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Key Trends to Expect in 2021: What the Experts Say

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11 min read

It would be fair to say that 2020 was unpredictable in the way that many companies were thrown into the deep end. Businesses had to adapt quickly while others scaled their operations by having some foresight into working remotely and enabling customer support teams to do so also.

The shift may have taken us all by surprise, but the adaptability came easily to those who have been anticipating the next big thing in customer service and experience to align with the changing habits of their customers.

As we bring a close to 2020 and look closer into 2021, for many the pathway is not clear as to what to expect for the area of customer experience and everything it entails.

To stay ambitious in this new business and economic climate requires changes. So we asked the industry’s top influencers and business leaders what they thought the most significant trends in 2021 would be. These include, but are not limited to:

What the Experts Think

Liliana Petrova CCXP

Customer Experience Visionary, Founder & CEO of The Petrova Experience

A Customer Experience Strategy will save you in 2021

This is what 2021 looks like without a customer experience strategy…

You are an event planner or trade show organizer. You risk pushing your visitors away with the now outmoded 2019 experience of paper badges and long check-in lines.

Now, say you are a retailer (luxury or not). In 2021, without real investment in digital technology, you still have a fragmented omnichannel shopping experience.

Or, maybe you are an airport. Your passengers are more lost than ever. They are confused about their travel experience as they pass through your facilities. There is too much fragmentation.

In 2019, 78% of customers preferred to use different channels depending on their context. Responding to this preference seamlessly and consistently is no easy task for any brand. So, how do you deliver what customers need and want in 2021? With a defined customer experience strategy.

In 2021, without real investment in digital technology, you still have a fragmented omnichannel shopping experience. Click To Tweet

Understanding the Goals of Your Organization

Customer experience strategy is a blueprint of how you envision what your customers’ experience should be. Having it empowers you to communicate your vision to your organization so that every member of your team understands the goals of your organization. And that is half the battle. Sometimes, it is more than half. So start 2021 with this work, and you will have a great year.

If you aimed to do business the way you were doing it before, you could have gotten away without a customer experience strategy. But that is not the case in the coming year. Next year, all business leaders need to redesign spaces, policies, procedures and services without changing their brand fundamentals. It’s the only way to prevent financial demise and to achieve the success we all want in 2021.

To start, organizations must have a context in which to build seamless journeys. So take the time to gather smart people you respect. Together, do some soul-searching to understand what you and your brand can do differently and what commitments you can realistically make to your 2021 customers. I know The Petrova Experience is doing that.

Man on phone using laptop.

Graham Clark

VP Customer Experience & Digital Transformation at Customer Results

Successful Business Leaders Hear Voices!

Welcome to the Future. Now What?

Now that we’re close to 2021, there’s one thing we can say with absolute certainty – our customers’ needs and expectations have changed dramatically. In every country, for every product or service, the world we live in is much different from what it was at the start of 2020.

So, what does this mean going forward? Ensure you are in touch with your customers, gathering your Voice of Customer (VoC) by listening to what they think and need across channels and interactions, doing so at key moments and stages across their journey.

The bottom line is you need to know who you should listen to - and then you need to listen. Click To Tweet

Gathering customer insights isn’t just about email surveys and web satisfaction forms but also incorporates insights from digital platforms like web and mobile, analysis of inbound emails, contact center calls, social media and even environmental signals. We refer to this as Voice of Analytics (VoA).

These VoC and VoA sources are complemented with Voice of Employees (VoE), Voice of Partners (VoP) and other key audiences, such as your community, investors, or regulators.

The bottom line is you need to know who you should listen to – and then you need to listen.

Measure the Right Things, in the Right Ways

Of course, you must share these insights in ways that your audiences and stakeholders can easily and effectively consume them. This includes things like customer verbatim, as well as metrics like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Customer Effort Scores (CES), Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and more complex metrics like a Customer Experience Index (CXi) or Customer Loyalty Score (CLS).

To make meaning, best practices combine these kinds of measures with other operational, financial, and business metrics in an integrated architecture that helps your organization understand what drives audience behaviors, and how those behaviors drive desired business results.

Listening is critical – that’s clearly where you need to start. But even more importantly you must act on what you learn – delivering immediate responses when required and using audience feedback to systematically and continuously improve their experiences.

This “Listen, Analyze, Act” system is usually referred to as a VoC or an EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) System. These systems combine one or more technology platforms in ways that integrate with your people, processes, and data. We group the hundreds of available software options into three categories:

– Performers – good solid platforms like GetFeedback (www.getfeedback.com), Confirmit (www.confirmit.com) or SurveyMonkey still one of the most widely used platforms (www.surveymonkey.com)

– Leaders – including the ‘big three’ of Medallia, Qualtrics, Nice Satmetrix  – Innovators – a new wave of VoC platforms like inQuba, AlternaCX, and Sandsiv plus complementary CX analytics solutions like Stratifyd.

So, listen to the voices of your audiences. After all, we live, do business in, and compete in the real world. And in this world, the voices of your audiences are telling you what you need to hear.

woman typing on keyboard

 

Paolo Fabrizio

Digital Customer Service Consultant, Trainer, Author, Speaker

Consumers Will Take Digital Customer Service for Granted

Standing Out from Competitors

The stay-at-home year 2020 has accelerated some changes already taking place. In fact, it led many more consumers to ask for support through digital channels. Consequently, brands had suddenly faced volume peaks of incoming queries via social media, live chat, and messaging apps with their customer service departments. As we’re stepping into 2021 we’re moving towards a new hybrid model of working and living, so that we can’t ignore that. Even though this path is yet unexplored one thing is certain: Digital Customer Service is here to stay and is going to become a standard for consumers’ expectations. For this very reason, the smartest brands are already focussing their attention on a new area to stand out from competitors: digital conversations. Taking care of each of them in detail, just like it was the first and last one.

Support Staff Upskilling Will Become a Priority

If you want to provide an excellent and consistent customer experience over digital channels you need to invest in upskilling, either for customer service managers and front line staff (agents, cs representatives). The main reasons are:

The good news for 2021 is that more and more organizations are feeling the urgency to get their customer service teams upskilled. Primarily HR managers because by doing, so they build new career paths – and in these uncertain times, that’s like water in the desert. Actually, this growing focus on the quality of digital conversation started before 2020’s upheavals, but today is becoming a priority. In fact, I’ve helped many clients in this hiring & training process, turning their agents into digital conversation specialists with my Digital Customer Service Personas. skill-set model.

Digital Customer Service is here to stay and is going to become a standard for consumers’ expectations. Click To Tweet

Digital Self-Service Will Evolve in New Forms

Beyond the website’s help pages and knowledge bases, there’s something more developed up on the hill. As voice assistants (e.g. Siri, Alexa) are literally invading our homes like the first PCs in the ’90s, brands are paying attention to them. In fact, some of them are already considering using voice assistants as self-service support channels in new ways.

The integration between systems based on AI-voice and already existing tools such as messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp, Telegram) opens new interesting Digital Customer Service scenarios. Whatever the innovation to come, let’s maintain focus on the customer’s experience and experience though!

Person buying online

Adrian Swinscoe

Customer Service and Experience Advisor, Speaker, Workshop and Masterclass Leader

CX and EX Will Continue to Evolve

The pandemic has redefined what it means to deliver a great customer as well as a great employee experience and these will continue to evolve.

For customer experience, this is likely to mean increased investment in digital, AI-enabled self-service tools, in particular. However, when a customer wants to speak to another human being, the best brands will make that easy and more empathetic, something that has shown up strongly across all sectors over the course of 2020.

For employee experience, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the experience of employees and is requiring organizations to rethink their employee experience completely. Moreover, when we consider the needs of new-joiners and areas like talent development and the experience of agencies, freelancers, and contractors which many organizations rely on for the delivery of their customer experience the need to reassess and redesign the employee experience becomes acute. This is likely to mean an increased focus and investment in employee enablement and engagement tools and employee well-being initiatives as many organizations continue to largely operate remotely.

When a customer wants to speak to another human being, the best brands will make that easy and more empathetic. Click To Tweet

And So Will Leadership

However, over the course of this year we have also seen the emergence of a couple of other domains in the experience space…….stakeholder and the leadership experience.

Stakeholder experience speaks to the idea that customers, employees, and communities are starting to expect organizations to exercise their agency in the face of societal challenges, such as climate change, and to address systemic issues, particularly around discrimination, injustice, and inequality. Therefore, it will become increasingly important for organizations to explicitly consider the experience of their stakeholders if they are to retain the trust and loyalty of both their customers and their employees.

Finally, we have seen the emergence of a final dimension which is one that considers the experience of leaders whether they are in the C-suite, middle management or team leaders of front-line staff. The last few months have placed leaders at all levels under all sorts of pressures and have strained their capabilities given the changing environment and working conditions. The experience of leaders is an area that leading organizations will spend a lot more time considering over the coming year if they are to maintain their effectiveness.

robin-gareiss

Robin Gareiss

CEO, Metrigy Research

CX Takes Center Stage

Companies plan to devote human and financial resources to customer experience in 2021. By the end of the year, 58.8% of companies will have a CX transformation initiative complete or underway. And, they will spend an average of 3% of revenue on CX technologies (contact center platforms, analytics, CRM, customer engagement management, etc.). When we asked companies for their top three priorities overall in their company, customer satisfaction was cited as the top priority—ahead of product/service quality and revenue generation, among other things. So expect business leaders to pay attention to customer engagement processes, spending, analytics, and success metrics.

There are a few key reasons for this ascension of customer satisfaction. First, companies are hiring Chief Customer Officers, which is shining a spotlight on the deficiencies in the contact center that had been flying under the radar for years. As a result, the C-suite is now focusing on the technology requirements that can improve customer engagement. Second, customers are significantly more powerful. One viral social media rating or comment can make or break a company.

customer_message_digital

More Digital Transactions

In 2020, 57.7% of customers interacted via digital channels. The total number of channels companies offered for customer interactions grew from 5 in 2019 to 6.6 in 2020. We anticipate they will grow at an even higher rate in 2021 because of customer demand and because IT staff will be finished with setting up and perfecting home office strategies.

We expect growth in mobile business chat (ie, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Apple Business Chat, Google Chat, and WhatsApp), voice, video, social media, and in-app channels. We also expect growth in omnichannel, from 27.8% in 2020 to 50% in 2021—after being deprioritized in 2020 because of other responsibilities following the pandemic and work-from-home requirements.
Increase in Cloud Platforms

We have seen the adoption of cloud-based contact centers increase year over year for the past five years. Though the pandemic slowed some plans for full cloud migrations, many companies used cloud services to move agents to home offices in 2020. Moving forward, 28.7% of companies say they plan to change their contact center architecture by 2022, with most (56%) moving to a cloud environment—either CCaaS (multi-tenant, shared server services) or hosted (single-server service hosted and managed by a partner).

Increase in Contact Center Integrations and Significant Changes to Agent Experience

The contact center will become integrated with more enterprise applications. By the end of 2021, more than 75% of companies will have integrated their contact center with their Unified Communications and Collaboration platform to some extent. They will use it to help supervisors manage remote employees, using video and team collaboration apps. They also will extend the reach of the contact center to non-agent employees, who can be easily connected to customer interactions to resolve issues. Nearly 75% will have integrated CRM and analytics by the end of 2021, as well.

By the end of 2021, more than 75% of companies will have integrated their contact center with their Unified Communications and Collaboration platform to some extent. Click To Tweet

Organizations will continue to hire agents at 48% of companies (most of the rest will stay flat). Artificial intelligence virtual assistants will handle basic functions, leaving live agent interactions for more complex issues. Companies will be looking for more skilled agents, with the top skills in demand being: technology background, problem-resolution experience, multilingual skills, product-specific knowledge, and sales, contact center, or in-person customer service experience.

Because turnover rates are starting to climb again, with projections at 23.6% for 2021, nearly half of companies have strategic initiatives underway to improve agent retention. These initiatives include allowing agents to work from home and work flexible hours, increase their compensation, provide analytics on their performance along with supervisor coaching, and establish a career path.

AI and Analytics Will Grow Significantly

The largest growth area in AI will be predictive analytics. CX leaders see great promise in being able to predict what customers want, and proactively addressing those needs. Other AI-enabled growth areas include facial/image recognition, self-service, Natural Language Processing, sentiment analysis, and Intelligent Virtual Assistants.

Self-service will be a big area to watch in 2021. CX leaders estimate 43% of transactions will be handled by self-service by the end of 2021, and 56% by the end of 2021. In order to make that happen without sinking customer ratings, they must improve self-service knowledge bases and pair them with virtual assistants to guide customers to resolution. As traffic to the contact center grows and becomes more volatile, self-service applications will help deflect live agent interactions, while serving customers quickly.

CX leaders must have the tools to measure success, to make sure they are assigning resources properly. To achieve that goal, they are increasing their use of analytics and tying them to measurable business metrics.

 

Thanks to each of the experts for their contribution to predicting what to expect in the coming twelve months. You can discover more about them in our interview series.

Originally published Dec 14, 2020, updated Aug 03, 2021

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