Customer experience has emerged as the key differentiator between competing brands in today’s fast-paced world.
Now, it’s not so much about the products you offer or the price customers are willing to pay, but rather how patrons feel when they interact with your brand.
Perfect the customer experience and you will be rewarded with loyal patrons who act as ambassadors for your business. Get it wrong and it could cost you dearly.
Importantly the elements that define a positive customer experience change over time, so here are five trends defining the customer experience in 2021.
Why CX matters
Customer experience (or CX) not only engenders loyalty, it increases the bottom line, with 86 per cent of customers willing to pay more for a good experience with a brand.
How much more? Well according to PwC, up to 16 per cent, and there are also benefits beyond the bottom line. The same research found 63 per cent of consumers will share more information with a company that offers a great experience.
And you don’t get a second chance to make a good impression. They further note one in three consumers will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.
So, what factors create a positive customer experience in 2021?
In a time-poor society, convenience has emerged as a major requirement for consumers, and the events of 2020 saw it gain even further importance.
PwC notes over 70 per cent of customers see convenience as key to their experience, and they expect it to occur in a variety of ways.
From buy online pick up instore (BOPIS) to a seamless omnichannel experience, customers want easy access to information, the ability to make swift purchases, and little friction in between.
No consumer wants to be just a number on a brand’s ledger. They want to feel valued for their individualism by a business that understands them and is prepared to meet their needs.
In 2019, research company McKinsey noted personalisation would be the hot-ticket trend in years to come, and Covid-19 further illustrated this shift.
Now it’s about hyper-personalisation through all stages of the purchasing journey, with technology like data and AI creating more “human moments”.
Communication and interaction
Communication became a key value in 2020, with consumers expecting to be kept informed. In many cases, businesses rapidly stepped up to the challenge, educating their customers about the implications of a swiftly changing landscape.
In fact, Forbes notes consumers actually trusted the information from business more than they trusted their own government in countries like the US.
This communication will continue to be an expectation and consumers will require it at all levels of their purchasing journey.
For example, in retail alone, 47 per cent of customers globally say the key role of a sales associate is to share product information, according to research by Manhattan Associates.
A further 13 per cent say the associate’s experience of products counts, while 11 per cent note it is the sales associate’s ability to suggest complimentary products. All these requirements are based on communication and human interaction, which PwC notes matters now more than ever, with 82 per cent of consumers stating they want more human interaction in the future.
The experience of staff drives that of the customer. In other words, the happier the staff and the better equipped they are, the more engaged they will be with their company, resulting in improved service.
Statistics back this up with research finding companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147 per cent, while businesses that excel at customer experience have 1.5 times more engaged employees than companies with a record of poor customer experience.
Meanwhile, businesses who recognise this movement will experience a two-fold improvement. The staff they have will be more loyal and likely to stay longer, while their passion and experience will also be reflected in the bottom line.
Social values have steadily been gaining importance in the eyes of consumers. Last year events like Covid and Black Lives Matter rapidly accelerated that trend.
Harvard Business Review explained Covid had put business’ social values to the test like never before, and many consumers looked to the corporate world to see how they handled both customers and staff during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Forbes reported 71 per cent of consumers said they would lose trust in a brand forever if they were perceived to be putting profit before people, and Manhattan Associates found 73 per cent of customers saw environmental sustainability as important when making purchasing decisions.
The socially aware trend is not shifting in a hurry and is more likely to intensify, with consumers placing increased pressure on brands to align their social values with their image and take action that supports that commitment.
The final word
In a world where differentiation is key, a positive customer experience allows brands to stand out from the crowd in a way that ensures their clientele feel valued, appreciated and rewarded for their patronage.
In return, satisfied customers will offer loyalty that goes far beyond spending with a particular brand -they will become brand ambassadors keen to share their experience with others.