a mechanism for conducting it” (full report available to Gartner clients only).
Gartner says it’s also time to think beyond the concept that digital means “remote” (full report available to Gartner clients only). You need to create a welcoming digital relationship that includes marketing, online meetings, communications, and follow-ups all bundled into a thoughtful customer experience.
Let’s get into what consumers expect and need from a great digital experience. Each section will focus on one area of the digital customer journey and offer tips on what you can do for each.
Your digital business model: Demand for digital experiences is here to stay
While some meetings and consultations may switch back to in-person when it’s safe to do so, the satisfaction levels for online interactions have been high: Over 80% of respondents are satisfied (“somewhat” and “very satisfied”) with their most recent online interaction with a service provider.
The satisfaction of customers in interactions since the beginning of the pandemic is impacting the long-term tastes of consumers. Sixty-eight percent of respondents say in the future they will be more likely (“somewhat likely” and “very likely”) to choose a provider with a fully online service over one that doesn’t have one.
This means that investing in a great digital experience is worth your time now and for the future of your business.
Your service offering: Understanding the customer’s issue is key to a great interaction
Three out of four respondents placed “ability of the service provider to understand and address my issue(s)” in their top three most important factors in digital interactions with a service provider. But does this seem obvious?
Well, let’s consider if consumers hadn’t ranked this factor very high—that could indicate their need is being met consistently enough that they wouldn’t even think about it. The fact that the overwhelming majority rank it so high is telling that not every interaction has been a successful one. They’ve left the meeting with unanswered questions or had been transferred around to multiple people before getting someone who could help.
Diving deeper into the top factors
Let’s get into how often each factor of a great online experience was ranked as the most important to consumers that we surveyed.
Continuing the trend of covering the basics for your customers, we see that the “ability of the service provider to fulfill the service” is the second top factor of what makes a great digital experience with 25% of respondents choosing it as the most important. This number indicates the frustration your customer experiences when they come to you with perhaps a misunderstanding of your offerings.
As for which factors were ranked the least important, the majority (54%) rank “ease of use with navigating, scheduling, and paying for services” as the least important factor in their digital interactions with a service provider. This isn’t to say it’s not important—it means that generally, the functionality meets expectations.
Your website: Building a welcoming user experience for everyone
From weak internet connections to accessibility issues, everyone experiences difficulty with online interactions at least some of the time. You don’t want to alienate any potential or current customers. Designing an inclusive digital experience doesn’t have to mean a major overhaul of your offering—let’s get into the main accessibility issues and tweaks you can make to accommodate your customers.
Challenges due to a weak internet connection
Two out of three respondents “sometimes,” “often,” or “always” experience challenges online associated with a weak internet connection or signal.
And this wasn’t just rural consumers—35% of urban respondents report having weak internet connections “often” or “always.” Don’t make assumptions about the technical needs of your clients based on where they’re at, because you could be alienating over half of your potential clients.
Fifty-four percent of respondents say it is “somewhat” or “extremely important” that service providers offer an online experience that is still usable with a weak internet connection.
Challenges due to a disability
From website design to remote meetings, the digital experience you offer should be welcoming and successful for everyone. Over half (56%) of respondents say it is “somewhat” or “extremely important” for service providers to offer an online experience that is accessible and usable by people with disabilities, even if they themselves don’t require accommodations.
Let’s dive into some of the most common user-assistive features offered on websites and how often they’re used by consumers:
The features in this chart help users with vision impairments, sensory sensitivities, weak motor function, and/or anyone needing to modify their online experience.
Your communications: Digitally transform your messages to customers
The types of messages you send to customers should build on the great digital experience you’re providing. But are you sending out the messages they want?
First, let’s get into how customers prefer to interact with businesses online:
From emails to text chats to social media posts, we found that no one type of messaging platform dominates in preference. Based on how varied these findings are, a one-size-fits-all form of communication will leave out more customers than you may expect. So be sure to vary where you’re sending out and able to receive messages from your customers.
Now, let’s get into what information you should include. We asked our survey takers to rank the types of messages that would likely lead them to doing business with a service provider again.
Based on our findings, here’s the types of messages consumers want:
- Personalized: 32% of respondents say they are most likely to do business with a service provider if they receive communications “about [their] specific situation or needs.”
- Support for employees and customers: 16% say they prefer communication about how the business is supporting its employees and customers.
- New services: 14% say they prefer communication about a new product or service.
What consumers don’t prefer:
- Feedback requests: 24% rank asking for customer feedback on how the business can improve its service as their least preferred type of communications. Only 6% of respondents prefer feedback requests the most.
- Trend reports: 20% of respondents rank communications about industry trends related to the service the business provides as their second least preferred type of communication. Only 5% prefer trend reports the most.
Use digital technology to design a great digital service
Your current and post-pandemic business strategy should include a welcoming digital experience for your customers at each step of the interaction. Use the insights shared here on what consumers expect from digital experiences to help design one for your business.
If you’re considering investing in software to support your efforts, from CRMs to content management to task management software, we’ve got thousands of user reviews for a variety of products. Software can help manage your customer data, provide performance insight via analytics and metrics, automate content publication across multiple channels, and help increase customer satisfaction with personalized messages and appointment scheduling.
Capterra is a resource you can turn to again and again. We help you ask good questions and learn from other people’s experiences, so you can do better work every day.
This survey was conducted in September 2020 among 557 respondents who had evaluated, chosen, and paid for a service online more than once in the prior six months.