It’s that time of year again, when we turn to the experts for their predictions about what will occur in the next 12 months.

So, what will be the focus for customer experience in 2021? Let’s find out…

Re-evaluation of customer needs

Paul Boag, User Experience and Service Design Consultant, Boagworld.com

“2020 proved a chaotic year that has fundamentally changed a lot of our daily lives. I suspect that some of those changes will persist after the threat of Covid has receded. I anticipate that consumer needs will have permanently shifted as the way they do certain activities have changed. With that in mind, I think a lot of us will need to step back and re-evaluate our assumptions of how our customers behave by revisiting activities like user research or customer journey mapping.”

Azlan Raj, CMO at Merkle EMEA:

“People’s heightened expectations and needs from companies have created new market conditions that businesses have needed to quickly adapt against; the acceleration of digital (including, notably, ecommerce), the need to build personal but indirect relationships through customer understanding, and the ability to work in an adaptive way through remote collaboration. These shifts have helped identify important gaps where we have found that creating a frictionless experience for employees and customers is more challenging than originally anticipated.

“In 2021, we’re predicting that consumer patience will continue to reduce, whilst expectations grow even higher. This will have an impact on tomorrow’s marketer when it comes to bridging the gap between brand and data – making emotion meet science to find a balance that is human yet functional for consumers. Measuring what matters from the context of the consumer as well as what the business also needs to be a focus. Business empathy goes a long way right now, as does the ability to be an adaptive organisation where the hare bests the tortoise, rather than big beating small.”

Investment needed for continuity across channels

Steffan Aquarone, CEO of Paygora:

“Brands that succeed in customer experience often make a number of facilities available to customers so they can self-serve – any time, any place.”

“This will have several specific implications going into 2021… Customer service and after-sales support channels need to be aligned and empowered to solve problems fast and on behalf of customers. Investments need to be made to seek out the problems customers are having and design solutions quickly – whether through content, messaging or directly back into product development and iteration.”

“Good CX also requires continuity across all touch points: delivering on the brand promise, but also ensuring specific expectations are met each step of the way, seamlessly between channels.”

A renewed mandate for in-store experiences

Andy Budd, Founder of Clearleft:

“When we are out of lockdown once and for all, I suspect we’ll see a huge demand for in-person, experiential shopping, dining, entertainment and more.”

“So, I think some of the more tired high street brands are going to need to significantly up their game in order to survive. This is a trend that’s been growing for a while, but if you can get the majority of your material needs fulfilled through online delivery, the in-store experience needs to be just that—an experience—in order to truly compete.”

Ethical design

Will Grant, co-founder of WGX User Experience Studio:

“The pandemic saw the fortunes of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google soar as more and more of our lives moved online than we thought possible – but it also saw increased scrutiny with the rumble of anti-trust and competition enquiries into “big tech” starting up in both the US and Europe.”

“Combine this with the Cambridge Analytica revelations of recent years, GDPR and new privacy laws in California and we’re seeing users around the world demanding more ethical design from the products and services they use.”

“It’s much more common for organisations to seek to hire and engage diverse experience design teams, focus on the ethics of their products, and generally try to “do good” than it was even a year ago. When this kind of thing happens and better products get built, it’s a good thing for us end-consumers: we get fairer deals with big tech and more control over how our data is used.”

“But… if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.”

CX as a functional specialism

Steffan Aquarone, Paygora:

“Whilst customer experience should be something everyone in the organisation obsesses over, there are potentially calls for 2021 to see customer experience develop as a functional specialism within businesses.”

“This means thinking about, and advocating for CX above all else; taking a whole-business view of where barriers or obstacles to CX exist, and having the authority and advocacy power to overcome them – especially if they’re caused by legacy issues like systems integrations or ways of working.”

Chatbots need to do more

Will Grant, WGX User Experience Studio:

“Though there’s been a rush in recent years for sites, products and mobile apps of all stripes to implement chatbots, we’re now seeing those same products rolling back the changes and removing chatbots – or at least swapping them out for live chat with human operators.”

“Enterprises are learning that for chatbots to be useful, their rudimentary AI has to offer something more than a basic search window into the help pages – it needs to not only understand the user queries, but offer up relevant personalised help and support.”

“Asking a chatbot “Where is my order” shouldn’t just result in a link to the order tracking page – it needs to understand your order and reply with your tracking status. In 2021 we’ll see brands getting much better at implementing great chatbot customer experiences.”

Trust, CSR, diversity and inclusion; and their impact on brand

Andy Budd, Clearleft:

“One of the first things CX teams needed to do back in April was to communicate to clients what was happening. This led to the secession of most marketing messages, in favour of real human-to-human communications. This involved showing vulnerability, sharing uncertainty, and being honest about what was going on.”

“While the marketing bluster is starting to creep back (thanks Black Friday), I hope brands will try and nurture the relationships and trust they built over lockdown, rather than go back to their usual mode of communication.”

Azlan Raj, Merkle EMEA:

“I… expect to see social responsibility and diversity & inclusion to play an increasingly important role in this emotionally charged world, mixed with the expectation of what this now means to encourage brand advocacy with audiences.”

A place for interactive experiences online, too

David Patton, Global President, Creative Experience and Advertising, Technicolor:

“Perhaps it’s the isolation, but consumers are hungrier than ever for experiences they can curate and navigate. Only this week fashion house Balenciaga launched their 2021 collection via an interactive video game.”

“Technology has never been a bigger driver of customer experience. It’s enabled us to face into the challenge of helping brands deliver compelling and enticing communications amidst a global crisis and months of lockdowns.”

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