Six customer experience trends uprooting 2022 planningby
John Aves takes a look forward to the coming year and examines some of the more offbeat trends and developments that are influencing customer experience planning.
There are evergreen CX trends like omnichannel, digital, self-serve and personalisation that are part of the strategic fabric of every customer-centric business. They have been shaping customer experience plans for years. These trends have gradually changed and developed over time as transformation programmes gained maturity. Then COVID comes along.
The pandemic has accelerated the natural evolution of these trends that were already baked into customer plans. But new trends have also emerged and customer standards have changed in a way that requires step change in CX strategies. In this post we look forward to the coming year and focus on some of the more offbeat trends and developments that are influencing CX planning. Let’s start with customer patience.
Last year, in 6 trends shaping CX redesign, we wrote about how customer patience with poor experiences was starting to wear thin. In the heat of the crisis, there were no second chances for businesses that couldn’t provide what customers needed. If patience was wearing thin then, it’s non-existent now.
1. COVID is not an excuse for poor experiences and it’s the end of the line for CX rhetoric
Almost two years into the pandemic and customers won’t buy COVID as an excuse for poor experiences. Things were bad way before the crisis. Just over half (51%) of consumers were saying that most businesses fell short of their expectations for a great customer experience, according to Salesforce. And the evidence has been building ever since that things are just getting worse – especially on service.
There are banks, insurers, energy firms, government departments, public service providers, retailers and travel and hospitality businesses that have been going above and beyond for their customers. They have been staying true to their customer promise. But we need to look at this in the round and most customers are fed up with the service they receive. Experience is about more than service but businesses that fail their customers on this will fail them on everything.
Research by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) back in July discovered that complaints about service in the first half of this year were at their highest levels since 2009, the year that followed the financial crash. Some organisations are using Covid as cover. This won’t hold. Paying lip service to CX isn’t an option either. Customers expect businesses to deliver what they promise, make them feel special and reward their loyalty. They expect speed, convenience and a friendly service from a knowledgeable assistant. Customer loyalty is fluid at best, non-existent at worst. Consumers want to continue with experimenting with new brands and new ways of shopping. What will win their loyalty back?
Getting the basics right is non-negotiable in the loyalty stakes. Fail at this level and you’ll end up losing customers. But get this right and go further to make experiences connected, frictionless, personalised, relevant, empathetic and memorable and customers will in return spend more, try additional products and services and share positive experiences with friends and family.
Organisations get this – 86% of business leaders tag CX as their top growth engine. But only one-in-three say they are ready to address this, according to North Highland. The businesses that build back around their customers will be the success stories in 2022.
Customers will need to play their part. There is no excuse either for poor behaviour. Employee well-being is a top priority and customers will find they are not always right. Customers will have to own their experience too.
2. Customers want to be seen as individuals
Businesses have been segmenting their customers for decades. It has been the beating heart of marketing ever since the term was first coined back in the 1950s. And while segmentation still has its place for a wide-angle lens view of customers through demographics, psychographics, behaviour and geography, customers expect the lens to narrow down to the individual level when it comes to experience. Improving data and analytics to offer this level of personalisation has never been more critical. Salesforce research from a couple of years ago found that around two-thirds of consumers (66%) would switch brands if there are treated like a number, not an individual. That number has only grown since then. But most businesses are still looking at customers through tunnel vision. By their own admission, businesses are not yet data-ready.
Harvard Business Review Analytic Services this year found that just 15% of executives say that they have both a single (360-degree) view of customer data and the organisational structure to make use of insights. There is a gaping chasm between customer expectations and business capability to glean actionable insights to know more about individual customers and tailor messaging, communications, products and services.
3. Experiences will be as human-centred as they are futurist
The digital transformation of businesses is unstoppable. The July ICS research recorded, for the first time, that 50% of customer experiences were digital. We’ve gone past the tipping point. While it is true that customer expectations are digitally driven and they crave digital innovation, this comes with a big health warning.
Businesses could be overplaying their hand by focussing on digitising processes, products and services. Customers are suffering from ‘digital saturation’, says Forrester. Customers want empathetic human interaction and reassurance. They want it now more than ever. As we mentioned earlier, customers want to be seen as individuals, they want businesses to know them on an intimate level. They want businesses to understand where they are coming from and what they experience. As we move into 2022, are most businesses set up to be more empathetic? The answer is a resounding no.
Salesforce recently discovered that while 68% of customers expect brands to show empathy just 37% receive it. Here’s the challenge for 2022. Customer expectations will only get higher as they seek meaningful connections and a hybrid customer experience, driven by digital but fuelled by empathy.
4. L&D is one of the counterweights to the Great Resignation
The Great Resignation is a sweeping generalisation but the truth is almost one in four UK workers are still planning to quit their jobs, according to Randstad. The reasons for this are complex. Some workers are re-evaluating their relationship with work. Some want to try something different or spend more time with their family. Some are burnt out. Some have a better offer elsewhere.
Employee engagement is at a low ebb. The pandemic and the tumult that most employees have been through is still in the rear-view mirror. Job loyalty is a thing of the past. Businesses that are creative and develop new ways for their people to learn and advance their careers – and more crucially to apply the learning to the new realities of their roles – will be rewarded with a happier, more productive workforce that wants to stay. Employees that know they can grow with you could be deterred from seeking career fulfilment elsewhere.
There is an important note of caution here. Skills and capability development on their own don’t tend to create belief in a new direction and a commitment to change on the scale we are witnessing. The catalyst for significant change is embedding the new direction into individuals’ values and belief systems. New skills and capabilities are always required, but these need a solid foundation of belief and commitment.
5. Hybrid working plans are being built to fail
More than half of businesses will fail their employees as we continue to shift to hybrid working next year. Experiences such as meetings, job roles and promotion opportunities are being designed with a face-to-face mindset. Some hybrid working plans are being engineered to fail. Forrester predicts that 60% of companies won’t get right the employee experience for a hybrid workforce.
6. Customers want more transparency
Transparency about business practices matters. Forrester research tells us that almost one-in-seven consumers (69%) wish companies were more transparent about the way they do business. Meanwhile, 47% of consumers say they regularly buy from brands that match their values. Consumers are becoming more discerning about who they shop with and why. They care about what a business stands for, and what it stands against.
The climate change challenge is confronting us all. The ‘green’ credentials of a business are under scrutiny. The use of sustainable materials is a key purchasing factor for 67% of consumers, according to McKinsey, and 63% consider a brand’s promotion of sustainability in the same way.
The next generation of consumers is growing up with an acute awareness of the role their favourite brands can play in addressing the climate challenge and in being more eco-responsible. What do your existing and future customers think? Are your customers driving the change you want to be? Will their resolve to shop more sustainably hold when they are more informed about the carbon footprint of the products they love to buy?
Let’s end as we started…
Omnichannel, digital, self-serve, and personalisation are among the CX watchwords on trends lists – year in, year out. Empathy and reassurance, learning and development, transparency and values need a place on the 2022 list. These are just some of the elements we see driving CX step change next year.
What are your thoughts?
The over-arching focus of John's work over 30 years has been in the area of customer led change. He is passionate about customer experience as a strategy to drive customer loyalty, employee pride and profitable growth. He believes that every successful customer strategy needs to focus first on the people within the organisation in order to...