Businesses and users alike are adapting to fast-paced digital advancements. Contending with new technology, growing competition and a global pandemic has forced many organisations to think about how they operate. But digital transformation projects can be tricky to navigate and bring with them a multitude of challenges.
We often see a big appetite from businesses wanting to work on their digital transformation, but the unknown of whether this investment will yield a return coupled with the pandemic has made many hold back from taking the leap.
Being aware that you need to act but being fearful of acting is a headache for many businesses right now. At this time, we would encourage marketing teams to be brave, to stick their hand up and ask for budget to do what they know needs to be done. This isn’t the year to halt, this is the year to make a decision about investing in digital. Because what we do know is that everyone’s going to do it eventually - it’s not a matter of if, but when. Is your business going to get there first or are you going to be late to adapt?
In this blog, we cover various factors that should be considered within the digital transformation journey of professional services businesses, sharing insight into how to manage each stage.
Defining who you are
A significant digital transformation challenge is how you to present information safely, securely, at speed, at volume and at an appropriate point to your clientele. Achieving this starts with taking the time to review and map out your processes. It’s also an ideal opportunity to define what your business is about.
Generating a clear-cut blueprint of your business, you’re ready to translate this into the digital sphere and begin to consider the role of your website within your digital transformation.
What is the role of your website?
The purchasing cycle for professional services has predominantly been based on existing relationships, recommendations and referrals. For existing relationships, your digital presence may or may not play a role. However, when it comes to referrals and recommendations, the first thing many people will do is go online and look at your website.
A big part of your digital transformation project is understanding what you want your website to do for you. How will your website sit within your processes? How do you want it to be used? Is it for lead generation? Is it to support other channels? Is it to service your clients? Is it an internal resource? Essentially, what value will your website deliver for your business?
Whether your business sits within legal, finance, insurance, investment, management consulting or another specialism, while you won’t necessarily be chosen solely based on your site, people will engage with your online channels to gauge your credibility and validate whether they think you offer the service they need. If the user is considering more than one business, that all-important first impression becomes an even more significant deciding factor. For that reason, you have to offer a positive online experience and clearly communicate what you do.
This is integral for the professional services sector to understand. If you can do this, you’ve successfully ticked off the largest part of lead generation marketing.
How will your website serve your clients?
What do you want your users to be able to do on your website? For example, will your site be purely informative, created simply to access information. Or it could support self-service, featuring a secure login area where documents can be accessed and managed throughout the process. You could even consider automating specific workflows enabling emails featuring relevant links to be automatically sent when a client needs something from you, reducing dependency on your internal teams and creating a more streamlined, quicker experience for the client.
The research and discovery element of your project is hugely important to inform your UX and what you want your website to do alongside encouraging you to consider the accessibility too. It’s crucial to guide your users through their onsite journey. A comprehensive research and discovery process can help you understand how your site will be navigated by your users, providing insight to consider your information architecture and what needs to be included in the online experience.
With so many businesses forced to temporarily close their doors over the past year, more and more people are having to self-service. As such, you need to ensure your website is accessible and that a percentage of the population isn’t being eliminated due to accessibility or UX issues.
How will you use your content?
Your website is a great place for providing resources such as guides which can offer huge value to your audience. You must be prepared to give away some of your expertise and advice for free online. How much is, of course, at your discretion. Some may choose to provide more generic insight while others might be braver and encourage further engagement by giving away insightful tricks of the trade.
For example, when deciding which bank to go with for your mortgage, a bank providing an explicitly clear explanation of what happens when the fixed term of your mortgage ends could make all the difference in you trusting to go with them over another.
Well researched, written and presented resources have the power to reassure your audience, instilling trust that they are making the right decision by using you over the competition - even if they can find a cheaper deal elsewhere.
Carefully consider content structure and language
How you structure your content and how it is written is extremely important. Pay attention to the language you use as this can have a real impact on your audience too. Many professional service businesses use complex terminology and industry-specific jargon which can be quite intimidating to the reader.
It is extremely important to make your website and content feel accessible and user friendly to all. Avoid baffling users with complex language which can switch off your audience and instead carefully balance how you present your business as professional and knowledgeable yet approachable.
How will you engage with users?
People still want to speak to people. Users want to know they’re able to engage with someone if they need to and this makes bringing your people to the forefront online very important. The harder you make it for a user to communicate with you directly, the more frustrating their onsite experience becomes.
As a business with a digital presence, you have a responsibility to make the user experience as simple and easy as possible. After all, there’s nothing worse than wanting to contact an organisation but being unable to locate an email address or contact number onsite. Functionality such as live chat can be effective to provide fast and convenient communication while allowing users to speak with a real person.
Will it be an internal resource too?
Often websites of professional services organisations are used regularly as an internal resource, providing a platform to find, share, discuss and present information. Yet this is frequently overlooked and should be taken into consideration as part of your audience.
We’ve spoken with many businesses who state that their internal team’s inability to find the information they need onsite during a meeting or while on a phone call is a big issue. Not only can this be increasingly frustrating for your team, but it also doesn’t support you in presenting your business in the best light and could damage your brand reputation.
A chance to stand out
During your digital transformation project, you should look for opportunities to differentiate yourself. Every business is looking for their USP. Yours may be cost. But it can be difficult to communicate a USP of cost online, especially when you want your professionalism to shine through.
Instead, many will attempt to use their branding to stand out. We feel that in traditional industries, while there is an opportunity to present your brand identity online in order to differentiate yourself, there’s value in simply stating what you offer first and foremost. We recommend using this as your hook and letting your users discover what your USP is for themselves. If you can offer this credibility upfront, the user is more likely to give you an opportunity and explore further into what you offer to find out what your USP is.
The people element also plays a significant role in this too. Users need to trust the business they’re engaging with and want to speak to someone for reassurance. They want to know first-hand about your experience as this is often what an opinion is heavily built upon. A challenge in the digital world is how you can translate this online - the real-life experience of how you will work with that person. Although it may marry up with your brand, we would advise against being overly corporate and faceless. As such, many professional service organisations will resort to authentic, photography-led branding to communicate their human element.
The importance of first impressions
When you visit a law firm or solicitors, you can almost guarantee that their office will have an impressive reception area offering first-class service, beautiful artwork and sleek décor in a bid to make an excellent first impression. But all too often, upon visiting their website, this credibility is instantly reduced when met with an outdated and difficult to use website.
As a result of the pandemic, significant changes in consumer behaviour have occurred and shopping online – both for products and services – has cemented itself as the norm. Today, online is how the majority of your prospects will initially engage with your business. You must treat your website as your digital reception and place the same importance on creating a positive first impression.
Before COVID struck, the location was key to deciding whether to engage with a business - particularly for more traditional businesses such as law firms. But now, due to rolling lockdowns, a client wouldn’t need to visit a physical premise more than once or twice and this is likely to continue after lockdown ends. As a result, if an individual found a law firm outside of their immediate local area that ticked all the boxes with their digital presence, there’s nothing stopping them from using this business as opposed to a firm closer to home. This increase in competition makes that first website impression even more important.
One of the greatest challenges facing the professional service sector is technology choice. In many cases, you will find that businesses in these sectors are heavily content-led and therefore lend themselves to a headless CMS. On the other hand, these same businesses tend to have relatively small marketing teams and are risk-averse which often makes the tried and trusted choice the favoured one. More so than any other industry, we would advise basing your decision on your culture, your people and the specifics of your organisation.
We understand that selecting the right technology for your business is a difficult and complex decision to make. If you want more guidance on this, read our tips to select the right CMS for your business.
Many professional service organisations have sophisticated internal systems that are paramount to their business operations. Often, these systems have been supplied by software vendors and as a result, you’ll often see a disconnect between the inner workings of professional service organisations and the external presentation. When going through a process of digital transformation it’s important to try and bring these together.
Where organisations have invested in solid internal systems, they need to proclaim them strongly online. For example, when working with a solicitor, you’ll typically find that paperwork is still sent in the post. Yet it would give the client great comfort to know that behind the scenes there is more than a frantic mailroom that ensures the business is running smoothly. Again, this comes back to clearly defining the purpose of your website and the potential value it can deliver.
A web development agency with over two decades of experience, we have worked with many businesses including Havwoods and London Chamber of Commerce to help tackle digital transformation in traditional industries.
Taking a flexible approach, we adapt how we work based on your unique challenges using our love of problem-solving to convert these challenges into a website that supports your business. Digital transformation is a popular talking topic at NetConstruct, if you want to talk more, contact us today