CXM Editor Debbie Walton had the pleasure of chatting to Simon Johnson from Freshworks, CXM’s winner of this year’s CX Stars Top 100 Professionals, about customer experience trends in 2021.

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What 2021 holds for the customer experience industry

The last 12 months or so have been very challenging for customer service teams, as they had to deal with a huge influx in enquiries alongside coping with staff shortages. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As we start to see small indications of recovery, the latest research from our CX Mandate shows some encouraging signs ahead for the customer service (CX) industry – from increased investment in technology to new flexible working practices. Here are three customer experience trends in 2021 I predict we’ll see much more of this year.

CX budgets will go up, not down

Interestingly, instead of seeing budgets pulled from customer service teams, our research showed a 75% increase to 2020 budgets when compared to 2019. Some of the biggest increases were seen in live chat and messaging (83%), cloud telephony (76%), collaboration tools (77%) and self-service (73%) as businesses looked to diversify the way in which they responded to their customers’ enquiries. We see no reason for this trend to subside as customer service teams focus more on the user journey and overall experience to enable their end-users to interact on the channels that are most preferable to them. Investment in cloud telephony and collaboration tools, for example, will be even more vital for businesses to deliver a seamless service for their customers.

The results of our research also show that businesses need to ensure any technology they roll out in 2021 has both inward and outward benefits. It’s clear that while chat and messaging functions, as well as self-service, are customer-focused technologies, cloud telephony and collaboration tools benefit the CX teams themselves. Any business looking to thrive during the year and beyond should really be maximising its investments and considering the advantages of a technology solution that can support both the internal team and external customers.

So, with a continued focus and appetite for healthy budgets, what can the above technologies tangibly do to support a disparate CX team?

This will be the year of hybrid working environments for CX teams

The results from our study show that some of the most purchased technologies this year, like cloud telephony and collaboration tools, support the new reality of remote working. But how does this new reality of remote working actually look like?

Our research found 43% of those surveyed believe that the future of the CX team will be one that blends an in-office and hybrid working from home environment. Furthermore, 20% thought the future would look 100% remote. If we compare these figures to before the pandemic, this was 26% in favour of the hybrid model and 6% saying they thought their team would be 100% remote. This clearly shows that 2020 has brought a seismic shift in how teams will operate and collaborate as we enter the new year. But how can brands ensure that customer experience does not suffer as a result?

It will be crucial that CX teams undertake three steps to prepare for the ‘next normal’. It all starts with messaging – the new telephone. As our results show, customers are looking for live chat and instant messaging features like WhatsApp to interact with brands, so using these channels is likely to result in happier, more satisfied customers. The next step is to implement chatbots to deal with rising contact volumes in a hybrid working environment. Chatbots will reduce the cost per customer interaction and bridge the gap between growing demand and a distributed CX team.

With the trend for at least the first half of this year looking like a continuation of 2020’s WFH hybrid environment, it’s important to ensure agent productivity continues to be high.  

Ensuring agent productivity remains high

Our research found that agent productivity took a hit last year, with nearly half (49%) of those surveyed saying COVID-19 has negatively impacted agent productivity. Customer support leaders will be looking to take the necessary steps to empower their agents to increase productivity and to focus their attention on high-value tasks.

The huge numbers of customer queries, especially during the Christmas period and into the new year puts a lot of strain on a business at the best of times. Support agents are overwhelmed with customer queries and can spend a good part of their day on repetitive tasks such as updating ticket properties, or information around the last contact date, after each customer interaction. With high numbers of tickets to process, this can result in customer satisfaction not always being the primary focus.

Tools such as an omnichannel dashboard that displays incoming tickets from all of the support channels a business offers are particularly helpful. Others, like AI-powered chatbots, can remove some of the backlogs in customer queries by automating simple questions and routing customer chats that require urgent attention through to human service agents. By providing the right tools to help offload the more mundane tasks, support agents will be motivated to focus on the higher value tasks and use their experience to optimise customer support processes.

Productivity challenges vary from one support channel to another. With businesses offering multi-channel support, a one-size-fits-all strategy will not work to improve agent productivity. This is why, business leaders must prioritise empowering their agents with the right tools to help them deal with specific challenges associated with each support channel. 

The months ahead may be unclear in some respects. But if businesses try to learn from the lessons of last year and continue to invest in solutions that make their employees’ and end users’ lives easier, they can find success. Following these predictions in customer experience trends in 2021, organizations can continue to deliver, whatever the next few months have to throw at them.

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