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As businesses grappled with major disruption in 2020, those with a robust customer experience (CX) foundation came out ahead – and have reaped the benefits in terms of greater loyalty and revenue.
What can we learn from their successes and what should we look forward to in 2021? This blog focuses on the positives – these silver-lining CX trends that will benefit businesses and customers alike over the next 12 months.
1. Digital transformation will accelerate
Even before coronavirus, 70% of businesses had or were working on some kind of digital transformation strategy. But while organisations may have understood the need for digital transformation before, there’s no doubt that COVID-19 created an urgent need to accelerate these plans. From cloud-based remote working to digital customer service, many small technology deployments were implemented rapidly as quick fixes in response to the crisis.
According to market research, companies that saw the greatest CX improvement focused on advancing core CX competencies, such as their CX strategy, customer insights and ROI metrics, rather than finding and fixing problems with back-end systems and processes. Therefore, 2021 will see more strategic digital transformation initiatives move from planning to execution.
After all, digitally mature companies are 23% more profitable than their less mature peers. And with the increased uncertainty surrounding 2021 market conditions, there is a renewed focus on investment that drives measurable profitability over the short and medium term.
2. Services will seize the spotlight
Once a technology-focused term, the “as a service” model has extended across sectors as businesses look for convenience and predictable cash flow.
Take grocery as an example. Before the pandemic, Mindful Chef was a little-known subscription delivery service for recipe boxes (that is: groceries and meal planning as a service). During the first lockdown, the company grew 300% in 3 weeks – and is now a £55 million business with Nestlé set to acquire a majority stake. The value isn’t in the products – it’s in the service and the overall customer experience of using that service. This trend will continue.
We’ll also see services come to the fore as retail fights back. Within EU countries, the share of online retail sales increased by 30% compared year-on-year in April 2020. E-commerce has expanded into new segments and new demographics (for example, senior generation). And the OECD predicts that brick-and-mortar stores globally will struggle to claw back much of this trade.
Enticing consumers back in store will require a focus on value-added experiences, whether it’s creating experiential concept stores, teaching customers, providing personalised services or using premises for community activities.
3. Real-time requirements will drive customer journey orchestration and visualisation
In 2021, real-time insight will be key to CX strategy and delivery. Which means customer journey orchestration and visualisation will come into their own. Visualisation gives you real-time information on your customers’ complex, non-linear, often unplanned journeys – and what the ideal journeys should look like. Orchestration makes those ideal journeys a reality, cost-effective and scalable.
These two techniques help break down CX complexity and provide crucial evidence that investment is contributing to positive outcomes. They help you better understand needs, pre-empt issues and optimise the customer experience in real-time. You can then answer questions like:
4. Artificial intelligence will be a critical enabler
It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way businesses interact with customers. With AI and machine learning, brands can be available 24/7 at every stage of the journey. In 2021, we’ll see more businesses use this technology to synthesise customer data and deliver personalised experiences at scale. This will lead to higher conversion rates, improved customer satisfaction (CSAT, NPS), cost reduction and increased customer loyalty.
For example, in financial services, companies are using AI to provide personalised product and service recommendations based on customers’ individual circumstances. In telecoms, companies are using the technology to predict issues and preemptively resolve them, leading to higher retention. And in retail, they’re using AI-driven chatbots to offer integrated, multi-channel support, taking pressure off contact centres and speeding up resolution times.
5. Real-time interaction management will take personalisation to the next level
Using a customer’s first name in an email is a degree of personalisation. Remarketing campaigns and ‘customers also bought’ messaging also involves personalisation. But these tactics don’t create genuine moments with customers. To create moments, you need to focus on customers as individuals, predicting their needs and interacting in real-time.
That’s why Real-Time Interaction Management (RTIM) will be an important 2021 trend. RTIM is growing fast – among Engage Hub users, interactions have increased from 50 million to 1 billion per month in just 5 years.
With a traditional cross-channel approach, you create customer segments and send outbound campaigns. With RTIM (coupled with Next Best Experience), you go a step further – using analytics to recognise customers, delve into their requirements and make the best decision about how to deliver value and the optimum experience in that moment. RTIM involves outbound channels as part of the customer journey, but it also takes account of inbound customer interactions to foster two-way conversations.
Your customer experience strategy will underpin 2021 success
There’s no doubt that CX must be part of your business strategy. After all, unhappy customers are more likely to move to competitors. But by taking the time to consider the experience you are offering, you can capitalise on digital transformation spending as well as attract and retain customers that will stay with you into the new year and beyond.
And now is an ideal time to look strategically at your CX approach. With the upheaval of 2020 behind us, your brand can seize the initiative and capitalise on consumer demands for convenience, relevance and empathy.
And that is what these 5 trends have in common – they are all ways businesses can forge stronger, more meaningful relationships at scale. And those relationships will deliver long term value for a business as well as its customers.
Learn more about how Engage Hub can help you achieve your customer experience goals for 2021. Get in touch today.