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4 Customer Experience Trends To Watch For In 2021

Chuck Ciarlo

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Customer experience has always been at the center of every successful business.

I’ve been leading teams for more than 30 years, and I can tell you that from an operational perspective, there is no better investment in customer experience than the performance of your own employees. Here are a few shocking statistics to highlight the point, according to a handful of research curated by SuperOffice:

  • “The Temkin Group found that companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to earn, on average, an additional $700 million within 3 years of investing in customer experience.”
  • “Investing in CX initiatives has the potential to double your revenue within 36 months.”
  • “A Walker study found that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.”

But since the beginning of the digital age, expectations of customers have been rising. Customers don’t just want businesses to meet their wants and needs—they want businesses to anticipate them. According to a Forbes piece and recent study by Futurum Researchsurveying 330 companies in North America and Europe, “57% said their entire business model needed to be reconsidered in the wake of COVID-19.”

Especially considering today’s environment, customer experience is quickly becoming a defining difference between the companies that stay alive and the companies that go under.

As we wrap up 2020, let’s take a look at the biggest trends happening in CX to watch for next year.

1. Artificial intelligence 

Chatbots, customized digital experiences, and personalized recommendations are all at the forefront of customer experience expectations these days.

In fact, back in 2011, Gartner published a study that included a very forward-thinking prediction: “By 2020, 85% of all customer relationships will be managed without human interaction.” And in the year 2020, we’re almost there with virtual agents and chatbots handling more and more customer interactions. 

Customers today don’t just want a product or service—they also want the business to provide context as to how, when, and why they should interact or use that product or service in relation to their own lives. They need it to fit within their own schedule, their own daily habits. 

And if it doesn’t, you’ve lost them.

The root purpose of using AI and machine learning is to gather more and more data on prospective and current customers to continue presenting them with more of what they want (in some cases, before they even know they want it). While this might sound spooky, it’s something we as consumers validate every single day. We want our playlists to recommend more songs we might like. We want our digital retailers to suggest other related items we might have forgotten to put in our shopping carts. We want businesses to know who we are and what our account information is the moment we call—and not have to repeat ourselves endlessly in the process.

2. Employee experience

Aside from the fact that treating your employees with respect is the right thing to do, it’s also the starting point of a great customer experience. 

The three biggest reasons a company should invest in its own employees are: 

  • To improve customer satisfaction
  • To improve retention
  • And to up-sell opportunities. 

There are dozens of ways you can invest in your employees. Investment could be made in the form of upgrading technology, automating processes, and freeing up people’s time (so they can spend their working hours elsewhere—ideally on higher impact tasks for the business). Investment could be made in people’s mental, physical, and emotional health: facilitating work retreats, providing access to gyms and local fitness outlets in their work benefits, and offering remote employees memberships to collaborative coworking spaces. Or, investment could be made simply by taking the time to mentor more junior employees and giving them opportunities to learn and accelerate their careers.

3. Self-service

Microsoft report from 2017 found that 74% of consumers have used a self-service support portal.

And since 2017, that number has only gone up.

Especially when it comes to younger consumers, people today don’t really want to pick up the phone and sit on a wait line to talk to a company representative. They would much rather go online, or use their phone where they can troubleshoot their problem on their own. Furthermore, using self-service products like chatbots can help cut operational costs by up to 30%—allowing businesses to reinvest more money in other, more complicated customer experiences that can’t be automated as easily.

4. Transparency

Every trend in business points to a more transparent future.

We are seeing it in supply chains: customers wanting to know how and where their goods move across the country. We’re seeing it in retail: customers wanting to know whether the materials they’re purchasing are negatively impacting the world. And we’re seeing it in tech, where there is more and more demand for visibility into the ways in which customer data is being utilized by the business.

Harvard Business Review article framed this well: Associate professor Ryan W. Buell called operational transparency “The deliberate design of windows into and out of the organization’s operations to help customers and employees alike understand and appreciate the value being created.” 

The truth is, transparency isn’t just good for customer loyalty. It’s also beneficial for employee retention, company mission, branding, marketing, PR, and more. It’s no longer sufficient to just “say” that you care about being transparent and honest with customers. With social media, and the ability for customers all over the world to call out businesses on their choices, it’s now more important than ever to “walk the walk” and let your actions speak for themselves.

For the past 40 years, I have been starting and building service and technology based businesses—two of which were successfully acquired. My first venture was a full-service direct marketing company called U.S. Business Services. This business ultimately inspired my second venture, 800 Direct, which was a BPO that provided 24/7 contact center and customer relationship management services for Fortune 1000 companies—including Sprint, Hallmark, Bose, Barnes & Noble, Hasbro, and many others. After learning the ins and outs of the BPO world, I saw an opportunity to bring a workforce optimization solution to the market to make contact centers more efficient. So, in 2002, I founded Monet Software to do just that. For the first 10 years operating Monet, I identified partners and outsourced software development to companies located in India and Bulgaria, where I traveled frequently. I then decided to launch my own engineering and development center in south eastern Europe. Over the next two decades, Monet became a global provider for contact centers of all sizes and, with Monet WFO Live, delivered a complete cloud-based suite to automate workforce management, call recording, quality assurance, agent analytics, and more. In 2019, Monet was acquired by enterprise leader Verint Systems, where I continue to run the day-to-day operations of Monet. I am a passionate entrepreneur, senior executive, and investor.

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