Seems like just yesterday we were pouring over lists of predictions for 2020, and considering all the ways in which the digital experience wars would heat up. But that was a whole year (and lifetime!) ago, and heat up they did…

Little did we know what lay ahead, and the extent to which the best-laid digital plans would need to be rethought. While customer journey analysis was already the key brand differentiator in 2019, the pandemic context and lockdown shift to digital, drastically raised the bar on CX-cellence, and forced many companies to fast-track digital improvements to stay relevant.

Maintaining business continuity as the world around us shut down became a key focus of brands everywhere, and beyond its status as the ‘convenient’ option, digital emerged as the only ‘always-reliable’ option. 

Overnight, we all became acutely aware of how much we relied on digital — to stay informed, order necessities, keep working, socialize, etc. With our offline lives restricted, being online was suddenly a much more emotional affair. 

It certainly has been a challenging year. The speed of digital acceleration has been fierce, but it has also put brands in a much better position to write the future of customer experience. And one thing’s for sure: businesses today are a whole lot closer to their customers than they were this time last year. Now using DXP software is the next step towards dominating the eCommerce world.

Instead of offering predictions in these anything-but-predictable times, here are four 2021 customer experience trends to look out for this year:

1. Customer centricity as the “means”, not the objective

Customer-centric isn’t a badge of honor, it’s a verb. What do I mean by that? That the only way to ensure your experience is aligned with your customers’ wants and needs is to make sure your CX strategy is driven by the people who use your services or shop your platform. After all, consumers are continuously communicating their likes and dislikes with every tap, scroll, hover and swipe — collecting this feedback and understanding their digital language is key to building the experiences your visitors want and deserve.

In fact, you could say that 2020 revived the lost art of listening. The pandemic affected customer behaviors in ways we could never have predicted, forcing businesses to listen more closely than ever before to consumer priorities. Supermarkets piloted virtual lines to help shoppers avoid crowds, resort group ClubMed refocused its offering on at-home activities, and many others were able to rethink the way they do things and even reinvent themselves.  

Hopefully, 2021 will not throw quite so many challenges our way, but one thing is certain: customer-centricity needs to be baked into your experience strategy. The good news is, if your methods and technology are customer-driven, and if your innovation is spurred by customer insight, you’ll be able to cut through the noise and excel in your CX. By using funnel optimization tools, mobile app heatmapping, and sessions replay you will blow the competition out of the water.

2. Keep the digital momentum going

The pace of digital transformation these past twelve months has been dizzying, it’s true. But now’s not the time to slow down! 2020 has been described as a ‘before and after’ year, and where digital is concerned, there is certainly no going back. Consumer behaviors have changed a lot this year: people who never shopped online now have standing orders on online grocery sites, we meet our doctors virtually, even our children have Zoom accounts. And brands have had to think on their feet to enhance and expand the digital CX: from launching new eComm platforms to adopting AR technology overnight, bridging the gap between offline and online has tested many a company’s agility this year.

The silver lining is that this type of crisis management has helped brands improve their ability to roll out successful digital initiatives at scale and speed. And if there’s one thing we know about customer behaviors, it’s that they are anything but static. Equipping your team with the ability (and tools!) to respond quickly and efficiently to the unpredictable is the best way to ensuring ongoing agility and digital success.

3. Digital happiness & the emotional side of analytics

We’ve all experienced emotionally-charged situations online this year. From setting an alarm clock to refresh the delivery slot page in the middle of the night to failing to set up your child’s remote learning account — our increased reliance on digital has come with its fair share of frustrations. It’s no surprise then that Forrester is predicting “CI leaders will shift 10% of their insights budget to emotion analytics” this year. Indeed, tracking clicks and conversions is not going to tell you all that much about how visitors feel about the CX. However, The use of tools like page heatmapping, visual merchandising analytics, and AI analytics will do just that.

New behaviors require new metrics. The ability to understand what frustrates visitors and what delights them is key to creating human digital experiences and personalization that actually matters. Retention, conversion, market share and brand awareness will continue to be key focuses of marketers everywhere, but if you can say your customers leave your app, site or online store happier than when they arrived, you’re doing something very right.

4. Who needs predictions when you have predictive analytics?

But how on earth do you make sure your customers are digitally satisfied? Well, there is an antidote to guesswork. Customer behaviors change fast and furiously but if you’re able to monitor digital interactions and surface opportunities for improvement in real-time, you’ll be able to keep pace with your customers. This type of agility is not only helpful to navigate a time of crisis, but will also be hugely beneficial around high-impact events like Black Friday. Think about it: if you can be alerted to any CX obstacles as they occur and fix them instantly, you won’t have to save your insight-gleaning for the post-mortem. 

When it comes to digital, you can’t predict the future but you can prepare your business for it. In order to have the competitive edge in 2021, brands will need to continuously improve the performance of their digital assets while creating value through innovation. Businesses that can combine a problem-solving mindset with a creative approach to experience building will be poised for success this year and going forward.