2021: The Year of the Customer

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In 2009 one of the foremost Financial Services industry experts was giving my team a deep dive into the Global Financial Crisis (GFS) and its ramifications. According to him, one of the key reasons why it happened was that most people in key positions in both industry and government had probably never seen a full downturn in their careers. There was a bit of a hiccup during the dot com bust but nothing that seriously interrupted the long boom that began somewhere in 1988. They had never experienced anything quite like 2008; so they never imagined that such a crisis could actually happen.

Similarly, 2020 was an unprecedented year – in our lives and certainly for the tech industry. The GFC (as the name suggests) was a financial crisis. A lot of people lost their jobs, but after the bailouts things went largely back to normal. COVID-19 is something different altogether – the impact will be felt for years and we don’t yet know the full implications of the crisis.  

While we would like to start 2021 with a clean slate and never talk about the pandemic again, the reality is that COVID-19 will shape what we will see this year. In the first place it looks like the disease will still be around for a substantial part of the year. Secondly, all the changes it has brought in 2020 with entire workforces suddenly moving to operating from home will have profound implications for technology and customer experience this year.

As we ease into 2021, I look at some of the organisational and technology trends that are likely to impact customer experience (CX) in 2021.

#1 All Business is Now eBusiness

COVID-19 has ensured that the few businesses which did not have an online presence became acutely aware that they needed one. It created a need for many businesses to quickly initiate eCommerce. Forbes reported a 77% increase in eCommerce infrastructure spending YoY. This represents about 4 years of growth squeezed into the first 6 months of 2020!

From a CX point of view there is going to be far more interaction with brands and products through online channels. This is not just about eCommerce and buying from a portal. It is also about using tools like Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms more widely. It is about learning to interact with the customer in multiple ways and touching their journeys at multiple points, all virtually using the web – mostly the mobile web.

Ecosystm research shows that almost three out of four companies have decided on accelerating or modifying the digitalisation they were undergoing (Figure 1). It is fair to expect that this gives a further boost to moving to the cloud. For the customer it will mean being able to access information in many new ways and connect with products, services, brands at multiple points on the web.

Impact of COVID-19 on Digital Transformation

Since interacting with the customer at multiple points is new for most services, I foresee a lot of missed opportunities as companies learn to navigate a completely different landscape. Customers pampered by digitally native organisations often react harshly to even a small mistake. It will become critical for companies to not just become a bigger presence online but also to manage their customers well.

New solutions such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP), as opposed to CRM will become common. Players who are into Customer Experience management are likely to see huge business growth and new players will rapidly enter this space. They will promise to affordably manage CX across the globe, leveraging the cloud.

#2 Virtual Merges with Real

Virtual and Augmented Reality are not new. They have been around for a while. This will now cross the early adoption stage and is likely to proliferate in terms of use cases and importance.

AR/VR has so far been seen mainly in games where one wears an unwieldy – though ever-improving – headset to transport oneself into a 3D virtual world. Or in certain industrial applications e.g., using a mobile device to look at some machinery; the device captures what the eye can see while providing graphical overlays with information. In 2021 I expect to see almost all industrial applications adopting some form of this technology. This will have an impact on how products are serviced and repaired.

For the mainstream, 2020 was the year of videoconferencing – as iconic as the shift to virtual meetings has been, there is much more to come. Meetings, conferences, events, classrooms have all gone virtual. Video interaction with multiple people and sharing information via shared applications is commonplace. Virtual backgrounds which hide where you are actually speaking from are also widely used and getting more creative by the day.

Imagine then a future where you get on one of these calls wearing a headset and are transported into a room where your colleagues who are joining the call also are. You see them as full 3D people, you see the furniture, and the room decor. You speak and everyone sees your 3D avatar speak, gesture (as you gesture from the comfort of your home office) and move around. It will seem like you are really in the conference room together! If this feels futuristic or unreal try this or look at how the virtual office can look in the very near future.  

While the solutions may not look very sophisticated, they will rapidly improve. AR/VR will start to really make its presence felt in the lives of consumers. From being able to virtually “try” on clothes from a boutique to product launches going virtual, these technologies will deeply impact customer experience in 2021 and beyond

In the immortal words of Captain Kirk, we will be going where no man has gone before – enabled by AR / VR.

#3 Digital CX will involve Multiple Technologies

AI, IoT and 5G will continue to support wider CX initiatives.

The advances that I have mentioned will gain impetus from 5G networking, which will enable unprecedented bandwidth availability. To deliver an AR experience over the cloud, riding on a 5G network, will literally be a game changer compared to the capabilities of older networks.

Similarly, IoT will lead to massive changes in terms of product availability, customisation and so on. 5G-enabled IoT will allow a lot more data to be carried a lot faster; and more processing at the edge. IoT will have some initial use cases in Retail, Services and other non-manufacturing sectors – but perhaps not as strongly as some commentators seem to indicate.

AI continues to drive change. While AI may not transform CX in 2021, this is a technology which will be a component of most other CX offerings, and so will impact customer experience in the next few years. In fact, thinking of businesses in 2025 I cannot believe that there will be a single business to customer (B2C) interaction which will not feature some form of AI technology.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the technologies which will impact CX in 2021 – Connect with me on the Ecosystm platform.


Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Customer Experience Trends for 2021

Download Ecosystm’s complimentary report detailing the top 5 customer experience trends for 2021 that your company should pay attention to along with tips on how to stay ahead of the curve.

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Genesys Partners with Adobe to Break Data Silos in Contact Centres

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Contact centres were already on a path to modernisation – which got accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis. The need for omnichannel delivery and better insights from customer data has forced contact centres to adopt cloud solutions. Ecosystm Principal Advisor Audrey William says, “There is still a disconnect between integrating and synchronising customer data between Sales, Marketing and Customer Teams. However, the market is starting to see contact centre vendors work closer with vendors in customer experience management segment.”

Genesys and Adobe are collaborating on integrating Genesys cloud and the Adobe Experience Platform. The deeper integration of both platforms is aimed to give organisations a better omnichannel presence. The platform is live for users and Genesys and Adobe will introduce other features and capabilities throughout 2020. Genesys is already a partner of Adobe’s Exchange Program designed for technology partners to supplement Exchange Marketplace with extensions and applications for Adobe Creative Cloud users.

Augmenting the CX journey through Data Synchronization

Ecosystm data finds that 62% of contact centres have driving omnichannel experience as a key customer experience (CX) priority and 57% want to analyse data across multiple data repositories. However, when asked about the challenges of driving consistent CX, data access and integration appears to be a barrier in achieving their priorities. These challenges are the reason why getting a “true view” of the customer data has been an arduous task and achieving consistent CX continues to be a struggle.

William says. “The customer data collected by a particular service or department does not always move along in real-time with the customer interactions across different touchpoints. This complicates maintaining a real-time customer profile and impacts the CX.”

“Sales and Marketing have different KPIs and tend to view customer data from different angles. The data from in-store, Marketing and Sales interactions sits within departmental silos. They may deal with the same customers and not follow them through their entire journey. This leads to missed opportunities in reaching out to them at the right time with the right products to upsell, resell or provide better CX. Data synchronisation across channels, would solve that problem.”

Integrating Genesys and Adobe Experience Platform will give organisations the capability to provide contact centre agents with real-time customer data and profiles from a single point to provide an personalised experience. The platform is powered by Genesys Predictive Engagement that uses AI to provide more intelligence based on past interactions to drive effective, data-driven conversations. In addition to this, the partnership also enables businesses and marketing departments to customise campaigns and extend their digital and voice capabilities for optimal conversions. William says, “The ability to use AI to understand customer intent, behaviour and patterns is critical as it will allow brands to re-look at how to design the customer journey. When you keep using the same and outdated profile, it will be hard to have discussions around intent, customer interest and assess how customer priorities have changed. Accurate and automate data profiling will lead to more targeted and accurate marketing campaigns.”

Genesys Deepening Industry Partnerships

Genesys is re-shaping its strategy on Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) offerings through partnerships and working on its vision of providing Experience as a Service to its global clients. The need for CCaaS has been accelerated by the pandemic. Last month Genesys signed a five year deal with Infosys to develop and deploy cloud CX and contact centre solutions.

Earlier this year, Genesys partnered with MAXIMUS, a US Government services provider to set up the MAXIMUS Genesys Engagement Platform, an integrated, cloud-based omnichannel contact centre solution driven by the government requirement for public sector organisations to provide seamless customer experiences similar to those offered in the private sector.

The company has also partnered with various other industry leaders like MicrosoftGoogle Cloud, and Zoom to roll out cloud-based innovations to benefit customers.


Click below to access insights from the Ecosystm Contact Centre Study on visibility into organisations’ priorities when running a Contact Centre (both in-house and outsourced models) and the technologies implemented and being evaluated

Contact Centre Best Practices


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Sales & Marketing: Key Pillar in the Digital Transformation Journey

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5/5 (2) Organisations across all industries must leverage technology to transform and be part of the digital economy. This has significantly accelerated in the last couple of months as they are forced to transform to survive in these difficult times. Digital Transformation (DX) is no longer a hype, but organisations will continue to struggle to align their transformation priorities to deliver real business impact. From experience, the needs of the Sales & Marketing teams are often lost in the midst of competing for organisational priorities with process optimisation emerging as the first choice.

Why is it necessary for Sales & Marketing to transform?

Organisations’ Business Priorities

The primary reason is that organisations are responding to market pressure and putting customer experience (CX) ahead of even revenue growth as their key business priority (Figure 1).Business Priorities of Global Organisations

It stands to reason that if organisations have the improvement of CX and revenue growth as their top priorities, they should involve functions that have higher customer interactions in their DX initiatives. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, even though organisations are inherently aware that their customer base is evolving. Sales & Marketing is all about meeting customer needs, solving their problems and giving them a great experience. In today’s competitive world, an organisation will fail without a customer focus.

The Evolving Consumer

Customers are challenging organisations to change the way they deliver a great experience. Take the growth of smartphone use as an example. Almost any activity will have some element of the smartphone being involved – researching a product, using an app, looking at information posted on a social media platform, engaging with friends to get opinions. This is driving organisations to respond with a ‘Mobile First’ policy and a digital nimbleness which they must equip their Sales & Marketing teams to handle.

Social and digital platforms are also forcing marketers to evolve the way they grab their customers’ attention. Customer service has tremendously benefited from the drive to go digital. It can impact every Sales & Marketing operation, beginning from first consumer touchpoint, all the way through the customer journey, post-purchase engagement and even in predicting issues to prevent them. This requires a huge degree of automation in the Sales & Marketing processes.

Emerging Ecosystems

As the digital world becomes a reality for consumers, the traditional supplier-vendor-channel model might soon become redundant. This is the age of ‘influencers’ – bloggers, customers, vendors, and paid endorsements – and an ever-evolving ecosystem. Engagement with the digital community can be a game-changer for many organisations. Such strong digital community ecosystems are hard to include in the traditional marketing model.

What should Sales & Marketing do to transform successfully?

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee, has some real-world advice for organisations that are looking to transform their Sales & Marketing practices.

Align with your Basic Strategy

Evaluate your key business goals and work out the changes that are required to achieve those. These changes might be so small and incremental that it may not even appear to be a ‘transformation’. Keeping an eye on the goals, will ensure that you do not invest in areas that do not necessarily need changing. It will also ensure that you simply do not replace an existing process with a new one, without first working out how that change will impact your organisation.

Think beyond features – to the Benefits

Technology investments often end up being the shiny new toy. Decision-makers in organisations may get attracted to snazzy devices and application features – and lose sight of evaluating the true benefits of the technology. For instance, the sales rep selling in-store would have a very good idea of what sells and how much stock to carry. There may be no incremental benefit in equipping the rep with an app that provides real-time sales analytics and inventory data. So, the app gets relegated to being just a feature with no real benefits. On the other hand, a field sales rep might find it extremely useful, especially in sectors that are prone to unpredictable spikes in demand.

Be ready to Invest in the change

You have evaluated the changes that your organisation needs, you have identified the technologies that can truly benefit your organisation – you must be ready to invest in that change. This is not only about financial investments – you have to invest time and in people. This requires your organisation to think of the RoI, again not only in terms of finances but also in terms of effort. Be aware that your biggest challenge in implementing the required change might be people – so invest in making them less resistant and more welcoming of the change.

 

There will be distractions galore in your transformation journey – emerging tech areas, solutions that seem to be working for your competitors and so on. Mukherjee proposes a simple thumb rule, “If it fits the strategy and looks feasible go with it; if it is outside the agreed strategy then think long and hard, and then turn it down – or change the strategy!”


This blog is based on Niloy Mukherjee’s recent report titled “Digital Transformation in Sales and Marketing”.
Click here to download the full report ?

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