The dwindling high street has long been the subject of discussion in the retail and tech industries, as businesses seek to better understand changing consumer habits in a new convenience-first landscape. However, in this current COVID-19 environment, with an increased reliance on digital channels, customer experience (CX) has been fundamentally challenged.
A harsh light has been shone on stagnant designs, siloed rationale, and a complicated customer journey that has left customers exasperated – a reaction that can quickly affect a company’s bottom line. Consequently, the winners’ circle comprises organisations that have integrated and automated their digital channels and connected them to the ecosystems that their customers, both old and new, occupy.
In 2021, we expect to see the race to provide an effective, digitally focused customer experience accelerate as it becomes a clear priority for businesses. In fact, our 2020 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report found that a positive customer experience is a clear business priority, with 70.5% of organisations citing improved CX as the top factor driving their digital transformation.
Outlined in our ‘Future Disrupted: 2021 Technology Trends’ predictions, there are five key trends redefining the future of customer experience.
Trend 1: COVID-19 has made customer behaviors across all demographics more digitally focused
It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many lives and livelihoods around the world. A significant part of that change is the restricted access to brick and mortar stores and in turn, the seismic shift to digital delivery. Subsequently, a digitised offering has become the only way for customers to experience a brand. This ‘new normal’ has accelerated the importance of an experience-centric business transformation to deliver an effortless, on-demand, and intuitive customer experience across all channels.
The remodeling of the digital shopping experience, from convenience to necessity, has also fundamentally impacted customer behaviors by diversifying the demographics. What used to be a customer journey reserved for ‘digital natives’ has now become an avenue for all customers, including those that would previously avoid shopping online. Now people of all generations, not just digital natives’, have become more confident and comfortable with online engagements and transactions.
Trend 2: Rich and personalised content will be king
With this newfound and varied customer base, it is becoming more crucial than ever for businesses to hone in on their customer experience strategy, to create greater value for both the customers and the business. Guaranteeing a seamless and personalised experience throughout the customer journey is critical and data analytics will be integral to this success.
Customers may not realise it, but personalisation is the crux of meaningful communication in the digital world. Businesses need to be able to meet and serve customers where they choose, when they choose and how they choose to connect. Today’s customer wants to be offered products and services that they want or need in a dynamic way. This kind of integrated delivery is rooted in cohesion from design to content through to technology with location and analytics greatly affecting your ability to deliver rich, auto-personalised content. But all of these capabilities combined to create a differentiated experience that directly links you to the customer and excites people.
Trend 3: A move towards a CX environment that balances the virtual and physical presence
Over the years we have seen the CX environment expand beyond just the physical into the virtual, and the past nine months have seen this rapidly evolve. Over the seasonal period and into 2021, businesses must think about how best to balance both the virtual and physical CX communication for the best customer exchange.
Understanding the customer journey will be critical to deciding whether each customer is best addressed via a digital assistant, self-service technology, or by a human in a call center. These decisions need to be made seamlessly and across multiple platforms for the best outcome.
Trend 4: Core CX competence will hinge
on having a data-driven and well-documented strategy
Leading organisations are gathering and understanding data to gain visibility into customer behavior and aggregating this information across different verticals to identify effective points within the service experience or to market relevant offers. Once a company has a full picture of the customer behavior, the data can then be utilised to address individual customer needs in a systemized way – this is where automation comes into play.
Automation goes a long way towards improving efficiencies to streamline and provide an enhanced real-time experience. This is likely to come with greater adoption of chatbots and AI-driven natural language processing bots that will increasingly undertake businesses’ first- and early-stage interactions with customers.
Trend 5: Ongoing performance management of infrastructure to meet customers’ expectations, will become critical
Ultimately, streamlining the customer journey through data insights and automation will be essential to securing economic viability. A ‘digital-first’ mindset; secure, cloud-optimized networks and infrastructure; smart use of artificial intelligence, automation, open APIs, and analytics; and data management, collectively, lay the foundation for creating and sustaining a positive customer experience.
With customer experience as the defining theme over the next 12 months, the winners will be those who pay close attention to the power of the customer journey and do everything within their control to make the virtual customer interaction an unforgettable one.
By Rob Allman, Global SVP Customer Experience at NTT