CX trends 2021 - How to adapt to changing conditions

The same adjectives for 2020 have been used again and again - unprecedented, uncertain, challenging, transformational - but at its core, the human race and virtually every paradigm we rely on has been scrutinised and pressured. While many things have paused or shut down, there has also been great acceleration in innovation, both in business and science. The need to meet changing customer expectations and to transform digital experiences became a real-time event, coming to fruition in a matter of weeks and months, rather than years. 

Feefo’s Marketing Director Keith Povey says:

“Customer experience (CX) has been at the forefront of this changing dynamic between brands and their customers, where brand loyalty has been tested more than ever before. The expectations have changed from what customers ‘want’ to what they absolutely ‘need’ - and the acceleration in innovation has been driven by each company’s own need to keep trading and, ultimately, to stay in business.

“Businesses large and small have had to become more agile, more flexible and more empathetic, taking care of both their employees and their customers. 2020 has shown us more than ever how resilient we are, and how - in the face of adversity - businesses are highly adaptable. Yet, while there is light at the end of the tunnel, 2021 is still going to be a challenging year full of unknowns. The way in which we think, do business and work will continue to evolve, with even more digital transformation on the horizon.”

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the CX trends predicted by Feefo and leading industry experts:

1. Agile CX strategy

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt business, agility is key to success. No one could foresee this year’s pandemic, but companies that were reactive and adapted successfully were the ones who maintained their operations and met their customers’ changing needs with efficiency and effectiveness. 

Many UK firms, large and small, were reactive and creative in developing more hygienic ways to keep their customers safe. Asda has become the first supermarket in the UK to roll out autonomous cleaning robots helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

In 2021, businesses will continue to transform their approach to CX by adopting reactive strategies that put customers’ personal experience at the forefront of their operations.

Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at digital document management experts, Conga

“Next year, technology providers will be expected to be far more flexible, tailoring their product offering to answer their customers’ ongoing concerns and needs. Naturally, this will require more technical solutions and perhaps even collaborating with another provider to ensure their problems are solved. This will involve some level of diplomacy as providers work together with customers far more closely, as they hope to answer some of the more complex business challenges. In most cases, this will require matchmaking them with the right technology, regardless of who or what it is, to ensure that they can deliver the right business outcomes that their customers need.

“Companies will have invested heavily in digital technologies this year and naturally this will be reflected in their budget for 2021. From now on, companies will prioritise how they can deliver their services more effectively. For example, leaders will consider if there is another way that their company can accomplish the same results with less money or more online tools, or perhaps reconsider where best to apply particular technologies to further streamline their operations. Now is the time for service providers to be more commercially agile, perhaps reconsidering their product line and identifying something more pertinent to what customers need right now.”

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Nicolas Hammer, Co-founder and CEO of customer interaction management platform, Critizr Connections

“Given that the trading environment will continue to be in flux for some time, with regional variations demanding a more localised response to customer and community needs across the UK, building agile digital and CX capabilities will be even higher on the agenda for 2021. To achieve this, a trend we are seeing amongst some of Europe’s biggest retail brands is a drive to embed customer obsession throughout the organisation. Companies are investing in game-changing technology and strategies that enable their teams and employees to connect directly with their own customers. They want to facilitate customer conversations at local level, across every channel, so that staff can listen, chat, understand and act quickly and efficiently on behalf of their customers - whether that’s fixing queue lengths in branches or rewarding a loyal customer for a glowing online review.”

 

2. Relationships over transactions

It’s no longer enough for businesses to deal with customers only on a transactional basis. The 2021 customer needs to value your brand, beyond a single transaction, and develop a meaningful customer relationship that lasts.

According to research conducted by Edelman, 65% of people will base their future purchases on how well a company responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Many customers would stop using brands that have not acted appropriately, and 90% of consumers want to know what support a business's employees and customers are getting from them. 

Compassion, honesty and understanding matter a lot in 2021 and beyond. Brands the world-over have shown signs of empathy and alignment with community culture by striving to be a part of the global solution. The ‘We’ll March Again’ campaign by Guinness was met with encouragement and support after its patrons had to cancel St Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations. Big brands like KFC and Pizza Hut were met with praise from the public after they set up relief funds for employees diagnosed with COVID-19. 

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Yasmin Borain, Chief Experience Officer at ad agency, Tribal Worldwide London

“The value exchange is no longer only with brand and customer, but with brand, customer, and society — our world. This year alone has opened our eyes to how important it is for us to help brands be and do better both in how they behave and through the services or products they deliver.”

 

Paige O’Neill, CMO of customer experience management platform, Sitecore 

“When COVID-19 hit, being an ‘empathetic brand’ meant reaching out to customers to see what they needed and being sensitive to how they might be affected by the pandemic. Now, this has evolved to being able to put customers’ desires, feelings and expectations at the heart of a CX strategy. 

Macmillan Cancer Support created a new Coronavirus hub that offered users online support and guidance, as well as personalised guide modules that provide curated and more tailored Coronavirus and cancer information. That’s how to connect in an empathetic way, and Macmillan says user engagement levels are up, based on click-through and bounce rates, as well as user feedback.

Johns Hopkins Medicine was also able to show empathy at scale and immediately respond to the pandemic by providing accurate Coronavirus information in a rapidly changing environment. They used content to power a COVID-19 self-checker, built infographics to inform, and ultimately grew visits to coronavirus content by more than 38 million in just seven months.”

 

Adrian Swinscoe, CX Consultant

"The effects of the pandemic has shown that an organisation's relationships with their customers and their ability to deliver great service and experience is dependent on their ability to be empathetic. In 2021, organisations will increasingly get to grips with what that means for them and their customers. That will require them to start thinking holistically about it and start thinking about developing an empathetic musculature for their organisation i.e. what strategy, systems, processes, design, technology, leadership, people and training they need to put in place to make their whole organisation sustainably more empathetic to their customers.”

3. Trust, safety and inclusion

According to a Forrester survey, only 13% of consumers trust retailers to provide effective guidance and solutions during the pandemic. The events of 2020 have shaken people across the world, and consumers are looking for new ways to feel safe and seeking brands they can depend on.

It’s not just about making promises, brands in 2021 will have to deliver on them, experiment with protocol and enforce actions that bring solutions in the eyes of the customer. Depending on the industry the expectations will vary. The travel industry is very much focused on restoring consumer confidence, whereas retail has had to try and maintain standards throughout 2020. Many businesses really stepped up their game to support and reassure their customers during the pandemic, and almost a year on, that in itself has become a 'new normal'. People now expect a high level of engagement and customer care as opposed to seeking it. 

Many airlines have introduced leniency when it comes to their ticket change fee and hotel chains like Hilton installed special stickers, wraps and informative guides to help set their guests’ minds at ease while travelling. Keeping customers happy during turbulent times is challenging, but in 2021 you can expect businesses to invest more in implementing processes and procedures that provide security and trust, especially in travel and tourism. 

Ian Crawford, Brand Manager of online travel retailer, Holiday Hypermarket

“On the one hand, people’s desire to travel and get away has never been greater than now, given the tough year that everyone has endured. However, consumers also need to feel safe and ready to travel before booking their next trip. So, the challenge in our industry is to instil trust and ensure they have a seamless customer experience from the get-go. This starts online for us, where we need to provide our customers with up-to-date information about destinations, travel requirements and their accommodation. Reassurance is key. 

“Omnichannel has never been more crucial for businesses to connect with their customers. Our engagement stats have gone through the roof in the last nine months, so it’s essential we offer our customers different channels to connect with us. Things won’t revert back to normal overnight, so it’s our job to stay close to our customers throughout the booking journey, and that includes gaining feedback post-holiday to continuously improve. 2021 will be the year brands start to consider trust metrics in the marketing mix.”

 

Jonathan Allan, CMO at customer service platform, Puzzel 

“Two big themes emerging from business throughout 2020 is the increasing demand on contact centre operations and the necessity for brands to put customer experience at the heart of their digital operations. As 2021 looms, this trend shows no signs of abating. Customers have turned to contact centres for reassurance during uncertain times, and the contact centre will continue to be the pre-eminent primary brand touchpoint and face of a business, as restrictions will without doubt continue to affect customers’ ability to receive in-person customer service.”

 

4. Shifting customer behaviour

Consumer behaviours have permanently shifted since the pandemic, with fear and anxiety acting as fuel for certain purchase decisions. Customers are adapting to new digital alternatives to satisfy their need for information, guidance and reassurance. Businesses need to provide a seamless experience to reassure customers across all platforms while speaking to them in a language they understand and can trust.

In 2021, brands will need to focus on bridging the gap between offline and online experiences. 

More emphasis will be placed on open communication and multiple channels of feedback to fully understand the customer’s expectations and provide them with what they need. The demand for human interaction versus artificial intelligence seems to be split down the middle, so it’s imperative that businesses look for ways to incorporate a healthy balance between the two. Whether it's their attitude towards travelling, spending, socialising or shopping, the entire world has seen a drastic change. Businesses need to quickly study the new shifts and keep adapting.

Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga

“COVID-19 has led to a number of accelerations across the business landscape, not least digital transformation. However, with the boom of e-commerce and online shopping for example, there has been a noticeable shift in customers’ expectations and behaviour. Digital solutions have enabled customers to shop far more efficiently and effortlessly, with a smooth, end-to-end experience. However, speed is now vital. Customers want services and products in an instant, and the same can now be said for businesses. Companies require solutions and answers to their problems fast, and expect information even faster. Expectations have never been higher. 

 “With businesses pursuing more sophisticated digital transformation programmes next year and reviewing their current operational model, providers will need to anticipate customers’ needs and be far more proactive in how they search for a solution to ensure demands can be met.”

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Benedict Ireland, Head of Experience at web design and development agency, Splendid UNLIMITED

“Consumer behaviour has necessarily changed, and will continue to do so. This creates a shift in demand and therefore fulfilment. Grocers were suddenly overwhelmed – click-and-collect and home delivery have been around for years, but the sudden change in demand was unprecedented. Banking saw the largest shift to digital channels since they became available. These are consumer behaviours that the high street has been trying to change for years, and suddenly, overnight those shifts happen through necessity. As consumers have begun that exodus to digital, we expect it to be mostly a one-way street – for many, there will be no going back. 

“In fact, we expect to see product/service acceleration continue through niche digitally enabled journeys such as shoppable TV and shoppable social media. In fashion, this in turn will open up possibilities for different models of ownership – short-term rental of clothing is now being explored by several retailers, and why not? The delivery, fulfilment and returns processes already exist.”

 

5. Digital experience (DX)

As we start to trade physical connections for virtual interaction, digital technology has become an essential part of post-COVID life. 2021 calls for an acceleration in digital innovation and adoption of online services wherever possible. More than 40% of UK consumers say they purchase more online now than they did in 2019, and a fifth of them would like to interact with brands through an online channel. 84% of global consumers use digital channels like social media, websites and apps more frequently than they did last year, so the shift to digital is real and not going to slow down any time soon.

Restaurants across the world have adopted contactless methods to enable their customers to browse their menu and place orders using their mobile phone. The use of QR codes has significantly increased across the UK and US since the pandemic, with seamless integration between different apps, platforms and devices. Customers want a smooth transition between every platform, and expect information to be available at the click of a button. 

2021’s digital transformation needs to go beyond the device and offer truly contactless solutions in every way, including payment. UK customers will shift more towards the cashless solutions in 2021 and beyond. 51% will be using their cards more often, while 44% will opt for mobile or contactless payments.

Brands need to reconsider their digital strategies and consider that much of the COVID-driven consumer behaviour may be here to stay.

Chris McLaughlin, Chief Product and Marketing Officer, content management software company, Nuxeo

“Business was competitive and challenging before the pandemic and with so many of us only shopping online now, it’s even more vital for brands to do everything they can to ensure consumers have the best digital experience possible. No one knows exactly what the new normal will be, but whatever it looks like, it will be vital for brands to focus on digital. This means providing customers not only with the relevant content and information relating to products, but also the personalised content that makes them feel more valued and adds to the overall digital experience.

“Digital strategy and experience are important at the best of times, but have taken on a new importance in 2020. This will continue into 2021. It’s tough, but not an impossible task and with careful content management, firms can deliver a first-class digital customer experience and offer the personalised and valuable content that will improve consumer loyalty.”

 

Ian Golding, global customer experience specialist at Customer Experience Consultancy

“Digital technology has been increasingly significant for the last ten years – 2020 has seen an even greater acceleration in the adoption of technology as the need to make products and services more accessible has become essential as customer mobility has decreased. This trend will continue into 2021 and beyond. Hopefully, this trend will be supported by an increased awareness of how technology should be used to IMPROVE the customer journey – rather than technology being adopted in isolation of the customer journey.”

 

6. Data privacy and consolidation

2020 has seen a number of data breaches and threats to cybersecurity across the world. Almost half the businesses in the UK were reported to suffer from a cybersecurity breach, many experiencing an issue on a weekly basis. From phishing attacks to viruses, malware and ransomware, a data breach can cost companies millions of pounds a year and many customers too.

Due to the increase in online activities across the world, cybercriminals have taken the opportunity to develop new threats and target those most vulnerable - a new wave of internet users forced to take their work and education online. The widespread anxiety, dependence and confusion that online networks first posed early this year have pushed cybersecurity professionals to find immediate solutions to increase cyber defense.

With more people working remotely, the use of cloud-based storage and security has increased. The UK’s cloud adoption rate is currently at 88% and the industry predicts a steady rise over the coming years. 44% of UK consumers will stop transacting with a business after a security breach. In 2021, customers will be turning to companies that assure them of their privacy and respect their data in ways never asked for before.

Josh Schoonmaker, Senior Director Strategy at digital experience platform Commerce, Episerver

“The last few years have proven just how complicated the concept of privacy is in a digital-empowered world. One useful way of exploring the space is to separate out the arenas of legal privacy and perceived invasiveness.

“While GDPR, Privacy Shield and CCPA have brought far more explicit guides to privacy, only very recently have the distinctions behind privacy towards compliance and privacy toward customer experience been fully explained.

 “Retailers worried about privacy concerns related to personalisation can rest assured that compliance adherence is rapidly getting coded into most cloud and software solutions. The real issue we’ll see now and in the next 12 months will be meeting customer expectations around the perceived level of intrusiveness.”

 

Dean Leung, Chief Customer Success Officer at cloud-based document management platform, iManage

Pre-pandemic was a simpler time, from a security perspective. As long as sensitive files were within the four walls of the organisation, they were safe. But what happens when you have remote workers that are literally moving from one Airbnb to another on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Or how about workers who are moving from one family pod to another? This dispersed and highly mobile remote workforce brings a whole new set of challenges in terms of understanding the threat landscape and ensuring proper security.”

 

Richard Robinson, Managing Director of marketing performance & digital transformation consultants, Econsultancy 

“Data management, and most importantly the governance of the data being used, will become a defining part of CX in the next decade. Just as it is unacceptable for poor labour practices to be involved in the supply chain of physical goods, for example clothing production, it will become unacceptable to society for data to be farmed, sold and used without consent. Data provenance sitting at the heart of CX programmes has the capacity to make or break any business or brand. An entire data provenance, insurance, and intelligence industry will step out of the shadows and exist alongside main street tech providers.”

 

7. Data science and AI innovation

2021 will see the proliferation of data continue exponentially, with more connected devices, more people online and more digital consumption. This will lead to a boom in advances in data analytics, data science, AI and data democratisation. Consumers can expect exciting things coming from businesses who implement new data-driven CX strategies.

Here are some data trends businesses can expect to focus on:

  • Data and AI democratisation: The gap between the pre-internet generation and a new wave of digital natives has never been wider. Businesses and customers alike are seeking an open, honest and transparent outlook for when it comes to data sharing and the democratisation of data and technology. More businesses are looking to adopt open-source data and code, pre-existing plugins and intuitive tools that sustain a shared economy.
  • Segmentation of data: Businesses will be expected to target each demographic of customer differently and market to them appropriately based on customer data. Grouping data together and identifying patterns according to location, age, marital status, income and education will help businesses maximise the value each customer brings and provide them with what they need.

When executed efficiently and used appropriately, data science will help businesses in 2021 to adapt their business operations to enhance customer experiences.

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Richard Roberts, Vice President, UK & I and Northern Europe at telecoms network operators, Mitel

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses have ramped up their digital capabilities in an effort to drive customer engagement and ensure business continuity. Our recent research into the impact of COVID on consumer behaviour revealed that nearly half (45%) of UK consumers have increased their use of online customer service during the pandemic and, of that number, more than 73% will rely more on digital options going forward. Moreover, the data suggests that nearly half of UK consumers are expecting to use more AI-based CX tools moving forward including chatbots (42%), virtual agents (43%) and self-service CX technologies (44%).

“As a result, next year, we’ll see a growing number of brands experimenting with AI in a bid to enhance the digital consumer experience and enable hyper-personalisation. This will drive faster adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics, with businesses looking to bundle AI-powered chatbots and agent-assist technologies with contact centre platforms to create more personalised and seamless online experiences. As AI becomes more widely used, virtual assistant apps will become easier to train and deploy, enabling smaller businesses to compete more successfully with larger brands when it comes to customer experience.”

 

Richard Robinson, Managing Director of specialists in accelerating marketing performance & digital transformation, Econsultancy 

“AI and machine learning will be commonplace, if 2020 was the year when humans digitally transformed then 2021 onwards will be the years when humans digitally accelerated at a pace only previously seen in the movies.”

 

Benedict Ireland, Head of Experience at Splendid UNLIMITED

“Customer service is rapidly adopting artificial intelligence (AI), which can have multiple benefits to customers – genuine 24/7 sales and support, triage of queries, auto-complete of forms and data entry, thus shortening task times and improving service. However, this does rely on use of customer data, which means businesses will need to continue to tread a delicate line between invasive data collection and trusted conversation. AI and conversational UIs can help to make that feel more trustworthy. Continuing the conversational UI thought, the use of smart assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google are likely to steadily rise, creating a more complex matrix of omnichannel behaviours to which the sector will need to respond. 

“In increasingly personal service journeys, some businesses will see a need for a rise in staffing those experiences – which can offset the headcount reductions provided by the automation of sales and marketing journeys. As with any digital shift, how the business responds by managing their own change to reflect that of their customers will be critical to success. We mustn’t forget that for all of the benefits of AI, automation and 24/7 servicing, there is still a real desire from consumers to have that human understanding, and that provides the opportunity for differentiation for businesses. Digital is great, but for brands to truly thrive in all aspects of the experience, we need digital to be made human. 

“Automation will continue its relentless march to becoming the norm. Autonomous delivery is being explored in many ways – drones, robots, and even self-driving cars will slowly become more prevalent, but we expect far more rapid shifts to automation in logistics, communications, and marketing. McKinsey’s analysts predict that personalised, targeted marketing through social channels typically reduce marketing costs by around 20%. 

“Automation through AI opens opportunities for rapid customisation and personalisation of products, currently being used to great effect by a number of brands including Nike. This works hand-in-hand with just-in-time manufacturing models, which have been used to great effect in automotive and are finding its feet in fashion. We’re seeing a steady increase in visibility of drop-ship businesses, offering low-overhead on-demand processes to nimble businesses.”

8. Hyper-personalisation

The term ‘hyper-personalisation’ relates to the use of data to provide more personalised and targeted products, services, and content. This level of personalisation goes beyond the traditional methodology in that it allows organisations to drive personalised customer experiences in real time. 

The modern-day consumer uses multiple devices, often 2-3, such as smartphones, laptops or other wearable tech. These devices help businesses gather lots of useful information about customer lifestyle and online behaviour. Harnessing this data to implement personalised customer experiences across the purchase journey is the key to brands achieving hyper-personalisation. 

There were many great examples of hyper-personalisation in 2020 and expect the term to be  much more than a buzzword in 2021. In fact, 73% of customers expect a personalised experience from a business as the standard, and feel that many companies are not doing enough in these efforts to customise it for them. 

Richard Robinson, Managing Director, Econsultancy 

“Data is central to everything, and the way in which this data is owned, used, analysed, and manipulated by data analysts, scientists, engineers and marketers will become the defining hallmark of whether a business survives or thrives. Hyper-personalisation and the ability to conduct millions of relationships in real-time, guiding, supporting, and predicting the thought process of a human being faced with the binary choices they see on a screen will become the epicentre of CX.”

 

Roger Beadle, CEO of gig CX platform, Limitless

“Many brands claim to provide personal customer service. In 2021, the experience will become orchestrated and hyper-personalised. Using data, brands will begin to proactively engage during the customer lifecycle to enhance the customer’s experience with the product or service creating more long term value. Meal kit services are the perfect example, and peer-to-peer engagement at key decision points makes for a perfect match. Imagine being able to speak to an existing customer that shares your exact same dietary preferences when canvassing meal kit options? This model is already in place at meal kit provider Sun Basket. It’s examples like this that show the power of personalisation supporting Customer Success strategies is set to become the norm in 2021.”

 

9. Evolution of chatbots

Chatbots have revolutionised the way businesses deal with customers, helping them cut operational costs by up to 30% in recent years. However, 2020 has shown us the importance of human interaction and the need to combine AI technology and humans to achieve a greater depth of customer experience, while gaining operational efficiencies. ‘Good enough’ support no longer cuts it. 

In the past the likes of insurance giants Zurich UK, successfully used chatbots to boost customer satisfaction, by gathering feedback and meeting customer demands through this automated digital user experience. 

In 2021, businesses are predicted to develop more seamless integrations between chatbots, live chat and call centre support, with the introduction of humanoid avatars also predicted. 

Roger Beadle, CEO of gig CX platform, Limitless

“Chatbots as we know them will die and we’ll see more humans in the loop: AI adoption will increase by improving the effectiveness of a blended chatbot / human model. 2021 will be the year where the automated and human interaction come together to improve CX journeys for customers. Imagine a quick pre-qualify via AI using natural language and a seamless hand-off to a knowledgeable human as required. With more humans in the loop reviewing automated responses, customers will also experience significantly higher levels of accuracy in the answers they receive. This will enable companies to train and maintain the accuracy of their AI algorithms at higher confidence levels.”

 

David Semach, EMEA Head of AI and Automation at business consultants, Infosys Consulting

“Once heralded as the next frontier in customer experience, and widely used by retailers, banks, and online marketplaces, chatbots can no longer provide the level of service the modern consumer demands. Particularly after a year spent largely in our own homes, more than ever, we’re all craving human connection. What’s more, we’ve all experienced chatbots who were no help at all – prone to error, many have to speak to someone on the phone anyway. Where chatbots fall short, AI-driven humanoid avatars can do much, much more. In 2021, we will see the first early adopters of this technology, like banks, universities, and retailers, bring their AI avatars to our screens.

“For customers, this might mean logging on to do your online grocery shop, and being met by a friendly avatar who can run through the latest deals, point you in the direction of ingredients, and actually act as a ‘personal shop assistant’ – far beyond what chatbots are capable of. For businesses, there are many benefits beyond customer experience: opportunities to cross- and upsell, the ability to answer queries to relieve the burden on customer services, and even train customers on new products or services. Humanoid avatars and conversational AI will be a major trend next year, and it will help brands build lasting relationships with their customers.”

 

10. Authenticity and transparency

With so much  ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories going around in 2020, customers have had enough of misinformation. Customers seek the truth and are not afraid to cut out any brands they deem dishonest. Open conversation is a win-win for both business and customer.

A study by Forrester shows that people base their trustworthiness of a company on its integrity, capability and transparency. Businesses need to earn customers’ trust, and this starts by conveying an honest message from top to bottom. Transparent pricing is key, especially when customers have a world of choice available to them at the click of a button.

Engaging in real conversations online, keeping up-to-date with industry trends and offering advice and solutions in a timely fashion will go a long way in 2021.

Keith Povey, Feefo

“Brands will have to consider authenticity more than ever in 2021. Today’s consumer is mindful of where products and services are sourced and aware of unethical practices. Both employees and customers expect transparency and successful companies are creating online communities both internally and externally. These digital environments are a place where employees and customers can share ideas, provide feedback and have open and two-way conversations. They establish a culture of trust and accountability throughout the business and provide a platform for authentic engagement. Today's customers - especially Millennials and Gen Z -want to contribute in a meaningful way.

“At Feefo, we have developed a suite of products that enable our clients to encourage reviews from their customers, whilst also giving greater insights into what they really think about their business. This also allows our clients to track key trends and to more accurately report on performance across the entire organisation. Ultimately, our clients are able to utilise this information to deepen customer relationships, driving an uplift in sales and retention.”

 

Benoit Soucaret, Creative Director at LiveArea EMEA

2020 has been a year of great change for consumers, impacting shopping habits across all industries. 

“One key change has been a renewed focus on sustainability. Our research revealed over a third (37%) of people are now more conscious of the environmental impact of their shopping habits than before the pandemic. This has led to new trends emerging, such as the rise of the recommerce market, and has caused shoppers to reassess what’s important to them. With almost three-quarters (72%) of shoppers planning to continue with their changed habits following the pandemic, it’s clear consumers are reflecting on how they can reduce their own impact on the planet. 

“Retailers have responded to this ethically driven mindset with transparency. Many retailers, for example, now have sections on their websites dedicated to responsible production, whereby consumers can browse products made of organic or recycled materials. Additionally, supply chain transparency has become much more prominent as the provenance of the items consumers are buying becomes more important to them.

“The rise of the conscious consumer has made it crucial for brands and retailers to resonate with their customers’ values. Now more than ever, brands must deliver on their sustainability pledges and openly communicate the ways they are working towards these goals.”

 

11. Employee experience (EX)

HR leaders across the world are relooking at the business culture they can offer future employees and what steps they can undertake to revamp existing work culture and employee experiences in the COVID world of 2021.

The number of people working from home in the UK has increased this year, and the trend seems to be steady over the next few years. Staff are happier without having to worry about the commute, flexible working and a better work-life balance. Businesses need to look at automating a number of tasks to provide support for their workers, no matter where they are, and think about what it means for career growth and management.

Customers will also be experiencing a shift in how they manage their own work alongside life as they navigate the balance. They will be seeking brands that make this merger of personal and professional a bit easier and more seamless. Employees at all levels and departments need to be trained on how to deliver a consistent message to customers.

Ian Golding, CCXP, global customer experience specialist, Customer Experience Consultancy 

“Businesses who have survived 2020 have done so largely down to the commitment, passion and persistence of their people. The significance of the employee experience will continue to grow as more and more businesses recognise that the way they treat their people has a material effect on the way their people treat their customers. Customers desperately need to feel empathised with – especially in times of stress – that can only happen if a business empathised with its employees first.”

 

Caroline Handyside, Product Designer at contact center solutions experts Cirrus Response

“Motivation makes the business successful. According to Gallup, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. When that translates into pounds sterling, you're looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee's annual salary.

“Put another way, highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability, according to Gallup. Why? Those teams who score in the top 20% in engagement show a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover. Engaged employees show up every day with passion, purpose, presence, and energy. 

“So how do you keep staff engaged and productive? By providing the right tools to do the job is a good start, but there’s more to it than a few nice looking screens, with this season’s colours, and the latest trendy widget. It is important that developers take a holistic view of the agent experience. They need to consider the system as a whole, how it works, how it delivers the exact piece of information agents need to their desktop. Then, how it pulls information from other systems, presents options so agents simply click the right one and can progress through to the completion of the task, benefits agents and customers alike.

“For supervisors and managers look for dashboards that provide an ‘at a glance’ status of their teams, number of calls waiting, average wait time, calls being escalated and agent adherence, so that it is easier to spot which agents may need support.

“When you break it down, that’s a lot to process and the difference between User Experience and User Interface is important.”

 

Megan Neale, of gig CX platform, Limitless

“Companies will prioritise remote working at scale: Given the experience of accommodating ‘waves’ in the pandemic, businesses will begin looking at a strategic platform approach to customer support solutions, rather than the stop gap remedies applied when lockdowns were first introduced. Platforms will help companies to deal with issues surrounding access to data at a much larger scale, and security concerns. We’ll begin to see re-configured platforms replaced with platforms intended to support off-premise working.”

 

David Parry-Jones, VP of EMEA at cloud communications platform, Twilio

“The digital acceleration driven by COVID-19 has led to the total reimagining of the workplace, and the role of the office for the workforce. Businesses have seen no greater acceleration to digital than in the contact centre, where organisations have grabbed the opportunity to move to the cloud to support remote work. 

“The continued need for remote and hybrid working is going to lead to the necessary adoption of more flexible platforms for customer interaction, as both customers and customer service professionals switch up their working requirements from home, to office, and to mobile where needed. Businesses must now be able to serve customers under any circumstances from anywhere.” 

 

12. Video will transform customer engagement 

53% of consumers want to see more video content from the brands they follow. The pandemic might have put a hindrance on live sport and entertainment, but it’s accelerated the push to online video. UK consumers have increased their spend on video streaming services, watch more social media videos and have shown more interest in video-on-demand this year. 

Videos allow customers to ‘see’ your brand in ways they otherwise may not be able to from wherever they are. As more people are turning to online experiences, video provides them with a 360-degree view of your offering and engages other senses like sound and visuals to make the experience more memorable. That said, with up to 92% of consumers now watching video with the sound off, changing consumer patterns and behaviours need to be considered by all, which is why there has been such a rise in the introduction of subtitles and annotations over the last few years.

Most importantly, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of video beyond entertainment, serving both sales and operational needs. Whether that be the meteoric rise of Zoom, estate agents providing virtual viewings or doctors offering video consultations, video has finally demonstrated its true potential in the commercial world, and beyond.

Richard Buxton, Director at collaboration solutions experts, N4Engage

“Video will remain a key communication channel in 2021. Over the last year, video has reigned supreme as a way for people to communicate with each other - whether socially at home, in an enterprise environment, or for customer contact. The evolution is two-fold: customers are now used to accessing services via video, while agents, too, are showing a preference for video interactions with customers and colleagues alike.

"Video isn’t a new technology, but it’s not been widely adopted until now. In a relatively short space of time we’ve seen it move from fringe technology to a core element of most organisations’ IT infrastructure. There can be no doubt we’ll see more businesses embracing video in 2021.

"People are becoming more and more comfortable having interactions with organisations in this way. Take video consultations with doctors, for example. We’re likely to see a range of medical services now moving in the direction of video. Internally too, video will enable contact centres to operate remotely. Initially, we saw remote working as a temporary move, but it’s going to become the norm. To remain flexible and agile, businesses will need dynamic, distributed agents working from lots of different locations, whether that’s home, smaller offices or flexible offices spaces.”

 

David Parry-Jones, VP of EMEA at cloud communication platform, Twilio

“Perhaps no digital channel has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic as much as real-time video. There has already been massive growth in demand for video over the past eight months, and that’s something that will likely continue as businesses and their customers adapt to a new, more digital-first world. Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen a 500% increase in daily Twilio Video usage and video minutes have almost tripled year-to-date.

“In the early days of the pandemic, companies rushed to deploy short-term emergency solutions to enable video. Now they are looking to developers to build long term video solutions that are more tailored and integrated for optimal user experience. Video is flexible and adaptable to differing business needs - whether it’s 1-to-1 customer interactions or group calls - and there’s plenty of room for customisations.”

 

Gemma Schmid, Head of Brand and Communications at online estate agents Purplebricks

“What we’ve seen through our digital experience as well is, as I’m sure you’ll know from just browsing at properties online, we’ve seen a lot of people using our video tools, which has helped sellers have more serious buyers come into their property. What will happen is some people will do those virtual tours and be happy enough to put in an offer, but for many it works as a filtering process, which means that when someone does come into your home to do a walk around, they’re already bought into it and it acts as more of a rubber seal.

“Virtual viewings are making that buying process even easier, so moving forward I imagine it’s going to be a combination of both working in harmony.”

 

Keith Povey concludes... 

“The learnings we can take from 2020 will only benefit the changing world in which we find ourselves. If anything, 2020 has driven businesses forward at an accelerated rate, laying the foundations for even greater evolution over the next five to ten years. Technology-driven customer experience is at the core of future business success. Those that master the complex - and increasingly profilerated - purchase journeys consumers take will lead the way, while those who choose not to will struggle to compete.” 

 

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