While predictions about customer experience trends in the 2020s have been doing the rounds for a while, no one could have anticipated the spanner in the works that was a global pandemic. The ways that consumers live, behave, shop and view the world have fundamentally changed in a manner that could never have been forecast. In fact, some studies suggest that the world experienced a decade of technological acceleration in a matter of days and weeks due to the challenges of lockdown. And this trend is set to continue.
With greater access to data, information and competitor brands online, pricing has less of an impact on customers than was previously the case; 86% of online shoppers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience (CX) from a brand. It’s even been shown that good CX can lead to a 300% boost in annual recurring revenue (ARR) over three years for brands that deliver.
In 2020, we spoke to some of the leading CX experts in the UK to get their thoughts on upcoming trends for 2021. Well, 2021 is almost over, giving us the perfect opportunity to see whether they were right and which customer experience trends in 2022 to look out for.
Feefo’s 2021 CX trends
Let’s begin by recapping Feefo’s 2021 CX trends before moving on to customer experience trends 2022.
1. Agile CX
One big lesson from the challenges faced in 2020 and 2021 was that the customer experience needs to be agile in nature. Those who quickly adapted to consumer trends and technological advancements thrived, while late adopters and laggards fell by the wayside. It’s also important to note that many industries faced interruptions due to no fault of their own — travel, events and high-street retailers fell victim to new laws, regulations and temporary lockdowns.
A key example of this is British supermarket Tesco, which quickly accelerated its online capabilities, reallocated resources and invested in an enormous recruitment drive to scale from 600,000 to 1,500,000 customers per week. As an essential business and key supermarket competitor, Tesco’s eCommerce revenue went from £3.3 billion to £5.5 billion. This is a prime example of a business utilising the three core elements of a recovery plan that we outlined at the end of 2020:
- People — Hire staff with the expertise to deliver successful CX
- Process — Consider implementing new processes that will help to deliver strong CX
- Technology — Have in place the right tools to meet your customers’ interactive needs
Nicolas Hammer, co-founder and CEO of customer interaction management platform Critizr Connections, predicted in 2020 that we’d see an increase in agile digital and CX capabilities, as well as a focus on ‘customer obsession’ throughout organisational cultures. At the end of 2021, Nicolas stands by this, noting that brands have embraced technology — such as WhatsApp customer service — to be where customers are and meet their expectations by responding quickly. Critically, businesses have had to train, manage and empower their staff to bring the all-important human touch to their transactions and build strong and profitable customer relationships.
2. Relationships over transactions
The second prediction for 2021 CX trends was a shift from pushing transactions to building customer relationships. We touched on this slightly in the agile CX trend. While so many consumers felt isolated at home, they often looked to brands to develop an emotional connection — customers wanted to feel supported by the businesses they chose to purchase from.
Customers are now, more often than ever before, expecting brands to not only talk about their values but to live and breathe them too. One good example of this is LatchAid, which launched its new app during World Breastfeeding Week to combat the stigma around breastfeeding that has led the UK to have one of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world. In just four weeks from launch, the majority of its users found that the app boosted their confidence and helped to create a sense of community — and in October, the NHS started prescribing it to patients as well.
“The value exchange is no longer only with brand and customer, but with brand, customer, and society — our world,” says Yasmin Borain, Chief Experience Officer at Tribal Worldwide London, in her 2021 CX trend prediction. For 2020, she adds:
“2021 was defined by embracing real change and acting (or replacing acting with transparency). Brands like Amazon and IKEA have recently increased and expanded their commitments with new initiatives to make good on their promises aligned to society’s new value system around social purpose and the environment. They could no longer just show up, they had to stand up, cultivate discussion and focus on the bigger picture impact.”
3. Trust, safety and inclusion
General levels of uncertainty, lockdowns and ever-changing travel rules have wreaked havoc on certain industries, including travel, tourism and leisure. Consumers are still uncertain and, in some cases, not ready to take the risk of booking a holiday or event because rules, regulations and laws are so regularly updated.
For 2021, 2022 and beyond, it’s important that businesses keep open lines of communication, leverage all channels and offer insurances and protections to help customers feel safe and informed.
In 2020, Ian Crawford, Brand Manager of online travel retailer Holiday Hypermarket, noted that while the desire to travel and get away has never been greater, travel and leisure industries have a responsibility to reassure customers using an omnichannel approach. A year on, Ian notes: “Last year we knew that highly visible reassurance messaging would play a key role in reigniting customer interest in international travel, but we never imagined how significant it would continue to be well into 2021. The ever-changing landscape of rules and regulations throughout this year has meant that, across the travel industry, trust and reassurance have continued to receive top billing on all channels, including websites, emails and social media.”
Looking to the future, Ian finalises by saying: “Although we’re now starting to see the opening up of travel restrictions, I think we will continue to see a strong need for a lot of reassurance on all marketing and booking channels, as well as customers waiting to book late so they feel more certain that their holiday will go ahead as planned.”
4. Shifting customer behaviour
With the shift in consumer shopping behaviour set to stay and online shopping steadily increasing, according to research by McKinsey & Company, it’s critical that businesses adopt greater digitisation. Crucially, businesses are aware of this, with 88% of 15,000+ survey respondents expecting an acceleration in digital initiatives in years to come.
Looking ahead to 2021, Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga, said in 2020: “COVID-19 has led to a number of accelerations across the business landscape, not least digital transformation. However, with the boom of e-commerce and online shopping, for example, there has been a noticeable shift in customers’ expectations and behaviour. Digital solutions have enabled customers to shop far more efficiently and effortlessly, with a smooth, end-to-end experience. However, speed is now vital. Customers want services and products in an instant, and the same can now be said for businesses. Companies require solutions and answers to their problems fast and expect information even faster. Expectations have never been higher.”
At the end of 2021, Ash stands by this prediction: “Leaders need to complete a thorough transformation assessment and build a transformation programme to ensure that they truly connect with customers and create a connected customer experience… Many will have experienced burnout or struggled with the challenges over the past two years, now it is time to get their business back on track!”
5. Digital experiences (DX)
There has been a sizeable shift over the last two years or so in ‘digital experiences’. While embracing and adopting DX was once a great additional marketing strategy, meeting customer expectations through the right digital strategy is now a must-have for businesses. This is applicable to brands whether they’re eCommerce-led, online services or local businesses. Digitalisation allows firms of all shapes and sizes to personalise their offering, create communities and deliver targeted experiences.
Interestingly, the B2B sector has been more reluctant to adopt modern digital technologies. While B2C brands are adopting advanced tools such as chatbots, reviews and intuitive add-ons, B2B businesses tend to put less effort into user-friendly experiences, often opting for small websites, one-off landing pages and one simple CTA: to book a demo, an appointment or to get in touch. But this is no longer enough to meet customer expectations. The next generation of CX is prompting a growth among B2B sites of self-service tools, allowing B2B companies to gain and maintain a competitive edge.
Ian Golding, global customer experience specialist at Customer Experience Consultancy noted in 2020 that brands can’t just adopt digital technology — DX is driven by using digital to improve the customer journey. In 2021, he comments that empathy within business has become more prominent this year and points out a renewed focus on ‘human-to-human’ interaction and human experiences, enabled by digital technology. For 2022, Ian suggests that brands “reflect on what has happened over the last 18 months” and “put plans in place to adapt to any potential disruptive event in the future”.
6. Data privacy and consolidation
With the introduction of GDPR in 2018, businesses have had to wrap their heads around customer data privacy and data laws for a few years now. But with the influx of home and remote working there have been new risk factors to consider. Not only do IT teams need to ensure that home workers are using secure, uncompromisable connections to keep customer data safe, they also need to apply this to all worker devices — including their personal ones.
Unfortunately, criminals have taken advantage of remote working practices — making cybercrimes and online scams even more prevalent in 2020, 2021 and beyond. According to Charity Digital, there are plenty of methods of exploitation to be mindful of in a post-pandemic world, such as crypto-mining, ransomware and phishing.
Dean Leung, Chief Customer Success Officer at cloud-based document management platform iManage, noted in 2020 that a dispersed and mobile workforce brings plenty of new challenges to IT and security teams. This isn’t just applicable to keeping data safe but also educating staff and employees on how to avoid cybercrimes. For 2021, Dean noted that short-term solutions are no longer as viable as they were at the beginning of the influx of remote working. A complete digital transformation is now in order to drive worker productivity as well as keep company data and devices secure.
7. Data science and AI innovation
One of the biggest and most widely mentioned CX trends was artificial intelligence (AI) innovations and the evolution of chatbots. This often utilises data from the ever-expanding internet of things (IoT), with consumers generating personal data from wearable devices, connected cars and home device automation.
Data science was heavily relied on by large-scale brands during the pandemic. UK broadcaster ITV conducted mass-testing to streamline the UX of its catch-up and on-demand streaming program, ITV Hub. Johnson & Johnson even adopted data science to help decide where it could test its initial investigational COVID-19 vaccine, so it could understand how many staff were needed at specific vaccination sites.
When it comes to AI and chatbot technology, predictions suggest that the market for this form of tech will reach £6.8 billion by 2024, with eCommerce brands leading the charge.
However, customer service chatbots aren’t the only anticipated development. Gartner research conducted as early as 2019 suggests that by 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms on a daily basis to help open files and increase workplace productivity.
As a customer experience trend for 2022, we expect chatbots to be used more frequently to solve customer queries, allowing customer service agents to focus on in-depth problems and solutions. As chatbots and digital assistants evolve, we can also expect to see:
- Automated payments using voice and digital assistants
- An increase in sentimental and context analysis
- Improvements to hyper-personalisation in conversations
- More complexity in their capabilities
- Better performance and more natural use of language
- Multilingual chatbots
We’ve briefly touched on the importance of delivering one-to-one, personalised customer interactions. But hyper-personalisation takes this trend even further and has firmly planted its place in the ever-growing list of customer expectations. In 2020, SmarterHQ — a marketing platform — found that over two-thirds (72%) of customers would only interact with a brand’s messaging if it was personalised to them.
A market-leading example of effective hyper-personalisation is Netflix. It is estimated that only 20% of its subscriber video choices come from customer searches — with 80% from recommended content based on each viewer’s history of the shows they’ve previously watched, rated or enjoyed.
The key to a successful hyper-personalisation strategy is, of course, data and AI. Bill Winkler, Principal Researcher of the US Census Bureau, called it when he said “80-95% of analysis time is cleaning data”.
Richard Robinson, Managing Director of digital transformation consultants Xeim, says that hyper-personalisation and personalised relationships are within reach of every brand. But the key to this is setting up for success with a clear plan including a data-mining process and robust analysis strategy. Ultimately, data is the key to exceptional CX in 2022 and beyond.
We can expect to see more investment in data cleansing, integrated data points and fine-tuned customer experiences as a result.
9. Authenticity and transparency
Four out of five CX experts say that consumers are becoming more sustainability-conscious. This figure comes from The Global State of Customer Experience 2021, which gained insights from over 200 customer experience experts. Our own internal research in 2021 showed that three-quarters of UK customers consider the brand values of a business before purchasing. Of those surveyed, 74% said they would be less likely to purchase from a brand if they were disappointed by a company’s words or actions on a social or political issue, with 57% agreeing that companies should be socially and environmentally responsible.
Authenticity and transparency similarly come into play when customers are making purchasing decisions. Another recent study of ours — Navigating The Negative — highlighted that 97% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase. Interestingly, the survey also found that customers aren’t always looking for 100% positive reviews, with 28% of consumers actively seeking to read negative reviews first. Feefo’s CMO James Shananan says: “We have seen that throughout 2021 consumers have needed more reassurance about the products and services they are buying.”
With authenticity and transparency key, 72% of shoppers said that they are concerned about fake feedback. Around a third (32%) of respondents noted that they’d actually delay a purchase if they were unable to find any negative reviews about a brand.
“Fake, overly positive or suspiciously gushing reviews are getting a lot of attention in the media, and it’s fascinating that people are now actively seeking out negative reviews for reassurance,” says Wendy Dignan, Psychologist. Dignan continues: “People know that firms can’t get it right every time, what they’re looking for is evidence that any issues are dealt with effectively.”
10. Employee experience (EX)
In what was dubbed “The Great Resignation”, there has been a mass exodus of staff leaving jobs and looked for new beginnings. This has been put down to employees re-evaluating their values, beliefs and priorities during and after the pandemic. Crucially, the change of perspective includes an inclination to work from home and regain a work/life balance. As a result, recruitment companies are seeing a big swing towards a candidate-led market, where businesses no longer have the luxury of long interview processes, hidden ‘competitive’ salaries or lengthy delays in feedback — this is set to continue as a customer experience trend for 2022.
Megan Neale, Co-Founder and COO of Limitless, says that companies “are dealing with gaps in their CX supply chains because they cannot fill customer service roles or retain staff”. It’s clear that a combination of dissatisfied staff and a poor EX can lead to a negative experience for customers.
This has placed a renewed focus on employee experience, including a new priority for HR departments to focus on the physical and mental health of staff. To actively retain staff and keep them satisfied at work, businesses need to invest in gaining a better understanding of their employees’ expectations, wants and needs. While benefits and rewards are a part of this, wearing jeans to work on a Friday or free workplace coffee rarely make up for the discomfort caused by a toxic company culture.
11. Video will transform customer engagement
Finally, pandemic trends have intensified the demand for video content. While video fatigue was to be expected, research has found that 84% of consumers have been convinced to buy a product after watching a video. From a business perspective, 86% have stated that they use video as a marketing tool, with 93% saying it’s a significant part of their strategy.
In 2020, David Parry-Jones, VP of EMEA at Twilio suggested that businesses would be looking to developers to build long-term video solutions that are more tailored and integrated for the best possible user experience. In 2021, he says that “the opportunity businesses now face is in utilising this data to better understand their customers, and we expect to see a big push in this area in 2022”. David suggests that as part of a customer experience trend in 2022, businesses of all sizes should be using first-party data to improve customer engagement.
CX trends 2022
Now we’ve looked back on the trends for 2020 and 2021, what can we expect to see in 2022? To get to grips with customer trends for 2022, we’ve asked a brand new pool of experts to give us their insights into three new predicted trends. And you may notice a recurring theme.
1. Predictive customer insight will become commonplace
According to McKinsey, predictive analytics can help businesses increase margins by 60%. Customer insights have come on leaps and bounds in years gone by — today, businesses can formulate, aggregate and analyse vast datasets and produce highly accurate predictive data models. These data models can be used to better understand and therefore improve the customer experience, increasing sales as a result.
However, data privacy is still key. Shorful Islam, Chief Data Scientist at Tribal Worldwide London, says: “The paradox of privacy and convenience converge with data, and though customers may not want brands to know everything about them, they will want them to know enough to provide a personalised and relevant experience through predicting their needs and wants.” But Shorful’s insights come with a word of warning: “Where things do become commonplace, the application of technologies without the understanding of the methodology will inevitably lead to errors.” He continues to say that the challenge for brands will be balancing how much customers are willing to overlook irrelevant content due to error with the balance of delivering relevancy at scale.
2. The rise of first-party data
In an (understandably overlooked) contradictory twist, customers are demanding hyper-personalised experiences while emphasising the importance of data security and the privacy of their information. As with predictive insights, companies will be expected to balance the benefits of creating personalised content with ample data privacy. Brands are now expected to use their customer data for the benefit of their customers, above all else.
“We will continue to see businesses recognise the need for website personalisation as part of the cross-channel digital experience, both for known and unknown consumers,” comments Chris Baldwin, VP Marketing at cross-channel platform Insider.
“This imperative will become more complex due to the upcoming eradication of third-party cookies. Brands and retailers must start utilising first-party data from ‘events’ on their owned channels to make smart recommendations on what is surfaced throughout the CX.”
3. One-to-one experiences will go beyond personalisation
Creating emotional bonds and strong, long-lasting relationships with customers is critical for business success. A great way of cultivating these is through one-to-one personalised experiences. An excellent example of a brand that has already achieved this is Nike and its Nike By You. Through giving customers creative license to design their own trainers, the brand creates a greater sense of ownership. However, developing one-to-one relationships at scale does not come without challenges. This is where data is crucial, enabling companies to go beyond “we think you might find this helpful” and into the future of “we know you like this”.
John Lamphiere, RP EMEA and APAC of ActiveCampaign says: “Customer journeys have never been so fragmented and with the increasing number of channels to meet them on, that’s not changing any time soon. But despite all this complexity, customer expectations have never been higher. If personalisation was important in 2021, then going further to create 1:1 experiences that delight and create super fans will be hugely important in 2022.”
He continues: “Sending a discount voucher on a customer’s birthday is no longer enough to make that customer feel important. Instead, it’s giving them educational content around plant care if they’ve just bought a house plant or building in loyalty programmes that automatically provide perks unexpectedly without the customer having to remember to use a reward card.” Investment in technology is therefore critical for powering customer experience throughout 2022 and beyond.
With expert predictions on point ahead of 2021, we can undoubtedly expect to see personalised experiences, data security measures and AI-led predictive insights leading the way in customer experience trends for 2022. However, as the last two years have shown us, circumstances can change at the drop of a hat, requiring innovation and flexibility in order to stay ahead. Companies that exhibit these attributes are best placed to weather whatever the next year has in store.