2021 Predictions: What will customers expect from brand communications in the new year?

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While the collective consciousness of humanity would perhaps like to forget the majority of 2020, the year’s events have ushered in several new realities. One such reality is the likely permanent shift of consumer preferences in the retail ecosystem. We recently observed the mass digital transformation of retailers and the subsequent digitization of their customer interactions, and we’ll continue to see the industry trend in this direction for the foreseeable future. As retailers continue to find their way through the pandemic economy, they must consider the customer experience and how it will carry over to a COVID-free environment. The following predictions will hopefully serve as a preliminary guide for what’s to come for marketers in 2021.

1. Online retail will continue to dominate in-person shopping. As we saw over the holidays, online retail sales grew by an estimated 49% compared to the previous year (according to Mastercard SpendingPulse). That staggering, multi-billion dollar increase in e-commerce revenue is both a good sign and a warning for retailers: your customer service practices will need to step up in a big way to maintain positive relationships with increasingly online customers. That means fast response times, efficient communication and understanding the context of individual customer situations.

Far too often, ill-equipped contact centers with legacy technology provide frustrating experiences for customers that can, ultimately, damage brand loyalty. Equipping support agents with the right software and backend information can make a drastic difference in their ability to resolve customer issues with ease.

2. Customers will expect to be spoken to directly. Gone are the days of generic email blasts and boilerplate promotional messaging. While targeted ads were initially met with a wary eye, customers today are more accustomed to having their specific interests addressed when brands communicate with them. Your best shot at seeing any meaningful level of engagement with your outreach campaigns – whether it’s via email, SMS, WhatsApp, or another platform – is collecting customer data and feedback and harnessing it for targeted marketing.

3. Brands must meet customers where they are. This requires a flexible omnichannel presence. Not all consumers check their emails religiously or enjoy receiving brand messaging over text. In order to get the most out of customer engagement, brands will have to meet their audience halfway by broadening their infrastructure to an omnichannel communication strategy. The ability to connect with individual customers on Facebook Messenger, SMS and Viber with their own personalized promotions will pay dividends this year and in the foreseeable future.

4. Chatbots will begin to see mass appeal for customer service. According to a recent customer survey carried out by Infobip, approximately 69% of users who interacted with chatbots reported a positive experience. The technology is already trending upward in overall consumer sentiment, and with the normalization of chatbots will come the expectation that your brand will use them to speed up customer service queues. Implementing them sooner rather than later will save brands the rush and alleviate an already growing load of online support queries.

Last year saw unprecedented growth in the e-commerce space. The effects of such drastic digital growth may bring additional surprises soon, but by learning from the growing pains of 2020, retailers can thrive in the new year with the adoption of new customer experience practices and technologies.

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