Predictions Series 2021: Five Customer Experience Trends to Watch in 2021

2020 changed the way we look at things. To deliver a great customer experience in 2021, you’ll need to understand how customer perceptions are evolving. Knowing these trends can help you meet customers where they are in the year ahead.

As this bizarre and uncertain year comes to a close, it’s a good time to step back and look at how the past several months have affected customers and changed the way we do business. It’s also a great time to consider how these changes might carry forward into the year ahead and reflect on what that means for the customer experience.

Big societal trends reverberate down to the micro-level, overturning established buying patterns by altering consumer economics and, just as importantly, changing the way customers see the world. Company leaders need to understand how that lens is shifting and be prepared to meet customers where they are to deliver a great customer experience. Here are five trends to watch.

People Crave Connections

More time at home, the lack of travel and restrictions on social gatherings make it harder to build memories and relationships the way we used to, so people crave connections. Brands that creatively fill that void and convey this message — “I see you” — can enhance the customer experience despite the lack of facetime.

Some companies are getting creative with concepts like gifting — providing beautifully packaged, personalized gifts — that connect with customers and express appreciation. That trend will likely grow as brands look at imaginative ways to make human connections, share thoughts and give thanks. Look for new concepts that go beyond the Zoom happy hour: a more personalized, virtual version of gathering to share drinks and appetizers at a distance.

Digital Excellence Is Table Stakes

Companies that didn’t have a strong presence and robust support capabilities on digital channels when 2020 began have been scrambling to put those assets in place ever since. The truth is, achieving digital excellence can’t be put off any longer, not with so much commercial opportunity happening online and customers reaching out for support across all channels, according to their preferences.

Digital support channels like texting, chat, bots, etc., are table stakes now, and the rush to create those capabilities is like the final push from on-premises systems to the cloud in the recent past. While they are building out those channels, companies may have to beef up live human intervention in support systems to keep customers happy. But keep in mind that delivering a great customer experience will require more than the basics.

Cars Become a Home on the Road

People are looking at their vehicles in a different way now. Cars have become extensions of our living rooms. It’s not uncommon to see drive-thru graduation, anniversary, retirement, and birthday celebrations on the news. Rolling campaign rallies and drive-in movie-style candidate speeches are a thing in politics this year, with supporters honking approval to applause lines.

Vehicles used to be a way to get from point A to point B, but now they’ve become a safe bubble where people can hang out — together and in public but also apart. Technology may take this further in the future as autonomous vehicles morph into a pod where people work and spend time together. Meeting the customer where she is might mean connecting in a car.

Equality Is a Gamechanger

A combination of events is pushing women’s equality forward, which is a game-changer.

The massive experiment in remote working in response to the pandemic dramatically heightened awareness of the jobs and activities happening at home daily. Millions of dads are more involved in their kids’ lives, and many want to keep that dynamic going.

The news isn’t all great — women have borne the economic brunt in many ways. But cocooning at home, scientific advances and politics are having a real and fundamental impact on our lives. It has implications for brands too. It’s time to ask yourself if you’re going to market with a message of equality. If the past five years of data says a certain kind of woman is your primary shopper, are you sure that’s still true? Things may have changed, and they’ll keep changing.

People Are Investing in Their Surroundings

Even amid all the economic uncertainty, the home improvement sector is booming. People are ready to invest in how they live, and that may hold true even when low-interest rates start to rise again. The real estate market is active. People are spending more time at home, so they’re feathering their nests (or building new ones). Car sales are rebounding too.

This home improvement impulse reflects a broader inward-looking trend. Our focus has narrowed to our immediate surroundings and communities threatened by the coronavirus pandemic. Conversely, there’s an aspirational focus on looking into the future, anticipating even greater innovation, like a SpaceX Mars mission, or further space exploration. For brands, the takeaway is that customers are both focused on their own backyards and exciting future possibilities.

Seeing the World Through the Customer’s Lens

There’s reason to be optimistic about the year ahead. Recent news about the successful Pfizer vaccine trial has many people dreaming about a return to a pre-pandemic normal. But it’s important to understand that our shared experience over the past several months has changed our outlook in profound ways that are likely to outlast the pandemic.

For brands that want to deliver the best possible customer experience, applying the right marketing technology remains essential, but understanding the trends that are driving changes in consumer perspectives is also key. In the year ahead, the challenge will be to center campaigns on where and how we live now, taking into account the many shifts we’ve made this year that will be with us forever.