Twitter LinkedIn

What will happen in 2021? Our top ten digital customer experience trends

  • By 3chillies

As 2020 draws to a close, we inevitably start to think about what 2021 may hold and the kinds of plans we need to consider for the coming year. 

It’s difficult to talk about anything that will happen in 2021 without reference to COVID-19. It’s the elephant in the room that will continue to dominate plans and approaches for months to come, but also steer our hopes that later in the year, we will approach some form of relative normality. 

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the way we work and how we interact with customers. The pivot to digital and scaling-up of digital interactions has raised the bar for digital teams across all organisations through content, apps and experiences. There is more emphasis on digital customer experience than ever before. 

At the same time, virtual working and a tough economic climate have driven some huge challenges. Here at 3Chillies, most of our project delivery has been virtual, and while it has largely been business-as-usual for us, we are looking forward to when we can safely visit and interact with customers and each other face-to-face again.

To help you think about some of the trends around digital customer experience we might see in 2021 and assist you in considering your plans for the new year, here’s our view of the top ten emerging trends around digital customer experience.

We’ve stared into our crystal ball and this is what we have come up with… of course, we can’t guarantee they will actually happen!

1. Competition across digital experience platforms will drive better solutions for digital marketers

Over the past few years, competition between digital experience providers such as Sitecore and Episerver have helped to drive better and more complete content management digital experience solutions for digital marketing teams. Having more options is a good thing, and teams can now access an increasingly wide range of powerful capabilities, even at the entry level within the market. Whether you want a basic CMS or an entire digital ecosystem, providers are lining up to offer a plethora of options. 

In 2021, we see competition among digital experience platform (DXP) providers continuing to drive product investment - good news for everybody. For example, at the recent 2020 Sitecore Symposium, Steve Tzikakis, Sitecore’s new CEO, reiterated powerful ambitions for Sitecore to become the leading platform in the sector; he also confirmed the release of new capabilities such as auto-personalisation that will extend deeper Sitecore capabilities to smaller customers. 

2. Difficult economic conditions will drive the need for efficiency and a focus on existing capabilities

Economic fragility and uncertainty are likely to be characteristics of working in 2021 amidst the continuing pandemic, alongside other potential  factors like Brexit. We think this will mean there may be hesitation in signing off on larger digital projects, although this may be offset by the need to pivot to digital customer experiences with the continuing impact of COVID-19. 

Overall, we think teams will focus more on getting the most out of the platforms they already have by:

  • Unlocking and leveraging existing capabilities
  • Optimising platforms around key processes to drive efficiency
  • Focusing on content. 

Getting ROI out of your current platform is good practice anyway, and can set the foundations for bigger projects  when better times return.

3. Innovation will be a key theme for 2021, with new digital services and apps making the headlines

Another potential outcome from difficult trading conditions is the driving of digital innovation. The creation of new digital services and apps is a fertile area anyway, but with continuing lockdown conditions  driving more digital interactions in 2021, as well as an urgent need to create new revenue streams, we think innovation will be high on the agenda. 

Better support for app development makes this an area worth considering, where investment levels don’t need to break the bank. Based on current trends, we expect to be helping more clients turn their innovative ideas into pilots and products in the new year.

4. Strong DevOps delivery will be crucial as many projects remain virtual

For many of us, working from home has taken some getting used to, and has become second nature for some of us. It’s also meant that project delivery has been largely virtual, with most of our interactions with customers occurring online in Teams or Zoom meetings. However, there are elements of project management and communication that are sometimes more easily done face-to-face, and virtual projects are arguably more prone to miscommunication and misunderstandings.

We’ve actually found that virtual project delivery is very straightforward, especially when it’s underpinned by clear and transparent processes, and supported by good systems. Here, a DevOps approach is key, providing the right practices and approaches that minimise risks, thus supporting clear communication and great project delivery. Because we’ve invested in DevOps and it is at the centre of what we do, virtual project delivery is straightforward for us. Throughout 2021, we see a robust DevOps approach becoming a dependency for strong project delivery.

5. Better support for development processes from CMS providers like Sitecore will drive efficiencies and development quality

Increasingly DXP and CMS platform providers are offering support for processes which help drive efficiency, support quality, and minimise risks in development and deployment. For example, in the release of Sitecore 10, official container support, content serialisation and other advances in support for headless development all arguably make life easier for IT teams and lead to smoother deployments, better project outcomes and more agile and iterative approaches.

In 2021, we expect teams to leverage these capabilities in development and deployment processes, with CMS providers continuing to support good practices. This is good news for digital agencies and client IT teams, but we also think that marketing teams will feel the benefits too.

6. Digital customer experiences will focus on "moments", combined with granular personalisation

At this year’s all-virtual Sitecore Symposium, Sitecore’s CMO Paige O’Neill gave an interesting speech about customer experience and how, increasingly, customers will expect experiences that are relevant to their particular “moment” and individual interests. This means shorter planning cycles and more iterative approaches for digital marketing teams will be necessary.

We’d largely agree with this view; in the backdrop of a rapidly changing and volatile world, the experience of the “moment” is one that will get more attention. We also foresee a trend towards increasingly granular experiences, reflected in platform capabilities around personalisation, analytics and AI.

Sometimes, these headline trends are evident in the actions of early adopters and leading-edge teams; whether they translate into wider take-up of capabilities such as more advanced personalisation remains to be seen.

7. More empathetic and human-centred content will remain flavour of the month

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has not only changed what we do, but also how we feel. We observe that the pandemic has impacted organisational culture to become more people-focused and empathetic - there are many inspiring examples of employees helping their peers and organisations supporting clients. CEOs have also adopted a more transparent and listening style of leadership.

We see this translating into more “empathetic” content for customers that highlights support, help, values and community-driven initiatives. This empathetic focus in content was another future trend mentioned by Paige O’Neill in her keynote speech at the Sitecore Symposium.

8. Accessibility will be an increasing area of focus

Digital accessibility is an important topic that has received more attention than ever in the past two years, but many organisations still don’t make it the priority area they should. We see a variety of factors meaning accessibility will get more attention  in 2021, including the passing of the deadline for all public sector websites to be made accessible (September 22nd 2020), the rising importance of diversity and inclusion, the need for digital services and information to be accessible for all during COVID-19 and the more empathetic efforts of organisations to support customers.

9. Data privacy and security will stay increasingly important for customers

COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns have  raised the stakes around ensuring cyber-security and guaranteeing the safeguarding of private data. The pivot to digital means that there are more cyber-attackers around, and we can see subsequently enhanced expectations from customers around the duty of care that organisations need to execute to safeguard their data.

This focus means that digital teams in 2021 need to be more mindful of data privacy and security issues; this is not just about GDPR and reducing risk, it’s also an opportunity to differentiate and show leadership in an area of genuine concern for customers.

10. AI will continue to be normalised as part of the everyday experience for both customers and content teams

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area that still creates high and low expectations in equal measure. In 2021, we see AI becoming a bit even more mainstream and, dare we say it, a bit more useful. Chatbots have appeared in customer experiences for a while now with mixed results, but as the numbers grow, so does acceptance. Similarly, AI is a product feature we believe will be of increasing help to marketing teams, such as in auto-personalisation, delivery of insights and intelligent marketing automation. In 2021, AI will continue to emerge as part of the everyday working and customer experience

Here’s to 2021!

2020 was a difficult year, and we’re looking forward to getting stuck into 2021. We hope our overview of the trends we foresee is helpful in starting conversations and getting you thinking. Do you agree with us? Is there anything we got wrong? Will something take us completely by surprise? We look forward to continuing the conversation with you over the coming months!

scroll back to the top of the current web page