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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6. Frictionless goes too far

But while there is optimisation and improvement, there is a risk of losing the surprise and delight of customer experiences in 2021 if brands aren't careful.

"If CX managers and marketers continue on their current quest to remove all the ‘friction’ from the customer experience, then there’ll be no ‘experience’ left for the customer by the end of 2021,” FutureBrand Australia CEO, Rich Curtis, claimed.

It may be true the best technology ultimately becomes invisible, offering functionality that is simpler, easier and more intuitive. However, there’s also a risk that technology will throw a cloak of invisibility over the entire brand, product or service, leaving customers feeling, well, nothing, according to Curtis.  

“During Covid, digital transformation strategies have been enacted seemingly overnight in the sprint to keep businesses and customers connected. But now more than ever – at times like these when nothing is certain and everyone feels unsettled – it’s not always ease, but rather emotion that helps us humans make our decisions,” Curtis explained.

While emotions make us feel something, they make us remember, and they keep us coming back for more. “In 2021, technology may well make experience quicker and easier, but it’s the brand that will make it memorable: by elevating those moments that matter in ways that make people stop, think and feel.”

7. Marketer-CX relationships change

VTEX CMO, Jared Blank, predicts marketers’ relationship with CX teams will continue to change in 2021. He puts this to the blurring of the line between marketing, ecommerce and service.

“Digital marketing leaders have realised after 20 years of focusing resources on acquiring customers and driving them to a beautiful website, customers really care about the experience after purchase,” Blank said.

“In ecommerce, this looks like answering questions such as ‘Will packages arrive when promised?’ Can they receive text updates on the progress of shipments? Were items they purchased actually out of stock? 2021 is the year that marketing and CX teams join forces and learn that successful online sellers focus on checkout through delivery, not just on acquisition,” he explained.

Yet while marketers have always operated with an ‘expect the unexpected’ mindset, 2020 shown that agility is no longer optional. Navigating the uncertainty of the months and year ahead, organisations equipped to respond to changing customer needs and preferences will be most successful.

“Today’s customers want genuine opportunities to connect - with one another and with the brands behind the products they use,” said 8x8 A/NZ marketing manager, Pablo Munoz. “In 2021, marketing and customer experience will need to work together lock-in-step to monitor customer sentiment proactively and respond appropriately. Building trust, sharing knowledge and arming customers with the tools they need to prepare for the unpredictable will be critical.” 

2020 may have accelerated innovation in new customer engagement models and products, the most frequently used communication methods within businesses have been digital - social apps, email and SMS. This format of communication with customers makes up almost 90 per cent of interactions.  

As a result, Munoz said organisations need to be agile and have the ability to adapt to the new ways of connecting, communicating and working with customers across all communication channels and devices. “Businesses with unified, cloud-based communications platforms will be a step ahead of the competition and in a better position to operate from anywhere in the digital workplace of 2021,” he adde.  

8. Personalisation gets reinvented

“The next generation of personalisation is not about cookies or third-party data, it’s not about merchandising, and it’s not about guesswork,” according to Cheetah Digital CMO, Richard Jones. “The next generation of personalisation is about relying on deep data insights, first and zero-party data and using machine learning to derive not only the right content, not only the right offer, not only the right channel but, the right sequence of events that leads to an automated path to conversion. 

“The next generation of personalisation is about providing a value exchange for consumers in the ‘moment’ when you have them on your mobile app, on your site, in your store. How can you provide them something that will generate trust and affinity with the brand."  

To improve personalisation in 2021, marketers need to go beyond a first name and embrace guiding prospects and customers through their self-guided research with relevance, according to Uberflip CMO and president, Randy Frisch.

“We’ve all heard the analogy that in account based marketing we are fishing with a spear rather than a net. Our goal is to target the right buyers rather than scooping up distractions and expenses along the way. Building off this analogy our spear will attract the right fish when we use bait at the tip that they crave,” Frisch said.
“Knowing the fish’s name won’t do much when everyone is calling them through channels like email, ads, social, direct mail and more. When this happens, the buyer gets overwhelmed and like a fish will like swim away to try and assess what they really want.

"We need to put the right food or in our actual marketing the right content in front of our buyers.”

For PFL CMO, Nick Runyon, marketing automation should not be confused with personalisation. “Oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting,” Runyon said.

However, when marketers use intent data and data-based insights to fuel their automated communications, they can create remarkable brand experiences sophisticated consumers rely upon. “In the year ahead, marketers will better incorporate real, true personalisation, as they begin to see what can be accomplished with software like tactile marketing automation,” he said.

9. Empathy soars

Then there's the emotional connection. “Right now, you need to practice social - not emotional - distancing,” said Integral Ad Science SVP, APAC, Laura Quigley.

“Uncertain times call for unparalleled leaders and there is a very strong and permanent shift in emotional leadership. Empathy is a key CEO attribute today and it’ll set the tone for 2021 too- albeit with a stronger focus.

“The playing field has changed for the foreseeable future. Unless c-suite adopt empathetic leadership principles quickly, keep the well-being of the employees at the core, they may find themselves leading team members who’re uncertain, overwhelmed and unable to do their best work. Leadership is about having the ability to relate and connect and listen and bond with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives."

Quigley said employees across global industries and geographies have been dealing with tremendous fear and frustrations. "Those guided by empathetic leaders will likely have an easier time working through their stresses, while others operating under a ‘business as usual’ leader may become disengaged and resentful," she said.

"Enabling honest discussions and then pivoting the conversation and actions toward positive solutions will be the key for leaders in 2021 to help their employees stay motivated and thrive professionally and personally.”

Along with empathy, there will be an increased focus on loyalty and retention marketing in 2021, predicted Formation.ai head of business development, Rob Fagnani.

“Unprecedented shifts in consumer behavior due to the pandemic have left many companies scrambling to figure out effective ways to connect with their customers to build trust and remain top of mind. Marketers have increasingly leveraged their first- and zero-party data to glean insights, and the need to generate insights at the individual level vs. segment level has become all the more important,” said Fagnani.

10. A shift to zero UI

As a final nod to the pandemic and its impact on customer experiences, Forrester VP, research director, David Truog saw the CX profession even more affected in 2021 than it has been in 2020, especially in terms of trust, safety, and inclusion.

“Consumers have been jolted into a starker understanding of how contagion works in public places like stores, airports and restaurants. So more than ever, for in-person experiences, they’ll seek out brands they trust,” said Truog.

Off the back of this, Forrester predicts companies will transition to zero UI connectivity – voice, gesture, proximity - that will be good for consumers and for the companies that succeed at the transition eventually. However, it is easier designed than created. “That will be good for consumers and for the companies that succeed at the transition eventually," Truog said.

"But in 2021, companies will find that touchless interfaces are harder to design well than it seems at first blush. Most companies’ websites and apps miss the mark on even some of the basics of inclusive design, and that will set them even further back when it comes to touchless interfaces."

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