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Digital CX in 2021: What changed and what stayed the same?

5-minute read

2020 was the year that propelled digital transformation as companies had to pivot and quickly rely on e-commerce as a primary channel. In a matter of months companies that previously generated 15% to 30% of their revenue online, were suddenly deriving 100% in the same space. At the start of 2021, many people hoped life would return to normal, and for a few months it seemed like it might. But one thing that didn’t change was the revenue expectations and new targets set for digital channels. 

Across industries and geographies, many boardrooms liked the big numbers that had been achieved and teams were told to maintain them by focusing on customer experience (CX). But this brought with it a whole new set of challenges:

  • Increased competition
  • Raised customer expectations
  • Shifting customer buying behaviors
  • Big brands going Direct-to-Customer (DTC)
  • Changing concept of money
  • Desire for greater personalization

These challenges have opened the door to more transformations within companies. We believe that there are a few overarching themes.

Maturing CX efforts requires a mindset shift

There was a time when a mediocre digital experience was acceptable or perhaps even expected. That time has passed. The bar has been raised and it’s not coming down, which means companies need to mature their CX efforts despite the challenges they’re facing. This requires a major mindset shift. 

For one, we need to accept and embrace the fact that CX is never done. Even when companies create a winning customer experience that generates a nice bump in sales or subscriptions, it’s not a box that can be checked and filed away as success. The experience may have been a win for that particular group of customers, for that product, or that particular moment in time. But CX is constantly evolving and is only as good as the last great experience. At best it becomes the new benchmark to improve upon. Shifting to an approach of continual learning and improvement is far better suited to improving CX. Companies that adopt this approach will quickly make up ground. 

To say customer expectations of digital experiences have been raised in 2021 is an understatement. But consider it from a customer perspective. In 2020, customers knew that companies were challenged and they were willing to accept mistakes. Now by the end of 2021 most customers feel that companies have had more than enough time to figure things out. Online experiences should be effortless. Some brands have gotten it right, why can’t everyone else? Customers don’t really care that most companies don’t have the resources of CX giants like Netflix and Amazon to make things come together seamlessly. They’ve sampled great CX and they want more of it, it’s as simple as that. 

With so many moving parts that make up CX, connection is becoming increasingly important, both in the marketplace and within companies. The traditional siloed approach typical in most enterprise companies can seriously handicap CX efforts. The companies succeeding at CX don’t operate in silos. Rather there’s a strong culture of learning and collaboration between teams. In the future, CX won’t be owned by a single department. As the value of CX continues to gain recognition, CTOs, CMOs, CIOs, and even CFOs will all have a vested interest in sharing insights and strategy so that together the brand can elevate its CX efforts. 

One element of business that can’t be ignored is the context of money. In a growing number of cultures, customers no longer carry cash or checkbooks. If they don’t pay by credit or debit card, they pay via a multitude of connected apps. This impacts both the in-store and online experiences. Customers want a choice of payment options that’s both secure and convenient. 

Crypto currencies, while still controversial, may well be the currency of the future. Some countries are pivoting their entire economies on this belief. If this change happens, how will companies adapt to meet these marketplace shifts? 

Experimentation is critical to the future of CX

With so many variables in play, and especially the increased demand in personalization, companies need to advance beyond traditional A/B testing tools if they want to find answers on how to improve CX. 

Personalization is a moving target and means different things to different people. The big takeaway with personalization is relevance—customers want to be understood more than known. Companies need to identify what information is relevant and where the line exists between offering a more personal service and being creepy by telling customers how much is known about them.  

Ongoing experimentation driven by artificial intelligence is the future of CX optimization and personalization. AI is ideally suited to the complexity of CX and can keep track of the constantly changing variables. In fact, AI uses these variables to identify which ideas digital visitors are responding to, learns from those responses and uses those insights to serve up more relevant experiences to the next visitors. That is incredibly powerful in being able to deliver real-time personalization that is impactful.

A huge benefit of AI-driven experience optimization is that it's geared towards finding the top performing ideas and combinations so that it can send more traffic to those experiences and drive greater lift in the process. Whether goals are increasing conversions, add-to-cart rates, average order values (AOV), or progression through the sales funnel, optimization can not only identify the top performing ideas and combinations, but also show why those ideas are doing so well. 

Consider how gaming has evolved from Pac-Man eating a row of dots in a maze to players involved in fully immersive, connected digital gaming experiences. CX is the new battleground that requires a new strategic approach to deliver on customer expectations for greater connectedness rooted in personalization. Advanced technologies such as AI have an important role to play because they can facilitate experimentation at scale and generate valuable insights quickly. It’s this connection to and understanding of customers that can drive value because it creates context and shows relevance.

The reality is that some companies are already well ahead in the CX game. Not prioritizing CX will result in everyone else losing ground. The shift to digital has already happened, from a customer perspective, the growing pains should have passed. Now customers are wielding their buying power and spending their money with brands that consistently deliver the best experiences.  

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