With physical branches closed and call centers overwhelmed, in 2020 anything that could be moved online was moved online, forcing the hands of those that had previously resisted the lure of digital channels. However, many consumers have found that the ease and convenience of digital are very much to their liking – and the majority won’t be returning to the old offline ways. Attracting new customers and onboarding them in a frictionless, fully digital way is therefore critical to the growth ambitions of any company – and IT has a huge role to play in enabling them to achieve them.

The COVID-19 pandemic – and the global lockdowns it initiated all over the world – has served as an accelerator pedal for digital transformation. With physical premises largely shut in many countries and interactions with intermediaries like insurance brokers effectively declared illegal, many business sectors moved decisively online. For example, 35 percent of US customers increased their use of online banking over the course of 2020; and, in the immediate aftermath of the first lockdown – between 14 March and 14 April – six million people in the UK (around 12% of the adult population) started banking online for the first time. In both cases, over 60 percent of these new customers say they are likely to continue using these online services at the same frequency once restrictions have been fully lifted.

In this brave new digital world, the competition for these customers is fierce. And, increasingly, brands are differentiating their products and services based on the quality of the digital experience they offer. According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of companies compete mostly on the basis of their Customer Experience (CX) - those offering a mediocre CX know that prospective customers can easily abandon their forms or shopping carts and, instead, turn to competitors that are only a few clicks away. So, the quality of a company’s digital acquisition channels is critical to its growth in 2021 and beyond.

Increasingly, technology leaders within the business are taking responsibility for digital CX. In fact, the 2020 Harvey Nash – KPMG Survey indicated that, along with operational efficiency, the customer experience is at the top of the list of priorities for CIOs. But how can IT support the business in attracting and converting these digital-first customers? 

Focus Areas for Seamless Customer Onboarding

There are two areas where technology leaders can have a decisive impact on new customer onboarding. Firstly, they can leverage new technologies to remove friction from digital onboarding journeys, making the process of signing up for a service or buying a product as effortless as possible. Secondly, they can put in place a technology platform that ensures their teams can create new applications – and iterate them – at speed and on every customer-facing channel: this will allow them to continuously reduce friction and drop-offs and improve customer conversions.

Removing Friction from the Onboarding Process

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are used by some of the world’s biggest brands – including Facebook, Forbes, Gmail, Pinterest, Google Maps, Trivago and Tinder. They provide a rich, performant experience similar to a native mobile app – but without the need to download an app from a store - which is time consuming, data intensive and adds a lot of friction to the process. Because the storage requirements are much smaller – for example, the Starbucks PWA requires less than one percent of the storage requirements of its mobile app – PWAs load quickly, keeping prospective customers engaged.

The benefits of using PWAs as part of your customer acquisition process can be huge: when China-based Alibaba introduced a PWA for its AliExpress service, it increased conversion rates for new users by 104%. You can create your own PWAs using OutSystems’ modern application development platform which means you can deliver a PWA on different channels with a single development effort.

Harnessing and connecting data – from both internal systems and external data sources – is another way of removing friction. Have you eliminated the silos in the system so that information held in one part of the system can be readily used by another? Can you integrate with location services to auto-complete an address? Is it appropriate to use services like Google Pay or PayPal to automate the provision of card details? Nothing turns off a prospect faster than filling in endless forms and the more you can do to reduce the number of steps required to sign up for your service or buy your product, the more likely they are to stick with the onboarding process to the end.

Automating and digitizing the business processes that support the customer journey will help to break down internal silos and deliver an effortless experience across channels. For example, automated identity verification is commonly associated with the banking sector, but KYC (Know Your Customer) regulations are being enforced in a range of different industries, including gaming, telecoms, travel, healthcare and more. Clearly, any company that requires a customer to physically present a driver’s license or passport in order to sign up for a new service is going to compare very poorly with one that can initiate an onboarding process by simply scanning the same document. In the same manner, integrating with third-party providers for digital signatures and document authentication can dramatically streamline onboarding processes. 

However, simply using this technology isn’t necessarily enough to deliver a smooth onboarding process. Research conducted by BuiltForMars found that creating a new bank account could be done in as few as 24 clicks but could take as many as 120! The longer the journey, the more likely it is that users will simply leave the site – and the more that IT can do to remove friction from the process, the higher the conversion rates will be.

Creating – And Iterating – Applications Quickly

As the pandemic has shown, the ability to pivot quickly in response to changing needs and circumstances is essential. However, even ‘Agile’ methodologies can’t meet the accelerated deployment schedules that businesses now demand if you are relying on outdated ways of building software. Instead, IT leaders need to embrace a fundamentally new approach to creating customer-facing applications that allow for much higher degrees of speed, automation and repeatability.

OutSystems’ modern application development platform uses visual development and full lifecycle automation to unify and simplify omnichannel development, so you can rapidly deliver apps for mobile, web, chat, voice, and AR/VR by using a single platform and development team. It enables you to move faster and deliver consistent digital customer journeys by creating application components - from UX/UI elements to business logic, processes, data and integrations - and reusing them multiple times across applications and channels. So, you can create pixel-perfect, enterprise-grade applications from scratch up to seven times faster.

OutSystems can also help you manage and orchestrate workflow automation: using our platform, you can easily harness real-time data and capabilities from any source - whether that is a CRM, CMS, user analytics or billing system, a legacy system or even a third-party service or API.

Once built, these applications will require ongoing iteration. Whether it’s an analysis of drop-off rates that reveals customers are struggling with a particular part of the process, suggestions from CX and UX professionals on how to remove friction – or even feedback from customers themselves – any digital customer onboarding process will require continuous iteration to increase conversions. The speed of visual development coupled with the component-based nature of the OutSystems platform means that fixes are created once and deployed wherever they are needed: the revised application component used for your website chatbot can be added to the IVR system of your call center or used as part of your smart speaker solution. So, once points of friction or bottlenecks with the onboarding process are identified, improvements can be deployed in hours or days.

The results of using OutSystems to streamline onboarding experiences can be dramatic. For example, the Yorkshire Building Society reduced the time taken to complete a savings application journey from ten minutes to only six - and saw a ten percent increase in completions. And thinkmoney - a UK-based digital bank - managed to deliver a new customer onboarding process in just seven weeks - and saw a thirty percent increase in their conversion rates.

A Watershed, Not a lip

2020 was a year that fundamentally changed the relationship that many people have with technology. Many of the tens of millions of white-collar employees now stationed at home will not return to their offices once the lockdown lifts. And that statistics suggest that many of the people who moved online in 2020 will not start re-using offline resources when they are eventually restored. So, the digital channels put in place in response to the pandemic are not only necessary for short-term survival but for long-term sustainability as well. Attracting and onboarding new customers in a fully digital way will therefore be critical and, by removing friction from this process – and minimizing the delays too often associated with software-based innovation –technology leaders have a huge role to play in driving the growth their organizations crave.