The customer experience in 2021: Top 10 trends you need to know

As this tumultuous year draws to a close, we’re setting our sights on 2021. A year that we all hope will bring better days – but one that we know will continue to bring changes, as well. What will be the key customer experience trends in 2021?

In this post, we’re taking a closer look at the top 10 trends and predictions for the customer experience, customer care, and customer intelligence in 2021. Let’s dive right in…

Top 10 Customer Experience Trends for 2021

1. The shift to digital will continue to accelerate.

In 2020, so many interactions shifted to digital formats out of necessity. But even once the pandemic is under control, the new behaviors consumers have grown accustomed to are not expected to change. For example, Forrester predicts there will be a 40% increase in digital customer service interactions through 2021, and to accommodate this, brands will add more channels (growing their ranges of channels from eight to 11, on average).

To keep up with consumer demand for digital CX excellence, brands will offer more options for asynchronous communication, such as SMS. Mature brands will try to proactively intervene in customer interactions using intent signals to head off issues before they happen. It’s clear that high expectations for digital experiences are now here to stay.

2. Isolation will drive consumers to experiment with new things.

Consumers are more open to trying new experiences and new forms of consumption to fight feelings of isolation. For example, in 2020, two million viewers joined The Weeknd’s virtual concert on TikTok where they could interact and engage with him in real time. And a whopping 27 million viewers attended a virtual Travis Scott concert via Fortnite. Forrester estimates that one in ten U.S. online adults will experiment with augmented or virtual reality in the coming year.

What does this mean for brands? Consumers are giving you permission to be creative and to experiment with new ways of engaging with them. But keep in mind: sincerity and authenticity matter more than ever, and ploys to manipulate consumers’ emotions will turn them off.

3. CX is still king – but what CX means is changing.

According to Gartner, more than 80% of companies are expecting that customer experience will be their primary differentiator now and into the future. But while the key factors of CX like customer effort and convenience still matter, trust and safety have become even more important. Consumers are concerned with whether brands make them feel safe during the pandemic.

For example, Forrester research shows that consumers do not trust brands to make wise choices about keeping them safe during the pandemic. Only 13% of consumers trust retailers to do a good job at sanitization and social distancing, and only 6% trust travel brands.

As a result of this trend, consumers are becoming much more selective with the brands they’ll interact with in person. To make that select list, companies must focus on designing experiences that instill confidence.

4. Processes that were thrown together out of necessity must now mature.

The now-ubiquitous retail trend of contactless pick-up is in the process of going "from scrappy to scale". In other words, new processes brands had to throw together quickly in response to the pandemic need to become more buttoned-up and scalable.

A great example for 2021 is the trend towards “zero UI,” or interfaces that don’t rely on screens to engage. Think technologies that respond to inputs like voice, gestures, and proximity. Using these technologies to go “touchless” has become a popular idea, but one that’s difficult to execute well.

If you've been working to implement a new process or a new way to engage, know that in 2021, there will be an expectation of operational maturity.

5. Customer insights will get more emotional.

In 2021, Forrester estimates that 10% of Customer Intelligence (CI) budgets will go towards the relatively new field of emotion analytics. Emotion has always been a major component in how humans make decisions, which was amplified in 2020 as emotions ran high. Understandably, brands want to make use of emotion-based insights to understand emerging trends in their customer base.

Tools like sentiment analysis and social listening can help you layer emotion into your existing analytics, giving you a more comprehensive understanding of your customers.

6. The role of Customer Intelligence leaders will change.

According to Forrester’s analysis, CI leadership must shift from the role of "helpful guide to crisis strategist." Consumer behaviors and market trends in 2020 were extremely unpredictable, and old models became useless.

Customer Intelligence leaders should focus on providing CMOs with an optimized dashboard of insights and data pulled from a diversified set of sources including more real-time (or near-real-time) metrics, with the goal of keeping a finger on the pulse of rapidly changing customer needs and desires.

7. Customer care will continue to be a lifeline to many.

Front-line customer service agents are no longer simply dealing with customers who have been inconvenienced by some mishap – they are also assisting those who have been truly devastated by the economic and health effects of COVID-19. More than half of U.S. households have reported financial distress due to the pandemic.

As we head into 2021, it’s worth revisiting what your customer journey map looks like for customers who are currently experiencing financial hardships. Be proactive using self-service tools and revised processes to increase agent effectiveness at dealing with customers in these types of situations.

8. Voice will continue to be a key channel.

Even as the world has gone digital, voice calls are still the most popular channel for cases that require a high degree of empathy and interactive problem-solving. For example, think of a customer calling to revise their utility payment plan because they lost their job due to the pandemic – not only do they need a solution to a complex problem, they may be seeking out a sympathetic ear.

In 2020, this trend resulted in voice volumes rising by 50%. In order to free up enough time for agents to deliver the complex, empathetic treatment that these cases need, contact centers must leverage customer service automation technologies like email process automation and self-service chatbots to offload the repetitive, routine cases.

9. Work-from-home will come of age for agent workforces.

Out of necessity, contact centers have seen rapid improvements to work-from-home processes and tech stacks in 2020. In 2021, industry experts predict these improvements will continue to be refined, and contact centers will further mature in the areas of workforce optimization, interaction analytics, and digital platforms for service.

For example, post-interaction customer surveys measure the efficacy and quality of customer service engagements, whether it’s a live agent or a digital interface. Brands that leverage this level of data in 2021 will be able to quickly root out and address any issues stemming from the transition to work-from-home.

10. Many companies will create the hybrid role of in-store associate/customer care agent.

In 2020, with retail foot traffic at an all-time low, companies began to blend the roles of in-store associate and customer care agent, having their in-store personnel answer customer questions via digital and voice platforms. Apple was a notable example, asking their "Geniuses" to both engage in-person with the limited number of customers coming into their stores, as well as answering customer questions online.

Forrester predicts at least 30% of contact centers in industries with physical locations will do this in 2021. Customer Care leaders must consider what tools and processes need to be put in place to allow for this hybridization of roles without compromising the overall customer experience.

Tackle these trends in 2021 with help from Emplifi

As a unified customer experience platform, Emplifi has the technology today’s brands need to keep pace with whatever the future brings. Here’s how we can help you address these top customer experience trends in 2021:

  • Digital customer experience platform that offers chatbot-based support for before, during, and after purchases across all your digital channels

  • Smart, cloud-based agent tools that equip contact center teams to effectively handle all customer contact channels, no matter where they’re working from

  • Customer service and email automation that offloads the most repetitive and routine cases, making room for agents to engage in person-to-person, high-empathy experiences

  • Voice of the customer tools that measure customer confidence and trust in your brand, the effectiveness of individual service interactions, customer sentiment and emotion, and more

  • Social media marketing solutions that allows you to be creative, experiment, and measure what works as you engage with your customer base in new and different ways. For more information about how our comprehensive CX toolkit can drive results for your business in 2021, schedule a demo with us today.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on astutesolutions.com. Any statistics or statements included in this article were current at the time of original publication.