Opinions of how the future will turn out can differ wildly, even among leading experts in their fields. And you won’t know who was right and who was wrong until long after the fact.
There is no shortage of 2021 predictions to consult. We figured that, by corralling as many as possible into a single place, we could conduct a meta analysis to establish some kind of consensus view. That’s what you’re reading now – a summary of the mega trends that will likely impact your business and your customers over the next 12 months.
There are 4 main themes in total, and all apply to the deeper context of digital feedback, customer service, email marketing and related areas.
Where possible, the reports we’ve researched are rooted in fresh primary research. In most, it’s industry voices reflecting their expert view on what to expect in the coming year.
Consolidating the Great Digital Leap Forward
Companies forced to go digital due to the pandemic will mature toward digital-first strategies.
Every expert seems to be on the same page on this. While Covid-19 represents an ongoing human tragedy (by any measure), it was also the compelling event for digital innovation in 2020. The initial short-term response created digital alternatives to the physical norm. The next logical step is to enable long-term strategies that harness the full power of digital technology.
- Gartner’s CIO Agenda for 2021 forecasts 6.9 percent more spend on IT and technology across the enterprise. It also claims organizations that increase digital innovation funding are 2.7 times more likely to be top performers.
- Sixty-six percent of consumers agree the pandemic has increased their appreciation for well-designed digital technology (to engage with companies), says Deloitte.
- McKinsey’s “Trends that will define 2021 and beyond” is ultra-optimistic that 2020’s digitization gains will not be reversed. Many companies, according to the firm, “moved 20 to 25 times faster than they thought possible” and that greater productivity looks likely to result.
- Among the many commentators betting on a significant shift to digital-first tools and strategies is Alberto de la Vicente at Croud. Analyst data, predicting a 40% increase in digital customer service interactions, backs up that view.
Organizations that spend more on digital innovation are 2.7 times more likely to be top performers (Gartner)
Move fast to become digitally accessible to customers in the absence of physical alternatives.
Move fast to achieve productivity gains and improve other business KPIs using digital channels.
Keep focusing on digital strategies and target further, measurable benefits across the organization.
The Soaring Value of High-Quality Customer Insights
Omnichannel customer experience programs are increasingly the norm. Organizations must leverage these to generate deeper, more accurate, timely and actionable customer insights.
Data drives the global economy in 2021. So much so that The World Economic Forum has declared data a ‘resource’, like gold or oil. Data about what customers want, and how they feel about your products and services, is arguably more valuable than ever before. But it’s how that data can be collected, analysed and optimized that counts.
- Jonathan Beeston of Salesforce Datorama sees digital blurring the lines between marketing, commerce and service. The key for marketers is “to unify data from all their activities to deliver personalized customer experiences and optimize… investment”.
- This piece in The Drum anticipates machine-based interfaces becoming more natural, and techniques like user research, analytics and social listening will help “get under the skin” of target audiences.
- Forrester reports that over 30 percent of B2B tech buyers prefer chatbots and virtual assistants over human sellers. Using automation like this helps create a deep-data picture and enables more personalized customer engagements.
- Another Forrester prediction is that 25 percent of brands will achieve statistically significant advances in CX quality in 2021. Understanding what really matters to customers, enabling staff and consolidating CX tools all contribute to improvements.
25% of brands will achieve statistically significant advances in CX quality in 2021 (Forrester)
Listening to the voice of the customer
Speaking each and every customer’s language
Concentrate on data quality. Know everything you can, and know how to apply it to improve business processes and the individual experiences of each customer.
AI and Smart Technologies Come of Age
So-called cognitive technologies are already more widely deployed than most people think. 2021 could be the year NLU/NLP, artificial intelligence and machine learning go mainstream.
With AI and machine learning, understanding customer intent and targeting/responding in the best way will only get better and more efficient. 2021 will see more marketers and CX teams using advanced technology like AI to innovate. Partly because the opportunity is there to road test increasingly mature, proven cognitive technologies. Partly because the digital acceleration caused by Covid has yet to slow down, and use cases for AI (and related tech have never been clearer.
- Lara Caimi at ServiceNow emphasises the importance of natural-language AI. She believes enterprises will “accelerate AI investments that empower employees and customers… in areas where humans excel in the most natural way possible: creative thinking, customer interactions, and unpredictable work.”
- Advanced technology innovation will be unleashed at top organizations polled by Gartner. Almost 30 percent of CIOs have secured extra funding specifically to support more risk-taking/experimentation in IT.
- According to McKinsey, it usually takes 10 years or more for “game changing technologies to evolve from cool new things to productivity drivers”. Covid changed all that, acting as a turbo boost for far faster transition in areas like AI and digitization.
- One of Bain & Company’s 10 tech trends for 2021 is “AI for All”. The principle is that AI tools are becoming so intuitive that users no longer need any data/computer science skills to develop their own AI models. They cite the example of DreamQuark’s Brain, an automated AI platform for finance industry customer engagement teams.
- Post-pandemic concerns about contagion will herald a first wave of ‘touchless’ user interfaces, says Forrester. These 2021 forerunners may miss the mark initially, ahead of more sophisticated inclusive design websites and other assets developed in the future.
“User-friendly AI platforms that allow business employees to quickly build models, easily understand and trust their output, and confidently make decisions will be critical in the deployment of AI at a larger scale.” (Truc Mai Dupont Vohong, Bain & Co.)
Imagine a world where companies use AI to better understand and interact with customers
Our business has several use cases for applying AI to improve customer interaction
Commit to assessing AI-driven tools that potentially enhance your customer operations. Develop and test pilot schemes and implement based on measurable ROI and KPIs.
Customer Engagement Cognizant of Climate Change and Social Responsibility
Corporate diversity, equality and environmental sustainability are top consumer issues, particularly among younger groups
The growing acceptance that climate change is now a climate emergency is manifest in how consumers choose (and stick with) favored brands. At the same time, audiences are more aware of social justice issues to the extent that it affects purchasing habits and their perception of brands’ values.
- According to Deloitte, CEOs most often cite “impact on society” as their most important success measure. What’s more, millennials and Generation Z are most likely to support companies that share their values and walk away from those that don’t.
- Deloitte also showed how consumer brand preferences have been affected by Covid-19, with significant numbers basing future decisions on how brands are responding to the crisis for social good. This ViacomCBS study shows that 85% of consumers in the Gen Z age group are swayed by brands’ interaction with the social issues of the day.
- Andrew Dunbar of Appnovation correlates the importance of these trends with the rise of ‘content burnout’. With consumers being ‘purpose-driven’ and actively seeking brands that align with their ethical beliefs, brands have the opportunity to form a ‘visceral connection’ by tuning their content approach.
- Contactless marketing will come to the fore in order to maximize sustainability, says Fernando Angulo of SEMrush. Consumers are also asking brands to be “more conscious of their decisions and preach by example.”
“From refugee rights to body positivism, we’ll likely see brands take up the charge of value-driven content more in 2021, with a data deep-dive again helping to inform the nuance of what different audiences truly care about.” (Andrew Dunbar, Appnovation)
E-commerce helps the environment compared to shopping in stores.
E-commerce harms the environment without renewable energy and sustainable packaging.
Consider how all your decisions will be perceived by customers, even those that don’t directly affect them. Define your brand’s purpose, find its distinct voice, and be transparent about the values you represent.