Last year I wrote that I don’t like prediction pieces.
Then, I broke my own rule, and I compiled a series of predictions that had been sent to me and combined them with a bit of commentary.
Over the last few weeks, I have been sent a range of predictions from different people.
So, like last year, I’m going to repeat the exercise and have picked out the predictions that stood out for me, have given them some names and have also provided a bit of commentary.
Here goes, in no particular order:
1. Maintaining momentum in 2021 will be key.
Suzi Tripp, VP, Insights at Brooks Bell, predicts that:
“While many marketers have struggled with changing consumer behavior in 2020, it’s safe to say some behaviors prompted by COVID-19 will be here to stay. Companies should evaluate their strategies to ensure they can meet customer expectations when it comes to convenience and safety. If COVID-19 forced them into launching a minimum viable product quickly, they need to continue to iterate on it and keep looking for the next evolution.”
Comment: Everyone has learned to do things differently in 2020. While the effects of the pandemic will recede in time, the economic, industrial and technology disruption that we have experienced is not going away any time soon. In fact, the rate of disruption is increasing and has been accelerated by the pandemic. The key to success will be maintaining the momentum achieved in 2020. To relax may be the fastest way to losing sight of your customers and your relevance.
2. Customer service will get increasingly conversational
“Consumers’ expectations have gone digital, and there’s no turning back. Regardless of a shift back towards pre-pandemic life, the convenience and flexibility of a digital customer experience is here to stay. Businesses need to adopt digital solutions to keep customers satisfied and continue growing their businesses. This implies shifting customer engagement experiences to a ‘Pull’ model from a ‘Push’ model.”
“The ‘Pull’ model for digital business-to-customer interactions makes customer engagement more humanized. In place of “[email protected]” emails, businesses are able to deploy interactive digital platforms for remote customer engagement. All of these interactions will be conducted within private digital channels where customers can reach brand representatives and collaborate to better resolve issues and improve the customer’s experience with the brand. Concurrently, the brand will be able to have a managed overview of customer interactions for a persistent and continuous relationship.”
Comment: When customers contact a company using different channels they don’t think they are having a series of separate conversations. They think they are having one conversation focused on trying to solve the one problem that is in front of them. It’s taken a long time for organizations to catch up to this reality and software platforms are now available that are allowing them to take a more conversational and human approach to the experience they deliver. The requirement to take a more conversational approach to service will only accelerate in 2021.
3. Experience will finally become a whole team game.
Jared Blank, CMO at VTEX, predicts that:
“Marketers’ relationship with CX teams will change in 2021. Digital marketing leaders have realized that after 20 years of focusing resources on acquiring customers and driving them to a beautiful website, customers really care about the experience after purchase. In e-commerce, this looks like answering questions like: Will packages arrive when promised? Can they receive text updates on the progress of shipments? Were items they purchased actually out of stock? 2021 is the year that marketing and CX teams join forces and learn that successful online sellers focus on checkout through delivery, not just on acquisition.”
Comment: I really hope this prediction comes true and have only one word to describe my perspective on this: Finally!
4. The role of the contact center will change.
Jonathan Allan, CMO at Puzzel, predicts that:
“Two big themes emerging from business throughout 2020, is the increasing demand on contact center operations and the necessity for brands to put customer experience at the heart of their digital operations. As 2021 looms, this trend shows no signs of abating. Customers have turned to contact centers for reassurance during uncertain times, and the contact center will continue to be the pre-eminent primary brand touch-point and face of a business, as restrictions will without doubt continue to affect customers’ ability to receive in-person customer service.
As the responsibilities of the contact center evolve and grow, so does its wider significance. We’ll increasingly see the contact center have full and official ownership of all inbound customer interactions, encompassing both operations and marketing, revenue generation and customer service.
As we move into 2021, we’ll continue to see more customer insight being captured in the contact center and being deployed strategically elsewhere in the business.”
Comment: In recent years, many people, myself included, have advocated for the recognition of the value and strategic importance of the contact center. But, that advocacy has often fallen on deaf ears. This year, however, has shone a clear light on the value and importance of the work done by those that work on the front-line. Therefore, this prediction is very welcome, and I fervently believe that the contact center and the people that work in them will have an increasingly important role to play in 2021 and beyond.
5. As will the attractiveness of serving.
Jonathan Allan wasn’t done with his prediction about a bigger role for the contact center. He offered up another prediction that relates to the attractiveness of the contact center environment for new talent. Describing this trend, Allan said that:
“While contact center leaders tackle ongoing operational challenges in the short term, there is a tremendous amount of optimism about the longer-term future. One positive side-effect of the difficult macro-economic environment has been a growth in the availability of high-quality talent. Mobility between departments is on the rise, and we expect to see more and more opportunities being created for people coming into the contact center from elsewhere within a business.”
Comment: This year has highlighted the importance and value of great customer service, and it’s not surprising that many talented individuals will look to utilize their skills and passions in this increasingly important and attractive area of any business.
6. The shape of the future workplace will become clearer.
Jason Goodall, CEO of NTT Ltd, predicts that:
“In terms of the employee experience, since the pandemic, employers are having to think hard about optimizing for employee wellness and safety. Identity, data and analytics, collaborative tools, security and automation will become the foundations for enhancing employee experience and, most importantly, employee wellness. And though a distributed workforce will become the norm, that isn’t to say the workplace will cease to exist, but rather it will evolve into more of a creative space to meet and collaborate.”
Comment: In July, I talked about how many organizations will develop a hybrid operating model that will combine remote working with the use of an office environment. Jason provides some great clues as to what that could look like. 2021 will see many organizations tackle this issue, and we are likely to see a range of different and creative options emerge.
7. The route to personalization involves partnership.
Anne Hunter, Head of Product Marketing, DISQO, predicts that:
“The pandemic has only accelerated already rising consumer expectations for corporate authenticity, requiring brands to be more transparent about their data sources and to build data relationships with customers based on consent and trust. Brands will increasingly want to put ethics at the forefront of their data strategies to ensure they’re operating not only legally — but also within the bounds of what their customers believe is fair. To create optimal customer experiences and avoid potential reputation-damaging backlash, CX teams will need to work harder than ever to be clear and straightforward about data collection and use.”
Comment: In recent years, many ‘personalization’ efforts have bordered on being ‘creepy’. However, customer expectations have shifted over the course of this year, and many won’t put up with these tactics any longer. Therefore, the best way to achieve personalization in the future will require that brands partner with customers to achieve mutually beneficial aims.
8. Walking the performance-surveillance tightrope.
Fabrice Martin, CPO, Clarabridge, predicts that
“To secure information regarding employee feelings/sentiment towards specific situations or scenarios, companies often rely on surveys. Although these surveys are considered anonymous, many employees do not give the full truth or insight needed to improve the employee experience. In 2021, we’ll start to see companies tap into the thousands of conversations occurring every day in the workplace to analyze and better understand what’s impacting motivation and productivity. This will take time as companies will need to find the best ways to do this while remaining ethical.”
Comment: We’ve seen a rapid rise in the demand for performance insights and analytics capabilities now that many employees are working remotely. Employees want to learn and improve but they also don’t like the feeling of being constantly watched over. This erodes trust and undermines motivation and performance. To generate a greater level insight that drives performance improvement, organizations will need to walk the tightrope between performance and surveillance and make sure that anything they do around employee insights and analytics is done with fairness, trust and a focus on improving outcomes for both employees and customers.
9. Agent self-service and enablement tools will become increasingly important.
Daryl Gonos, CEO, CommunityWFM, predicts that:
“Contact centers must focus on agent-empowered tools in 2021, because work-life balance is more sensitive than ever before. Shift-swaps, split-shifts, and vacation management tools will give contact center agents more options to work when and where they desire. Greater information about their own performance is crucial because managers can’t work as closely with their staff as they have before.”
Comment: Customers have benefited from big investments in self service and enablement tools. However, the large number of workers operating remotely has highlighted the need for self service tools for employees too. Companies operating a largely remote workforce would be well served by starting to think about their employees like they do their customers and provide them with a similar set of tools.
10. Empathy will emerge as a top customer experience metric.
Anthony Bartolo, chief product officer at Avaya, predicts that
“2020 taught us that empathy is desperately needed for leading teams and ensuring workforce stability. It has become commonplace to need to quiet your barking dog or turn off your camera and mic to help your child who’s distance learning. Executives have realized that extending courtesies doesn’t compromise business outcomes – it accelerates them. We’re seeing the rise of human realness in the way work gets done, and it’s an exciting breakthrough that I hope stays with us for the long haul.”
In addition, Steven Petruk, President, Global Outsourcing Division, CGS, predicts that:
“Amid the challenges of the pandemic, customer care centers have all but done away with any metrics around call duration and are actively encouraging agents to spend more time on the phone with clients. While empathy has not been an operational performance metric in the past, it absolutely is prime area of focus now and will continue to be. In an effort to measure empathy, many companies are adding empathy-specific questions to their post-call surveys.”
Comment: Empathy has emerged as a key organizational capability in 2020. Some organizations have empathy built into how they do business. Others not. To bridge that gap and build a more empathetic organization will require more than just commissioning some empathy training. It will require that they commit to building an appropriate empathetic musclature for their organization.
11. Expect to see an increased focus on customer loyalty and retention.
Garin Hobbs, director of deal strategy, Iterable, predicts that:
“Brands who put customers first will be the ones who succeed.”
He adds that:
“Consumer priorities have shifted, and marketers will be challenged to understand the new qualities of “value” and “experience” as differentiating factors of their brand.”
Comment: Customer behavior shifted in 2020 and customers aligned themselves more with brands that they saw as trusted, helpful and valuable to them. I fully expect the successful brands and companies will be those that recognize that shift and will focus and ramp up their retention and loyalty efforts.
So, that’s it for predictions from me this year. This is not an exhaustive list but, I believe, there are some fair bets in there.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com.