Predictions: 10 Customer experience trends for 2021

CMO asks the experts about the customer experience trends heading towards marketers and CX professionals in 2021

Hardtofind CEO and founder, Erica Stewart, reveals how a personalised and engaging CX across all customer touchpoints is the way forward
Hardtofind CEO and founder, Erica Stewart, reveals how a personalised and engaging CX across all customer touchpoints is the way forward
  • Hardtofind CEO and founder, Erica Stewart, reveals how a personalised and engaging CX across all customer touchpoints is the way forward
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In 2021, brands will need to go further than ever with CX to attract and retain customers and incentivise loyalty. Coming to grips with the newly digital consumer while also finding purpose and empathy to connect with those consumers looking for authentic brands are just some of the challenges. Finding the tools to bridge offline and online will create new challenges, while rising demands for privacy willneed to be balance against the benefits of personalisation.  

Indeed, the very relationship between marketing and CX teams will come into firmer focus in 2021 as brands look to innovate and create memorable, lasting connections with savvy consumers. And with customer acquisition more expensive than customer retention, loyalty will be crucial, according to Zoho chief strategy officer, Vijay Sundaram.  

“With marketing budgets reduced and businesses cautious about reverting to pre-pandemic expenditure levels, customer acquisition will revolve around attracting the right long-term audience rather than random acquisition at any cost,” Sundaram said.

CMO asked a range of industry players about the customer experience trends marketers need to be know as we head towards 2021.

1. CX will be the new competitive advantage

If you haven't figured it out already, CX has become the competitive advantage for organisations. But the B2B world has arguably been a behind strides taken by consumer-facing brands. Well, not anymore.

“Today, a customer-centric experience is no longer a nice to have, it’s an expectation in B2C,” Conexiom CEO, Ray Grady, said. “But when it comes to B2B, most businesses are still light years behind their B2C counterparts. We live in an experience-focused economy, which means as B2B leaders, we can’t force buyers to change their behavior to meet our solution."

Of course, this progression just won’t happen. "Instead, as we head into the year ahead, we must conform our solutions to give customers what they want when they need it in order to succeed, " Grady said.

"As expectations evolve, our solutions must be lean and agile, so we continue to meet customers where they are and provide the best customer experience."

The need for vision, innovation and transformation has never been more pronounced for marketers, said Gartner Marketing practice vice-president analyst, Jennifer Polk. “Marketers need to reinvent how they engage with today’s customers by using online and offline channels to create rich, creative and immersive experiences,” she said.  

SevenRooms senior VP of marketing, Marybeth Sheppard, predicted the accelerated adoption of technology, which spiked in 2020, will continue to change what customers expect from businesses. “This new era of connectivity across tech, especially related to shared data, has provided a new way for businesses to meet and exceed customer expectations,” Sheppard said.

“In 2021, it’s no longer enough to offer customers multiple disparate touchpoints. Instead, to capture and retain loyal customers, businesses must offer streamlined, personalised and meaningful experiences across all channels.  

“For businesses in 2021, we’ll see a more fully connected experience across the customer lifecycle - whether tailored to a consumer or business customer, or new or existing clientele. There will be a greater need for connectivity, fluidity and balance between professional and personal. The businesses who will be most successful will have a balanced blend of empathy, authenticity and social responsibility, which will be communicated through all aspects of their communications.” 

Major societal change, combined with the global pandemic, is redefining customer needs - most notably how customers find, buy and consume products and services. “Meeting new expectations of stakeholders - not just shareholders - demands a reset of the marketing function,” said Gartner Marketing practice distinguished vice-president analyst, Andrew Frank.

“This starts with an understanding of what has changed, followed by a reassessment of how to respond to that change. An organisations’ appetite for risk will be a critical factor in reshaping brands in the years to come." 

Doddle APAC CEO, Justin Dery, sees an opportunity for retail marketers to build more complete data profiles of their customers at a time when data-informed customer experiences are driving growth.

“Technology has a large role to play in making CX seamless, with clear communications, timely alerts and a rapid handover process. Push notifications letting a customer know when their parcel has arrived, for instance, can help bolster the relationship between the retailer and customer,” said Dery. “Getting items to people has never been more business-critical with brand reputation never being at such risk.” 

2. The long-term Covid effect

In 2020, COVID became a catalyst for brands to improve their CX and focus on how to put the customer first. But it doesn’t always come easily.

“CX is uncomfortable. It’s born out of a massive change in mindset for businesses,” said Innocean CX director, Romy Briers. “In 2021, we will start to see real success for those companies who truly integrate the customer’s needs and wants within their business processes and strategy vs those who merely use it as a buzzword." 

CX is grounded in data and understanding who the customer is and what they want. “Those players that step out of their comfort zone and are willing to listen and change the way they interact with the customer, are likely to reap the biggest rewards. But it’s going to be uncomfortable for a while,” she said.

3. Social impact wins the day

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Square Australia, head of marketing, Jessica Cook. In practice, this means brands that are socially aware and demonstrate inclusion and diversity with their actions, in addition to their digital campaigns, will win in 2021.

As examples, Cook noted Cash App utilised Instagram for 10 days to donate $50,000 to organisations working for justice by matching payments sent to their $cashtags. For Black Friday, Patagonia ran a digital and offline campaign entitled ‘Demand more, buy less.’ Patagonia is also asking the community to really reconsider what they need to buy during this period - a thread extending to its physical stores, website and social media accounts. 

“The B Corporation-certified company has released several stories and clips that stress the impacts of mass consumption, and its impacts on the planet. This direction aligns the interests of brands, consumers and the world," Cook said.  

InMoment MD, David Blakers, sees the impacts of the pandemic continuing to shape customer experiences in 2021, especially in terms of changing consumer behaviour, remote working habits and the need for speed and efficiency. He recommended brands identify and prioritise the high-impact and high-emotion moments to connect with the most valued customers and employees and help employees recognise, react and own pivotal customer moments, and make adjustments to the business by understanding the moments that matter.

“With everything now at the touch of our fingertips, customers expect fast, real-time results. Businesses must expect the unexpected and prepare to scale efficiently. With more of our life spent online than ever before - from school, to work, to shopping - businesses that fail to adapt and leverage real time customer insights will ultimately be left behind," he said.

4. Finding the privacy-personalisation balance

In today’s rapidly digitised business environment, Australian consumers are choosing to spend their money with businesses that have high-quality goods and services, are responsive and offer personalised customer experiences, according to LogRhythm VP international marketing, Joanne Wong.

“Creating the winning combination of personalisation, empathy, frictionless transaction processing, issue resolution and integrity requires seamless exploitation of customer data,” said Wong. “Ideally, it should be used to shape communications and interactions with customers, at every stage of the journey. This sounds straightforward enough in theory, but the reality can be anything but.”

While customers are looking for highly personalised interactions with businesses, they’re also concerned about their privacy and increasingly wary about the way organisations are collecting, storing and utilising their details. Companies using data to shape their customer experiences must tread a fine line: Providing the rich, personalised experiences customers are demanding while simultaneously reassuring them that their data is not being used or stored inappropriately.   

“Brands which do the latter are likely to find themselves swiftly unsubscribed and scratched from the preferred suppliers list. Standout customer experience has become an increasing determinant of commercial success,” said Wong.  

“That means creating meaningful and satisfying customer interactions is an imperative for Australian businesses which hope to grow and prosper in the 2020s. Those which strive to understand and respect consumers’ concerns about personal data usage stand the best chance of winning their trust – and striking the requisite balance between personalisation and privacy.”

Index Exchange regional MD, Adele Wieser, notes personalisation is nothing new to the industry, but the way it is delivered will need to change with the impending deprecation of third-party cookies. “Though challenging in the short-term, the death of the third-party cookie is an opportunity for marketers to build closer, more meaningful relationships with consumers as well as publishing partners,” she said.

“Working in tandem, trusted marketers and publishers can utilise first-party data to provide scalable, addressable advertising opportunities, underpinned by consent and control. These brands will be able to engage with the right audiences, at the right time, using the right message, creating a more personalised, tailored, enjoyable experience for the end-user."

5. Bridging offline and online - finally

Businesses of all kinds have had to evolve at record speed and move between the digital and real worlds. For example, retail stores which are digital and brick and mortar and those purely digital, are all redefining what digital business means to them. With this in mind, Talend CMO, Lauren Vaccarello, predicts this new environment isn’t temporary.

“What we will see in 2021 is a true deepening and merging of the analogue and digital domains. Your favourite local yoga studio may have started featuring more online options during the pandemic and this will not change. In fact, consumers will begin to expect online or hybrid options ongoing,” said Vaccerello.

“Before an online experience was nice to have, now it will be a business requirement to ensure loyalty and success. This will also be the case for retail store shopping where online and in person options were nice to have, but now they are an expectation of every customer.”

Up next: 5 more CX predictions for 2021

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