Customer experience has changed quite a bit over the past year. With social distancing norms and lockdown restrictions becoming commonplace, there’s been a drastic shift in how brands and customers interact.
For instance, customers today place a premium on humanized and empathetic experiences. They’ve become more aware of their choices, and pay more attention to things like hygiene and safety.
While COVID-19 has definitely impacted the CX landscape, we wanted to dig deeper and find out what’s in store for customer experience in 2021.
How would customer expectations possibly change this year? What would the most prominent CX trends be?
We spoke to various customer experience thought leaders to get their insights into this topic. We asked them about how customer behaviour is likely to evolve this year and how how brands should adapt their CX strategy accordingly.
And here’s what some of them had to say:
1. Shep Hyken
“A major trend for 2021 will be the use of a digital customer experience. COVID-19 accelerated the use of technology, putting us three to five years into the future. More companies are finding ways to digitize and automate their customer experience. Brands are pushing to use digital and self-service solutions to create an easier, low-or-no friction process for their customers.
This is potentially great for customers until the balance of this new digital support and traditional support (human-to-human) get out of balance. The best companies and brands will find that balance, creating the best possible CX for their customers. This is the trend both companies and customers will enjoy.”
Shep Hyken, Customer Service and Experience Expert, Award-winning Keynote Speaker and New York Times bestselling author.
2. Stacy Sherman
“I believe a big trend in 2021 will be increased communication with colleagues and customers. It is the number one “pain point” people mention to me, regardless of industry or company size. And I believe more and more companies will use technology to communicate faster.
The internet of things (IOT) has already proven to be a game-changer, allowing people to access dashboards in real-time, instead of needing to call customer care. There’s also a trend where companies are sending notifications with photographs about service work done, so that customers know what they are paying for.
While technology solutions enhance customer experiences, best-in-class companies in 2021, that are what I call ‘DoingCXRight®’, will be the ones that humanize the business. Their employees know to proactively communicate, actively listen and respond with empathy. THEY GET THE BASICS RIGHT, and it goes a long way in creating brand affinity, loyalty, and a competitive edge that delivers results.”
Stacy Sherman, Founder at DoingCXRight®.
3. Steven Van Belleghem
“A long time ago, we had to ‘go to a place’ to shop. When the internet kicked in, we were able to shop from the comfort of our own home, and later even on our mobile phones outside of our houses. But we still had to ‘go’ to a place, albeit virtual.
Increasingly, we are moving into an era where everything is commerce and we will be shopping from our streaming channels, videos, and even from billboards on the street. Everything we see will have the potential to become a transaction.
The store will be everywhere around us: E(everywhere)-commerce. This is of course a trend that comes straight from China, where people have been buying from social and other sites like Huya (game streaming), Dianping (Yelp for China), Meipai (live streaming platforms), Xiaohongshu (shopping reviews), Duoyin (TikTok of China) or Weibo (Facebook of China). But what has changed is that now Western players like Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram have been jumping on that wagon as well. That amount will only rise in the coming months. I urge all marketers to investigate what this trend could mean for them. This is no longer some faraway Eastern trend, it’s moving over here fast.”
Steven Van Belleghem, CX Expert and International Keynote Speaker.
4. Jim Tincher
“When the pandemic hit nearly a year ago, new digital capabilities that were just ‘in the works’ were deployed almost overnight. But for many organizations, these capabilities – including e-commerce sites, digital notifications, ship from store – were hobbled by dirty data. Disconnected data. Unmatched data.
We need to make 2021 the Year of CX Data and clean things up.
Data isn’t sexy, but it’s a critical component of any digital transformation. Disconnected and dirty won’t show up (directly) in an NPS survey, but it’s the underlying cause of problems in your customer experience.
Without the right data, you just won’t be able to create the critical capabilities your customers want, expect, and need. And you certainly won’t be able to show leadership how your work results in higher unit margin, increased retention, or lower cost to serve.”
Jim Tincher, Founder and Journey Mapper-In-Chief,
Heart of the Customer.
5. Jeanne Bliss
“Leadership humanity. Leaders are elevating their place in people’s memories about who they are as people, by how they choose to do business. They are applying the lessons of 2020 as they adjusted to make decisions to improve both customers’ and employees’ lives — their most important lens for how they will grow and earn the right to grow. As a result, we will see elevated business practices directly inspired by peoples’ lives and companies that pull away from the pack because of these practices.”
Jeanne Bliss, Founder and CEO, Customer Bliss.
6. Ben Motteram
“I firmly believe the biggest trend in customer experience over the next 12 months will be recognition of the link between employee experience and customer experience (great CX is delivered by happy employees) and the focus that will be placed on improving EX.
With many employees working remotely due to the pandemic, this will take the form of specific initiatives to improve (amongst other things) employee onboarding, professional development, and wellbeing.”
Ben Motteram, Founding Principal, CXpert.
7. Dan Gingiss
With or without a pandemic, the biggest customer experience trend in 2021 will be SAFETY. This will also be the biggest trend in employee experience, by the way, so it’s doubly important.
Simply put, if customers don’t feel safe doing business with you, they will spend money with your competitor instead. And employees who don’t feel safe working for you will go work for someone else.
Safety includes physical safety, health and wellness, emotional safety, and even data privacy. Companies who want to compete in 2021 must address this core need of the post-pandemic customer and employee.
Dan Gingiss, Chief Experience Officer, The Experience Maker.
8. Jeremy Watkin
“Given the pandemic and the changes in the way so many of us work and collaborate, employee experience and engagement is going to be a big customer experience trend and priority for 2021.
We know that employee engagement strongly impacts customer experience, either positively or negatively. Therefore, companies need to find creative ways to appreciate and listen to employees, and bring them together both for team building activities and for collaboration. Your employees must always understand and feel that, though they may be out of sight, they are never out of mind.”
Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Experience and Support, NumberBarn.
9. Tony Johnson
“I remember when restaurants and amusement parks started to reopen after the initial pandemic closures. At first, my family was just happy to get out and enjoy a meal that wasn’t out of a plastic take out carton. The service was slow and it was weird wearing a mask in public – but we were grateful to see some sense of perceived normalcy reemerge.
It didn’t take long for that to disappear and to come to expect the same quality we were accustomed to pre-pandemic.
The same thing will happen as the vaccine helps the world return to something more familiar. You will find that your customers will be looking for a return to outstanding quality, service, and innovation – not just getting the doors open. You will also find that placing a sign in your business or a message on your call center menu warning of longer wait times due to staffing shortages is not a sustainable way to engender customer loyalty. It’s fine as a short term courtesy, but has now become ‘experience noise’ that no one hears or cares about.”
Tony Johnson, Founder, Ignite Your Service
10. Jonathan Jerry Shroyer
“I believe there’s going to be a trend towards mission-driven CX! Ultimately, we all want to develop relationships with companies in the same way we do with other people. We gravitate towards those we can trust and who act in a manner consistent with our own values. Many companies, having seen an aspect of this trend, have slapped a promise statement up on their website, proclaiming to the world who they are and what they believe. This is no longer enough.
CX is what makes these proclamations more than just fancy marketing copy. The experience, delivered consistently, is what builds loyalty. Prior to the Age of the Customer, an organization would not need to project a set of ideals. Now, if an organization is failing to embody these ideals through its CX. it forfeits one of its greatest competitive differentiators. Purchasing decisions in today’s marketplace are often less about what, and more about who.“
Jonathan Jerry Shroyer, CEO & Co-founder, Officium Labs.
What’s in store for CX in 2021?
A greater focus on digital experiences, more investments into improving employee experience, and designing customer journeys while keeping in mind customers’ and employees’ safety and well-being seem to be some of the topmost CX priorities for 2021.
Another key trend is that more and more companies are looking to humanize the customer experience. Relatable and low-effort interactions and journeys are key to winning over customer loyalty and standing out amidst the competition.
Recommended Reading: How to dramatically improve customer experience (And ways to motivate your team)