2020 changed everything, and for most of the year, businesses have looked toward 2021 as the chance to enact a fresh start without the ongoing trading threat of Covid-19 looming over them. However, now that pandemic restrictions are continuing in many territories, the possibility of further waves of the virus into the year ahead, unfortunately makes the uncertainty for businesses stretch further into the future.

Many companies have done well to survive the pandemic and its fraught market changes thus far, but the economic situation of most of the world is far from being fixed. If a company is to remain sustainable, it must innovate, adapt and overcome. But how to do this in markets that still hang precariously in the balance and have the lowest levels of consumer trust perhaps ever?

Whilst businesses invest billions in branding, large-scale marketing campaigns and advertising measures every year, it’s well recognised that an exemplary customer experience offering is one of the most powerful marketing tools any company can have. 2020 saw consumers interact with even their most trusted brands in entirely new ways and now more than ever, people are seeking reassurance and human connection. A thorough customer experience is all-encompassing and ensures that every interaction a consumer has with a brand is of a high standard – from seeing the first marketing touchpoint to any relevant aftercare post-sale.

In a recent 2021 CX trends article, Feefo’s Marketing Director, Keith Povey, said, “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”.

With this in mind, here are some CX tips that will help you get ahead in 2021:

Be agile

2020 saw the advent of new social media channels, new hygiene practices for physical bricks-and-mortar stores and premises, new security features for deliveries, new communication channels for customer service departments and new demands from consumers. Everything changed, and businesses had to move fast. 2021 will continue to be a year that sees reactivity; even to risks and threats that the business may not have before considered. Transforming the customer experience as and when required (and often, before such requirements are in place) will ensure customer satisfaction and ultimately, loyalty.

CEO of customer interaction management platform Critizr Connections Nicolas Hammer says, “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, Europe’s biggest retail brands are driving to embed ‘customer obsession’ throughout their organisations in 2021”.

Provide trust and a feeling of inclusion

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken consumers’ way of thinking on just about everything. No longer are they looking to mindlessly purchase whatever they can, just because they can. One of the key 2021 CX trends will see brands strive further to build a trusting customer relationship where those who work with and purchase from them, are able to feel secure, engaged, and important. Of course, expectations on exactly what this means varies from industry to industry, but there is definitely an appetite for exceptional customer care to be provided as standard with a proactive, rather then reactive, approach.

Jonathan Allen, CMO at Puzzel, the customer service platform predicts that uncertain customer feeling will continue long into next year and will need to be properly dealt with by brands. “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,” he says.

Invest in digital experience (DX)

UK broadband usage more than doubled in 2019 driven by live sport, online gaming and home working, according to data released by digital network business Openreach. The necessity for online activity during the pandemic has seen more people interact with brands online, than ever before. This necessitates one of 2021’s greatest expected CX trends and something you should invest in: facilitating an efficient and suitable digital experience that meets (if not exceeds) customer’s expectations online. With 84% of global consumers using digital channels more frequently than previously, businesses who don’t move to adequate digital offerings will see their customer base dwindle as a result.

Ian Golding, who works as a Global Customer Experience Consultant at the Customer Experience Consultancy is seeing this first-hand from his contacts. “Digital technology has been increasingly significant for the last ten years – 2020 has seen an even greater acceleration in the adoption of technology with the need to make products and services more accessible, as customer mobility has decreased”, he explains. “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”.

If one thing is for sure, it’s that businesses have had to move fast through 2020; and now is not the time to rest. Proactivity will be valued over reactivity and agile movement and rapid adaptability is the key to company survival. Customer experience is becoming a make-or-break feature for brands and if they can’t keep up the pace, they’ll fall at the first hurdle.

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