The world of commerce is continually changing and evolving as a direct impact of technological advances. This year, we’ve learned how much technology can shape our experiences and how important it is to use it correctly to make customer journeys frictionless.

Consumer expectations shift quickly, and everything in retail changes rapidly. In fact, I would argue that, for most businesses, nothing about the year 2020 felt “normal” for either end of the commerce interactions (the consumers and the producers).

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As a result, businesses need to adapt quickly to meet the needs of their customers. Whether you’ll be one of the winners who will come out of this pandemic crisis with positive outcomes (or not) hinges mainly on how well you can still deliver value to your customers in the way they want.

We’ve identified five key trends companies can jump on next year to future-proof their customer experience strategies:

#1 AI as a Customer Insights Tool

Faster, smarter, and easier – three words that need to define 2021 expectations for customer experience. But now more than ever, businesses are operating with lower budgets and headcount – 52% of companies planning to reduce the size of their customer service team as a result of the current economic downturn (Source: Intercom)

Offering excellent customer experience means more than solving one-off issues. Today, it also involves understanding the context of the issues and guiding the customers with related options and services to solve their problems faster. It’s all about understanding and anticipating the customer’s intent and delivering the right experience at the right time.

With the rise of cognitive automation and AI-powered chatbots, many businesses can now use customer insights to make their chatbots smarter — and more helpful.  More broadly than ever before, many AI platforms are being integrated with chatbots and other conversational interfaces. Chatbots can cut operational costs by 30% (Source: IBM), and, better yet, when connected with popular social messaging, chatbots can help acquire new customers and keep existing ones (case study here).

#2 Humanization is key

Despite constant technologization, the future of retail CX is still human (Source: Forbes). People in 2021 are made of the same “fabric” as people in 1960.

Even though businesses are using machine learning, chatbots, and other technologies to help manage the volume of queries, they still need to listen to their customers and adapt their strategy based on what’s working or not for them. Building an emotional connection with your customers is now imperative – this will continue to be the most significant trend throughout 2021.

One fundamental way to improve brand affinity and buying experience is to make sure your chatbot has a personality that echoes your brand. Much like in the past, consumers will expect brands to meet their expectations during every aspect of their shopping journey, and a personalized approach will drive 80% of customers to purchase products and services (Source: Epsilon)

#3 Workflow that Reflects the Customer Journey

Technologies are empowering not just your customers — your workforce, too. Having a robust database that allows you to get insights into your customers’ behavior remains at the core in 2021. Coupled with the tools to connect the customer data with the organization’s workflow, businesses can provide seamless experiences throughout the customer journey.

Cloud platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 make it easier for businesses to design and automate workflows by connecting their frontline actions (across marketing, sales, and service) with backend operations and systems (such as CRM and ERP).

Moreover, those platforms can also make it simpler to access various third-party services such as communication channels to reach billions of consumers, all from a single platform.

By leveraging such tools geared towards line-of-business users (versus IT professionals), businesses can speed up technology adoption across departments. This approach can enable different teams to make better decisions and actions to get the most out of the data and tools available to them. For example, marketing can trigger actions based on customer service incidences that have been siloed in a more traditional workflow.

#4 Omnichannel experience as a standard practice

Customers are now expecting brands to meet them on their preferred channel anytime and, importantly, with a consistent experience. If there are gaps between different digital channels, say social media and email or live chat, customers will quickly get frustrated. Omnichannel communications platforms allow businesses to avoid the gaps and move away from a siloed approach to a one-voice approach.

A few tools that businesses can quickly deploy to make omnichannel shopping experiences more personal include social messaging platforms (WhatsApp, Viber, Line, etc.), social listening tools, chatbots, and other conversational commerce tools.

As customers grew tired of installing mobile and web-based applications, more companies utilized well-known messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp for Business, or Viber to communicate with them

#4 Conversational Commerce on Messaging Platforms

Conversational commerce is the major trend that will drive many initiatives moving forward beyond 2021. The rapid advancement in the tech sector, ranging from communications platforms to artificial intelligence, fuels the adoption across industries.

Leading cloud communications providers such as tyntec are taking conversational commerce to the next level by integrating automaton technologies and messaging channels with many popular business solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, IBM Watson, Slack, and Shopify.

As most online consumers still come from Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Y demographics, it’s no surprise that messaging platforms are the preferred channel where business transactions are made. After all, messaging platforms satisfy the consumer needs shaping the trends: faster, smarter, and easier. Not to mention the familiarity factor, as these generations grew up on messaging.

No matter where your organization is in the digital transformation journey, expect to see more business transactions happening on conversational channels this new year and beyond.

#5 Forward-looking Innovations – with Lessons Learned

Even before the pandemic, it was clear to many businesses that what got us here won’t get us there. In this path to recovery from the COVID-19 crisis we’re currently on, that truism has a new level of resonance.

To grow in this post-pandemic era, businesses need to meet the new digital experience standards set by their customers. Accessibility and efficiency are crucial to making customers feel valued and remain loyal. In a world of uncertainty, customers want to feel that they control their purchases of goods and services. And that tendency will outlast the pandemic and reshape their expectations – again.

By taking concrete steps to harness the trends outlined above, businesses can acquire new customers and keep their existing ones loyal.

Jean Shin, Director Strategy and Content, tyntec

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