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Customer experience trends in 2021: what are the priorities?

30 Apr 2021

When change is the only constant and no two individuals’ preferences are the same, it’s not always straightforward to pin down the ideal customer experience. But broader trends come in waves and 2020 provided strong clues about the experiences that matter to customers in 2021.

1. Low-touch service preferences

All kinds of companies have had to think laterally about how to simultaneously keep business going and maintain customer safety over 2020.

In particular, the pandemic has placed new emphasis on low-touch experiences. In 2020, these ranged from remote health appointments and contactless deliveries to app-based ordering in restaurants.

Research cited in a report from the Board of Innovation suggests that customers have welcomed the new, creative low-touch options and will continue choosing them long into the future.

2. “Show me you know me”

Customers like to feel seen, appreciated and understood by the businesses they deal with. When leading brands excel at this, customers feel the contrast keenly when other companies fall short.

The smallest details can make a big difference. That could be information autofill or linked payment services that save customers having to re-enter payment and delivery details for every order.

Or it could be welcoming a loyal online customer as they enter a store branch, with tailored recommendations and a discount code via their mobile as a connected app registers their presence.

Many businesses have some way to go with this, though.

New research from Salesforce shows that, while more than three-quarters of customers expect consistent interactions whichever part of a company they deal with, more than half say it often feels as though different parts of the organisation don’t talk to each other.

3. Anticipate customer needs

When certain vehicle insurance companies proactively contacted customers in 2020, to offer refunds to customers who had probably used their cars far less during lockdown, this demonstrated empathy and good customer service.

It pre-empted potential requests for discounts and left customers feeling good – at a time when many were feeling poorly treated by companies in other sectors, who were slow to approve refunds for cancelled travel or events.

Empathy will be a big determinant of the customer experience in 2021.

4. Self-service should be excellent service

Smart, advanced options (such as virtual assistants or chatbots) and the chance to use voice as an alternative to touch or text are helping to expand the scope of self-service channels.

All of this is driving up customer satisfaction, by connecting people more swiftly to what they need, while making more economical use of skilled staff’s time.

Forrester predicts a 40 per cent rise in digital customer service interactions in 2021, as a result of the pandemic.

5. Problem-solving matters more than ever

Converting a potentially negative customer experience into a positive one can create a sense of loyalty.

During the pandemic, this ability has really been put to the test for some companies. The immense disruption caused by COVID-19 led to all sorts of customer crises and disappointments; the companies that adapted quickly – able to solve problems on a scale never previously encountered – won the hearts and minds of customers.

Customers are still looking for signs that companies understand the toll that COVID-19 has taken. A special COVID-related global Trust Barometer report from Edelman found that 84 per cent of consumers are looking for messaging about how brands can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges.

Discover how digital transformation can help your organisation enhance the customer experience.

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