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7 digital customer experience trends for 2021

So that’s nearly a wrap for 2020, and most of us will be glad to see the back of an unsettling year. While hopefully a brighter 2021 beckons, the impact of the pandemic and its aftermath will be felt throughout next year. Digital marketing teams planning their approaches and activities for 2021 should consider some of the likely trends which will arise that provide both opportunities and challenges. It will also help for developers working in customer experience to keep an eye on what’s happening too.

Here at Cylogy, we’ve been looking into our crystal ball to predict what might happen next year. Here, we should not expect 2021 to feel like a return to 2019; nobody is expecting that things will be exactly the same as before. The scaling up of digital experiences has been a catalyst for trends that were already happening, and some of the approaches and measures that have been put into place during 2020 have long-term value. We are likely to be carry out more activities digitally in 2021 than we were in 2019; the world has changed.

Below are our views on seven digital customer experience trends we can expect to see in 2021.

1. Customer experience continuing to pivot toward digital

During 2020, the pandemic meant that, where possible, customer experiences pivoted to digital; for example, conferences including Sitecore’s own Symposium went fully virtual. With the pandemic still underway and lockdown conditions in place, we see customer experience predominantly focusing on digital channels for the time being.

While we sincerely hope that in the latter half of 2021 we will return to a place where face-to-face interactions are more possible, we believe marketing teams will want to leverage the digital channels and formats they have already created, with a continuing emphasis on the digital customer experience as a way to engage with audiences.

2. AI makes further inroads into digital customer experience

Artificial Intelligence (AI) grabs attention and headlines that can act as a distraction to its true value. AI is not something that always needs to be referenced as a future feature: it’s already delivering value in the current world of digital customer experience, often as a product feature.

We believe that in 2021, AI will continue to make inroads in the world of digital customer experience in two main ways:

1. AI will continue to drive the normalization of chatbots in customer experience, with increasing acceptance from customers and accelerated value experienced by marketing teams.

2. AI will help content marketing teams craft relevant customer experiences through automation and analytics; for example, the launch of Sitecore’s AI-driven auto-personalization feature in 2021 is an exciting development that will be valued by many teams.

3. Experience platforms focusing on fine-tuning personalization

A takeaway from the recent Sitecore Symposium, reflected in the keynote address from Sitecore’s CMO Paige O’Neill, was that in the future we need to be delivering increasingly “customer-centric and granular” experiences to meet expectations and remain competitive.  Here, factors such as personalization, the need to bring customer data together for a thorough understanding of customer groups, and the need to be able to respond quickly are all part of the mix.

However, it’s true that many customer experience platforms like Sitecore come equipped with a considerable armoury of capabilities which already assist with this. Therefore, the developments in experience platforms that we believe we will see this year are likely to focus on two areas – one on lowering the barriers of entry for teams to leverage those capabilities (such as through AI), and the other on providing even better ways to fine-tune experiences through personalization and analytics.

4. Headless continues to make headway

Using a headless CMS and approach in digital customer experience has been an option for a number of years now and has a plethora of benefits. For marketers, headless allows for the easier exploitation of content across different channels and formats such as apps, while for developers, it means the ability to work on a greater variety on projects that don’t require knowing all the finest nuances of a particular CMS.

In recent years, Sitecore has increased its support of headless through various releases, while Episerver also supports headless approaches through its RESTful API. Whilst we don’t expect anyone to regard 2021 as necessarily the “year of headless”, we think it will continue to make headway in the background as an option for marketers and technologists. 

5. Content wraps around empathetic themes

The pandemic has seemingly influenced the mindset of the world, moving toward a more empathetic worldview that puts caring for others at center stage. In 2020, we’ve certainly seen this reflected in digital content and campaigns, with more emphasis on themes of help and support for others. How long this ‘worldview’ stays relevant is up for debate, but we certainly think it will influence content throughout 2021 to focus more on purpose, mission, community, values and other similar themes. In terms of content, empathy is in, and edgy is out.

6. Reduced budgets means teams get the best out of what they have

2021 will see a fragile global economy that may still undergo various aftershocks; it’s also possible that the full economic fall-out of COVID-19 has not yet been felt. We expect this to mean that budgets will continue to be under pressure, with CFOs keeping a lid on non-essential investment. Big, extravagant spending on digital marketing may not be possible; instead, we can see teams getting the best out of the systems they already have. This is not always a bad thing; for example, Sitecore packs a lot of power that is not always exploited, and this may be the year teams choose to leverage the platform capabilities they have already paid for to improve customer experiences.

7. Data privacy, accessibility and security require the right guardrails

The pandemic has meant the world has gone more digital, thus boosted interactions across a wider section of the population. This means that while we focus on customer experience and strong content, it is also important that we do not forget other important areas that impact customers, including the need to ensure good levels of accessibility (usually by meeting the WCAG 2.1 standards), as well as preserving data privacy.

Customers expect businesses to safeguard their private data and keep it secure, and companies that fail to do this can expect to lose business. We’d like to think that in a more empathetic working environment, the guardrails we need around ensuring data privacy, security and accessibility will be a given, and be acted upon automatically by digital customer experience teams.

Planning for 2021

We expect 2021 to be a fascinating year in the world of digital customer experience, with both opportunities and challenges on the cards. We hope this article has helped to kickstart the considerations and conversations that will help you to plan for next year and all that it brings.

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