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Consumer behavior evolved quickly as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though consumer activities and preferences have been transitioning toward the digital environment for quite some time, the adoption and use of digital channels in 2020 happened at a faster rate than anyone could have expected. Use of digital, self-service and contactless engagement channels will continue to prevail in 2021.

Here are trends to expect in 2021 as a result of these shifts and recommendations to adapt to these trends.

Trend #1: Organizations will make additional investments into understanding and improving digital experiences for customers.

The need to make digital channels available became a top priority for most businesses and industries in 2020. Many organizations were forced to deliver these digital capabilities quickly, versus strategically. In 2021, many organizations will look to evaluate their digital programs and will make investments to better understand their customers so they can elevate journeys and experiences through these digital, self-service and contactless channels.

Here are things your organization can do to gain a deeper understanding of your consumers so you may deliver a more delightful digital experience:

  • Leverage journey mapping to understand what your customer is doing, where they are going, and what they seem most interested.
  • Go beyond journey mapping to build a more rounded picture of your customers so you may regularly interact with them in more meaningful ways:
  • Consider investing in a data management solution to automate the collection of customer data and insights.
  • Develop an empathetic approach to solving your customers’ uncovered interests, preferences, and needs.
  • Adapt digital paths and user experiences to align with identified digital behaviors and preferences.
  • Determine creative ways to simplify and streamline roadblocks and pain points in the digital experience.

Trend #2: More than ever before consumers will expect consistent experiences across all channels.

The remote cultural shift caused by the pandemic also resulted in the prioritization of channel fluidity, for many organizations. As a result, these more seamless cross-channel experiences now stand out in consumers' minds as the 'golden rule' for customer experience (CX). Consumers think about CX as their best last experience with a brand, not the best last experience with a brand in your industry. Consumers don't qualify their expectations by industry or service, they want the same level of CX, no matter what. One key element of these CX expectations is the ability to track and respond to their needs from channel to channel.

Here are ways you can offer frictionless, consumer-centric experiences across all channels:

  • Offer services in all channels, so that consumers can use their preferred channels of choice when and how they want.
  • Ensure your consumers can bounce around from channel to channel without any disconnect or friction.
  • Resolve areas or pain points that may be delivering an inadequate or inconsistent digital experience.
  • Prioritize the need to understand your customers’ values and wants so your organization can engage with them in a way that reduces their effort and addresses – or even anticipates – their needs, no matter the channel.
  • Track and build conclusions around the wants and needs of your consumers to deliver more relevant experiences and offers.
  • Present a consistent, clear brand personality across all channels – face-to-face and online – to help make your brand stick out in consumers’ minds.
  • Pay attention to brand messaging and consumer behavior through channels that fall outside of your organization’s direct control – e.g., social media platforms, industry publications, etc. – to ensure those also carry out the same message and experience.
  • Consider making additional investments into CX and UX, as these are two sides of the same coin for delivering exceptional, end-to-end digital experience and design.

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Trend #3: Companies will make significant advances to CX orchestration and design to make this a competitive differentiator.

More than ever, consumers are judging businesses based on their ability to provide an overall experience that is seamless, simple, and personalized to their needs and preferences – whether explicitly stated or not. In response to this shift, more companies are building their understanding of what CX means and why it matters and will be making more strategic investments into delivering this experience to their customers.

Using CX as a competitive differentiator requires a keen ability to purposefully design differentiated experiences, beyond just addressing customer pain points. Removing a customer's pain points is the baseline standard. It’s what organizations do beyond that that will lead to experiences that will stand-out in the minds of their consumers.

Here are things your organization can do to transform your CX strategies into a competitive differentiator:

  • Give CX a seat at the table. In other words, prioritize this strategic initiative, allocating dollars and resources to improving CX.
  • Streamline and automate processes wherever possible to reduce and reallocate funds to CX.
  • Integrate CX as a required consideration for any major business decisions, so it becomes second nature.
  • Build CX into your organization's core values to build exceptional experiences among employees and customers alike.
  • Assign leaders at the VP or C-Suite level whose sole function and focus is CX, to make the transformation of CX more realistic and impactful.
  • Adopt a responsive and flexible CX strategy – through agile governance, design, and infrastructure – to evolve with any future cultural and consumer shifts that occur.
  • Adopt tools and processes and that aid in the CX design orchestration and the delivery of a more unified customer experience, across all channels, e.g. data analytics tools, UX resources, CX consultation.

Trend #4: More organizations will seek to strengthen their understanding of consumers and the rendering of experiences, which will drive advances in related technology solutions.

As has been already stated, data is a necessary tool for gaining a 360-degree view of your customers., Technology solutions like AI, customer data platforms, and robotics (RPA) continue to evolve, As the demand for data automation continues to grow. More than ever before, these technologies are working together, giving way to an era where data can be collected and analyzed in mere minutes and enabling organizations to deliver customer experiences in a much more relevant and personal way.

Here’s how your organization can harvest and execute on customer data in more meaningful ways:

  • Prioritize the ongoing collection and analysis of data so you may gain a better understanding of your customers and can adapt to any changes in their needs or preferences.
  • Leverage data to establish a more rounded picture of your consumers’ wants and needs and deliver personalized messages and offers beyond addressing them by name.
  • Pull data on customer behaviors and preferences from internal systems and public sources, to understand their behaviors both inside and outside of your organization.
  • Collect transaction and engagement data, to understand your customers beyond their buying habits.
  • Track the movements of your customers across all engagement channels to build insights around those movements and deliver the right journey and services across all channels.
  • Build conclusions around the wants and needs of your individual customers and targeted segments to understand your consumers at a micro and macro level.
  • Consider adopting a solution like Microsoft’s Customer Insights to simplify and speed up the collection and analysis of actionable customer data and insights.

Trend #5: Retail and Healthcare will continue to pioneer CX at a rate higher than other industries.

Even before the pandemic, the retail and consumer goods sectors were already transitioning toward a more self-service consumer experience; consider those that have shifted from storefronts to eCommerce well ahead of COVID-19. Most healthcare businesses, on the other hand, shifted from a face-to-face service model to a digital model in 2020, in order to continue serving their patients throughout the pandemic. These industries have experienced the first-hand benefits of adapting to their consumers’ wants and needs and will continue to shine as CX trailblazers throughout 2021.

Companies that make CX transformation a strategic priority in 2021 will set themselves apart from companies that do not. Here are key strategies to transform your customer experiences into competitive differentiators in 2021 and beyond:

5 Ways to Deliver a Competitive Customer Experience in 2021

  1. Allocate dollars, resources, and employees to customer experience (CX) strategy
  2. Go beyond journey mapping to build a deeper understanding of your customers
  3. Deliver a more intuitive, consistent experience across all channels
  4. Leverage tools to harvest customer data in more meaningful ways
  5. Identify notable consumer and market shifts and build strategies that adapt to those shifts

Through consultation, technology and ongoing support, Avtex can help your organization address any CX challenge so you may continue to cultivate brand loyalty and sales. Contact us to learn how we can help your organization take your CX to the next level.

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