How the consumer will consume in 2021.

By Patrick Gorman 

COVID-19 has changed the landscape of our lives.  It has upended how we work and socialise.  It has created uncertainties and stress, and changed what we buy, how we entertain ourselves and our freedom to come and go as we please.

A McKinsey & Company tracking survey across 45 countries finds, “consumers intend to continue shifting their spending to essentials, while cutting back on most discretionary categories.”

The survey also finds that consumers “have responded to the crisis and its associated disruption to normal consumer habits by trying different shopping behaviours and expressing a high intent (65% or more) to incorporate these behaviours going forward.”

In other words, consumers overall are buying less and buying differently than before.

Since COVID-19, according to Bloomreach and Forrester and reported in MarketingTech, almost two thirds (64%) of brands said they were increasing budget in direct websites, while mobile apps (58%) and social media (52%) were also cited by the majority.

So, while the essential principles of CX are timeless, how will the consumer consume in 2021?

  • Online

First, the primary change has, of course, been a continued migration online, and it goes without saying that every aspect of the customer experience must be mobile-friendly – from your website to customer service.

A report from dealroom makes the point that “everything was already moving online. Now this is happening even faster…the more structural impact is that trends that were already under way have been accelerated.

“The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how critical online consumer services and technology are for many aspects of society and the economy. We’re entering a new phase in the ongoing evolution of online marketplace models.”

That, of course, means revaluating and refining how we deliver customer service, from having more and better information online to more sophisticated analytics.  But it’s more complex than that…

  • Getting personal

Over the last few years, the whole online experience has become increasingly personal, from Google personalising search results, to Facebook choosing what adverts we see.  The internet, global and massive, now recognises every one of us as an individual.

It’s a way of thinking that has shifted perceptions so that, when interacting with a company, a customer sees a brand, not just a product. But the big change this year is that, more than ever, we want brands to see us.  Not as a customer, but as a person.

For example, if we contact a brand on Facebook one day, we expect that the brand should know that we contacted them on Twitter yesterday.  Research shows that some 60% of customers change contact channels depending on where they are and what they’re doing.

For Customer Experience Management (CXM) Partners, it means having one big conversation with customers, not lots of disjointed conversations.  It means being able to answer questions about the product or, for example, having up-to-date stock information or delivery schedules.

  • The social imperative

According to Hootsuite, 76% of people who message a business do so for customer service or support.  Indeed, 64% would rather message than call a business, and social media is the preferred customer support channel for those under 25-years-old.

But it’s the immediacy of social media that’s important.  Over 60% of people expect companies to respond to a social media question or complaint within a day, and nearly half expect a response within an hour.

Mobile technology means that we are always connected; we have instant access to the latest news and are used to messaging platforms where we get immediate responses from friends.  We’ve grown used to 24/7 connectivity, and we expect brands to be listening and responding in a timely manner – and preferably with longer opening hours or weekend support.

Also, it’s easy to forget that some customers have a larger social following than the brands they interact with. This has empowered many consumers to realise that when they express dissatisfaction publicly on social media, they’re likely to get a better response than if they did so privately.  It’s a trend that’s not going to go away.

  • Doing it ourselves

Given the choice, many consumers like to solve things by themselves.

That means enabling wherever possible and ensuring tutorials and self-service options are online and easy to follow, and that AI-assisted support helps customers.  2021 is going to be another year in which CXM partners will drive new levels of productivity and efficiency gains, embracing disruptive solutions such as the cloud and RPA.

Automation also frees agents from having to answer a regularly-repeated question, or deal with a repeated issue, time after time after time.

By providing online tools, or delegating simple customer interactions to an intelligent bot, the customer gets the answer they’re looking for, at a convenient time, and agents can be deployed to more interesting work.  Robotic technology does, in a very real sense, “take the robot out of the human.”


2021 isn’t going to be about customer relations, but human relations.  The companies who recognise that subtle but fundamental change in expectation are the ones who will benefit.

Consumers don’t simply want friendly service; they need to feel wanted as an individual. And this will make CXM key to giving a brand their differentiating, competitive advantage.



Posted on

December 7, 2020

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