2021 Customer Experience: What to Look Out For This Year

by Leigh Gammons , contributor to Digital Doughnut

2020 is definitely a year to forget! The impact of Covid on society and the economic stability of the country has been severe – with people and businesses alike being put under significant strain through periods of continued lockdown and social distancing measures.

Businesses have needed to be in tune with evolving customers’ needs. This has required them to stay on top of changing customer and consumer behavior. The businesses who have succeeded in 2020 and navigated the ever-shifting effects of the pandemic, are those who adapted to rapidly changing consumer patterns and now find themselves much better placed to face the year ahead.  

Of course, digital experience has underpinned the success of these businesses. 2021 will see an even greater emphasis on the adoption of processes and technologies that enable brands to provide a seamless and consistent customer experience on all platforms. Here’s a few of my thoughts on customer experience trends and what we might expect to see in the coming year and beyond. 

Everything Everywhere

Although the pandemic has brought a huge amount of disruption to consumers and businesses, it has also drastically accelerated consumer expectations. As lockdowns forced us to embrace online, businesses have relied on their online shopfronts to continue doing business. This has put increased importance on the need for brands to create seamless digital experiences across all their channels.

Businesses can no longer delay perfecting their omnichannel experiences – it must now be fool proof. Those that haven’t prioritized moving to a more agile and flexible architecture might struggle to keep up with competitors who have had the foresight to install technologies that have allowed them to adapt and change. They have been able to capitalize on continually changing circumstances and weather shifting government guidelines.

A recent Wunderman Thompson Technology report found there are still hurdles for many organizations when it comes to delivering a multichannel strategy. While 42% of consumers say that a seamless experience across channels is a top expectation, only 11% of decision-makers think that it is the most important factor for great customer experience, revealing a clear mismatch between priorities.

Particularly when regular access to goods and services is shut down, consumers want to find everything everywhere and have a seamless route to buy what they need via the channels of their choosing.

Speed Matters

Our report also identified a disconnect between brands’ perception of their website functionality and their customers’ experience, with 77% of brand owners thinking their experience was ‘great’ in contrast to a fifth (21%) of consumers say a slow website alone would stop them interacting with a brand altogether. This is huge if it amounts to lost revenue.

Many of the issues surrounding integration and performance are rooted in brands’ underlying technological architecture and therefore in 2021 they really need to prioritize having the backend technology in place to support seamless customer experience.

Brand Intimacy Will Become More Important Than Ever

Last year taught us that empathy is not only important for being a successful leader and ensuring workplace harmony, but that consumers are increasingly demanding authentic evidence of brands behaving in a considerate manner and going that extra mile to demonstrate care. In a time of uncertainty, customers aligned themselves more with brands that they deemed trustworthy, helpful and attentive.

Exceptional customer experiences will be rewarded by unshakable customer loyalty, if brands and businesses continue to recognize this integral shift. It’s not just empathy that brands need to demonstrate – but also the ability to listen and respond to customer needs.

This is especially important considering the increased online expectations and demands we see from consumers. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) in our survey said they expected more convenience from brands as a result of Covid-19. Brands now have to listen to this and take action.

During this time brands have pivoted entire strategies to reimagine ways in which to serve their customers and respond to new consumer behaviors and patterns. Our research tells us that 72% now offer new products and services, including 40% putting sites through a fundamental redesign, and 36% making information easier to find.

The investment has paid off and as a result, 44% of consumers say their online experiences with brands have improved since the beginning of the pandemic.

Responsible Use of 1st Party Data Will be a Top Priority

Creating the winning combination of personalization, empathy and a frictionless transaction, is no easy feat. A single view of customer data is needed to shape and adapt communications and interactions with customers, at every stage of their journey.

This is made even more difficult considering the crack down on ad trackers, new data privacy laws and the threat of data breaches remaining ever present.

While customers are looking for highly personalized interactions, there will be a decline in the availability of 3rd party data as cookies become a thing of the past. However, our survey tell us that consumers are more aware of how valuable their 1st party data is, with over a third (35%) telling us that they are happy to exchange this data with brands if it improves the online experience.  

Businesses using data to shape their customer experience must therefore tread a fine line. Providing the rich, personalized experiences that customers are demanding, while simultaneously reassuring them that their data is not being used or stored inappropriately. This will involve businesses leveraging the data they already have to identify patterns which help support positive interactions with consumers.

Technology is not a panacea for solving all of the above. Businesses have had to look very carefully at the structures and processes that support technology to create new ways of working.  The agility to pivot that businesses have demonstrated in the last year has seen some real success stories born out of the pandemic.

On the flip side, those that haven’t been able to adapt have suffered. The brands that will do well in 2021 will be those that can demonstrate that their new found agility is here to stay. They’ll be the brands that can respond to data quickly as we move out of the pandemic and continue to provide exceptional customer experiences.

Article originally appeared on Digital Doughnut.

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