CX trends of 2021: the year of the “never normal”

By Noel Lavery, UK Sales Director, Infobip

2020 has been a year very few of us will forget. And as we move towards a new year which looks just as unpredictable, preparing for 2021 from a business perspective will require focus and agility.

Brands are operating in a hypercompetitive marketplace: one which has had to contend with national and local lockdowns, social distancing and curfews. And all are vying for consumer attention at a time when consumers are feeling overwhelmed at the amount of information they receive – from brands, from the Government, from peers and from the news. In tandem, customers are having to re-learn how to interact with brands – at home on digital channels or on the phone with agents working remotely.

We know consumers are more connected today than ever before (there are now more than four billion internet users globally). This doesn’t create less of a need for humanity in our day-to-day interactions; it does quite the opposite – it creates a hunger for it.

Brands can no longer just sell; today’s “digital natives” value personalised experiences more than ‘things’, and they expect brands to deliver. Here are my five predictions for the main CX trends we can expect in 2021:

 1.Keeping up with the customer 

 As consumers seek better customer experiences, loyalty is shifting to those experiences, rather than the brand. Our research found over a third (33%) of Brits have higher expectations for customer service since the first lockdown and a third (32%) said that they will not spend with a business that provides poor service again.

Whilst it makes sense to automate repetitive or easy to complete processes, consumers feel frustrated and angry if that experience isn’t personalised, or if they are not given an opportunity to communicate with a human where needed.

 As we approach 2021, the year of “never normal”, UK businesses must invest time and resources into delivering a hybrid customer experience. Embracing automation to deliver an immediate response, or quick answers to more simple requests, and then escalating more complex queries to agents who can deliver a more human experience.

In 2021, brands must be prepared for customers to engage with them how they want, when they want – whether that be via an app, a chatbot, WhatsApp or over the phone. Only then will they be able to ensure their customers remain loyal.

2.Wider adoption of RCS  

RCS Chat is text messaging for the smartphone age. It gives customers a richer, smarter, more app-like experience – all from their SMS inbox. It represents a new mode of conversational commerce – being able to develop a relationship through a two-way conversation. From letting travellers know which platform to get their train from and giving directions to stores, to letting shoppers pay for items in the easiest way possible.

And that’s what consumers are craving. Our research found that more than half (51%) of people believe that communication has become more important since the pandemic and a third (35%) want to engage with brands on digital channels.

Via RCS, brands can build meaningful relationships with customers by exchanging text, images, audio, video files, documents and location information. I hope 2021 will be the turning point for RCS to move from an experimental feature, to one of the most exciting forms of communication. It will take a few big players to help it get there, but the diversity of the channel is something brands and operators should embrace with open arms.

 3.Brands need to solve problems in 2021

 If brands fail to understand what customers want, they’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons. The brands destined to edge ahead of the pack in 2021 are those that combine technology + relevance + convenience so they can interact with their customers in a way that makes their days run that bit better: powering a moment that solves one of life’s everyday problems before it even arises.

The numbers tell the same story. Our research revealed that three-quarters (74%) of European customers find business messaging lacks a personalised, human connection, and almost half (47%) of consumers say that they ignore impersonalised messages. Businesses must focus on building and retaining human connections, and adapting to different audiences – whether it be sharing personalised messages about what a brand is doing to tackle climate change to a more conscious consumer, or simply messaging a shopper when their favourite perfume is on sale.

 4.Conversational User Interaction 

 Whether they know it or not, consumers communicate with robots all the time. Via chatbots, SMS messages sent by computers automatically, and even Alexa providing the weather forecast. In fact, consumers talk to robots so easily that the novelty has worn off.

Chatbots have had a bit of kicking over the years, but the AI technology and algorithms behind them are only set to get better thanks to progress in natural language processing technology. In 2021, customers will be able to interact with Chatbots which are programmed to not just answer questions but use a mixture of past behaviour and current dialogue to provide valuable suggestions. The end goal is to use AI to drive conversational interactions that feel as natural as interacting with another human being.

5.Coronavirus in 2021

COVID-19 will continue to change almost every facet of how we live and work. During the current crisis, many brands rushed through digital transformation projects to help cater to consumer needs. As the new, or perhaps more appropriate, “never normal” continues, consumers will expect the same level of customer service. In this changing world of CX, the businesses that deliver the best customer service and offer a positive experience across digital channels are the ones that will thrive in this challenging time.

Customer experience should be synonymous with a seamless, frictionless service. Companies must therefore re-think how they approach, communicate and engage with their customers to better serve what they need and expect. People are mobile first (and many are mobile only…), so in 2021, creating a more conversational world will require a mastery of the mobile device – and an understanding that immediacy is no longer a nice to have, but an absolute essential.