Future of CX

Community and VoC: The CX trends set to characterise 2021


MyCustomer contributors and leading customer experience experts outline their expectations and predictions for the coming 12 months.

14th Dec 2020

Coronavirus has been the dominant force of 2020, affecting every aspect of our lives and disrupting the field of customer experience in an unparalleled manner.

Yet for all the uncertainty and all the CX projects suddenly put on hold at the start of the year, coronavirus has also driven great change – accelerating numerous aspects of CX that were previously resigned to being repeatedly penned as ‘upcoming trends’ in the annual CX predictions articles dished out at the end/ start of every year.

“The word ‘velocity’ jumps immediately to mind,” says Michael Hinshaw, the founder and president of MCorpCX.

“2020, for all its negative points, has seen the actual acceleration of digital transformation; a sudden proof of ROI on customer experience; a more agile, adaptive approach to just about everything, a much deeper customer understanding and a renewed focus on employee experience.”

So looking ahead to 2021, can we expect more acceleration as a result of COVID-19, or will many businesses be looking to reset their CX programmes and attempt to return to the normality of their pre-pandemic practices?

We asked a number of experts and MyCustomer contributors to share their thoughts on what they expect to see in the coming 12 months and beyond.

A back to basics approach

Director at the Customer Institute, Sue Duris believes many businesses will look to reset their thinking around CX in 2021.

“It’s interesting that Forrester includes in their 2021 predictions the need for ‘CX renovation’. It implies organisations need to go back to basics.

“I think the focus had been too much on how can we innovate, how can we add another bell and whistle to our CX programme, and subsequently the customer has occasionally fallen by the wayside, prior to 2020 happening.

“Numerous studies show an increasing amount of customers didn’t feel they were cared about. This opinion seems to align well with the eroding customer trust happening. And it is getting increasing worse. That’s why it’s so important for organisations to get back to CX basics - know your customer, what they need and want, deliver on it (proactively), and keep improving on it.”

Indeed, Forrester expects many brands to cut technology spend in 2021 as part of their ‘back to basics’ drive, but that this will have the adverse effect of improving the quality of their customer experiences:

“As organisations tune their CX efforts for bigger impact, one Voice of the Customer program (and not multiple) will come to fruition, leading to consolidation of CX tools and technologies. This move will save organisations hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars — but it will also help them realise the value of the technologies that remain. As a result, 25% of brands will achieve statistically significant advances in CX quality in 2021.”

Empathy and humanity rule

Unsurprisingly, customer empathy was a hot topic in 2020, as highlighted in MyCustomer’s September report, Empathy in customer service - a consumer survey.

And Michael Hinshaw expects more of the same in 2021: “There’s been much discussion about the need for greater customer and employee empathy, including a deeper understanding of emotions. We’ve done more training and education in these areas than in recent years, and experience design efforts are more often including empathy as a core criteria.

“Also, leadership-level conversations have started. That’s an important start.  Unfortunately we’ve not (yet) seen this perspective widely adopted at the CX strategy and vision level, and so I expect that to change in 2021 as the empathy discussion widens.”

Empathy in customer service

Diane Magers, the founder and chief experience officer at Experience Catalysts, says she expects brands to adopt new “skills and disciplines” that tap into the human, emotive side of customer management.

“Neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, sociology …I fully expect to see human sciences prevail in 2021 as brands seek to understand their customers’ emotions better.

“This will also lead to the advancement of technologies such as emotion analytics too, though. The accessibility to biometrics, facial analysis, wearables and other new technologies bring even more of the “why” to customer needs and behaviour. This demands experience design be more in focus, at the forefront of change and used extensively across the organisation including for employee’s experience.

“The basis of experience design is human need and emotions. Brands will use both their customer intelligence and personal and social sciences to deeply understand changes to needs, expectations, norms and values – all of which will impact brands regardless of their reputation, vertical, size, market and other factors.”

Inclusive, community-driven CX

Forrester’s 2021 predictions suggest that many brands will continue to push CX design features thrust upon them as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, creating a new pursuit for more ‘inclusive CX’.

“These concerns have already led companies like Target to offer services such as curbside pickup for safety’s sake. But they still use technologies that require physical contact, like POS systems with buttons and signature pads. That will go away as companies transition toward interfaces that rely on voice, gesture, and proximity instead of touch — sometimes known as “zero UI.” This will apply not only to in-person purchases but to other publicly shared UI controls such as ATM screens, in-store feedback buttons, checkout PIN pads, elevator buttons, smart boards, and more.

“That will be good for consumers and for the companies that succeed at the transition eventually. But in 2021, companies will find that touchless interfaces are harder to design well than it seems at first blush. Most companies’ websites and apps miss the mark on even some of the basics of inclusive design, and that will set them even further back when it comes to touchless interfaces.”

“2020 has shown us that the ‘me first’ mentality is well and truly out of date.

Christopher Brooks, the managing director of Clientship and a leading voice in the CX field, says he also expects a continuation of another related theme that resulted from brands adapting to assist customers during the pandemic.

“2020 has shown us that the ‘me first’ mentality is well and truly out of date. The world over, we’ve recognised others’ needs ahead of our own. We have seen bursts of gratitude and support shown for others, for instance towards the NHS in the UK. With companies mirroring this and showing support for those they rely upon (e.g. Morrisons paying suppliers sooner than contracted) and contributing to their communities (e.g. IKEA giving up car parks for testing sites and outdoor places of prayer), these community experiences are becoming the norm.

“For many the ‘consideration of others’ has been a welcomed result of the uncomfortable ride in 2020. And businesses which are truly customer-centric will recognise this as part of what ‘putting customers first’ means. With 2021 likely to be similar to 2020 in many ways, we anticipate this will grow. It could become, for many consumers, part of the decision-making process.”

Voice of the Customer

One thing many CX leaders can agree on is that their Voice of the Customer (VoC) programme has been vital to fulfilling their customers’ ever-changing requirements during 2020.

“The biggest area of growth in 2020 we witnessed was the desire to be better connected to the Voice of the Customer,” adds Christopher Brooks.

“Whether that meant establishing new means to listen to customers via technology or finding more efficient ways to engage customer feedback already set up, universally listening to customers rocketed up the ‘must do’ list for CXers.

“For those that did, they had a clear line of sight to what their next (and in some cases even next few) steps would be in uncertain times. Without the customer as a barometer, business using forecasting methods which are ill equipped for an era of pandemics will fall behind in 2021.” 

We’re going to see a lot of answering “what’s the value here?”

However, as Forrester has already mentioned, it is expected many brands will consolidate their VoC spending in 2021, in an attempt to be more focused at listening and responding to their customers’ needs.

“We’re going to see a lot of answering “what’s the value here?”, when it comes to how VoC programs are built and sustained,” says Sue Duris.

“The CX tech that is used to drive results, the program components that are driving results, CX journeys that are purposeful and impactful…they’re all likely to come into question. My wish for CX teams is to conduct CX audits in 2021, through the eyes of the customer, and not in what is in the best interest of the company. This misalignment is still real. Until companies view the customer as the single-most important piece of the business, CX will not grow.”


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