Five Predictions that will Shape Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond


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As much as we’d all like to forget 2020, the pandemic will continue to impact how businesses approach customer service well into this year – and in all likelihood, well beyond. Organizations must continue to adapt and find new ways of engaging with their customers, as they ready for the post-pandemic era. The good news is that many of these impacts have the potential to be positive for customers and businesses alike.

So, with that in mind, let’s now try to look ahead. Here are five key predictions for customer service in 2021:

  1. Most businesses won’t be caught flat-footed again. When COVID-19 hit, most businesses were blindsided by a surge in customer queries. They just didn’t have the infrastructure to support the increased calls and requests from customers. That forced organizations to scramble to adopt new digital solutions such as intelligent virtual assistants and turn to scalable cloud solutions to keep up with demand. In essence, this was digital transformation – whether they knew it or not. In fact, in a recent study, Futurum and Pega identified customer experience as the number one driver of digital transformation. In 2021, we’ll see businesses further accelerate their digital strategies and solutions so they can better serve their customers and be ready for whatever new unforeseen disruptions that may come.
  2. Distributed customer service teams will continue to be the norm. In 2020, many office-based teams were forced to adapt to remote work. Even today, many of these teams remain distributed. But while this was a disruption, many agents realized that, despite being distanced from their teams, they’re still able to work at similar or better levels of efficiency and productivity than before. This is particularly true of tasks that are high-volume, straightforward, and don’t require in-person collaboration. With the costs saved by reducing expensive office spaces, many businesses will redirect those funds and invest in tools that keep their employees aligned and connected from afar.
  3. Autonomous service will emerge as a new category for CX. As Millennials and rising Gen-Zers increase their buying power, businesses need to cater to the way these digital natives like to engage with brands. Most often that means a fully digital experience with no live agent interaction at all. Taken one step further, smart brands will use tools like AI and virtual assistants to help customers before they even know they may need it. This is the essence of a new category of CX called ‘autonomous service’ to provide proactive and preemptive interactions that human agents alone could never do at scale. This will help businesses head off the simple customer issues before they turn into major time-intensive issues for agents later on. A recent Pega study confirmed this trend, as 50% of global business leaders expect hyper-automation to impact their customer service operations over the next five years. This will free up live agents to focus their time on complex queries rather than the simple ones that machines can more efficiently handle.
  4. Data privacy and protection will rise higher on the radar once again. Not too long ago, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) caused businesses to scramble in preparation for the data privacy tsunami. All of this seemed to be forgotten when COVID hit and rearranged our priorities. But American businesses may be experiencing a false sense of security. By the end of 2021, we expect data privacy will become a priority once again. Organizations that turned all their energies to pandemic issues will need to refocus on data privacy. It’s only a matter of time until another data privacy issue rears its head and steals the headlines, forcing lawmakers to put more teeth into these regulations. Businesses must shake off any complacency and prepare now before the inevitable happens.
  5. Investment in extended reality (XR) will open up new avenues for customer service. While new technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality are exciting, they are not quite ready to be viable tools for customer service today. However, according to Pega’s study, more than half (52%) of global business leaders think Extended Reality (XR) will be a competitive differentiator within the next five years, and more than a quarter (30%) believe it will be essential to customer engagement. Despite the hype around XR’s ability to simulate physical states of being, it likely won’t be ready for widespread adoption in 2021. Still, today’s end users are increasingly working remotely for the long-term and require personalized experiences, so we’re sure to see more businesses investing in XR than ever before.

In 2020, people couldn’t stop talking about our “new normal” – so much in fact that it became one of the key phrases of last year. In 2021, we may in fact stop saying the phrase altogether and instead work towards providing an improved experience – for both customers and employees alike – that will persevere through 2021 and beyond.

Jeff Nicholson
JEFFREY NICHOLSON (Boston, MA) Jeff is a CRM and AI industry veteran, possessing more than 20 years of expertise, in helping shape SaaS technologies, consumer trends and markets. Recognized as an industry thought leader and visionary, Jeff’s viewpoints and perspectives have been featured in magazines and outlets including AdAge, ChiefMarketer, CRM Magazine,, The Economist and Forbes. Jeff is a frequent presenter at industry events across the globe on topics including consumer engagement, customer journey, artificial intelligence, digital transformation and customer data trends.


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