This has been a chaotic and turbulent year in many ways, largely due to the pandemic but also because of significant political and social upheavals. On the business front, the economic fallout from COVID-19 means consumers have less disposable income, though the effects are unevenly distributed. Stay-at-home advisories prompted a massive spike in remote work.
Marketers canceled in-person events and moved activities to digital channels. Even in a time of tight budgets, more marketers are investing in martech, with nearly 70% of CMOs in a Gartner survey saying they plan to spend more on technology in the coming year. New digital capabilities can improve outreach, but marketers need to understand how 2020 changed everything to deliver a better customer experience in 2021. Here are five tips that can help you plan for the year ahead.
- Get creative to connect with customers:
People who have been stuck at home and unable to travel and gather with friends and colleagues are hungry for connection. Marketers who find creative, on-brand ways to fill that space
and let customers know they’re seen and understood can build and strengthen customer relationships despite the distance.
Zoom happy hours and other virtual events are one way companies are using technology to reach out, but it’s time to take it to the next level. Ideas like a personalized gift box along with an invitation to connect via video meeting is one way marketers can reach out to their best customers, replicating a social gathering, complete with snacks and a round of drinks.
- Go beyond the basics with digital capabilities: Many companies found themselves playing catch-up with digital transformation when the pandemic hit. Deploying digital support tools like chat, bots, texting capabilities, etc., augmented by human intervention when necessary, can help businesses meet basic marketing and customer support needs.
But much more will be required in the months to come. To deliver an excellent customer experience, brands need to be able to meet customers where they are on their preferred channels. They need to seek permission to initiate contact across all channels, including during vendor interactions, and be able to converse with customers where and when the customer chooses to have a conversation.
- Be ready to go on the road with customers: The pandemic seems to be changing people’s relationship with their cars. Vehicles aren’t just transportation anymore — they are a rolling extension of the home, a bubble of safety in a dangerous time. This year also saw drive-thru celebrations and car-centered political rallies and events. The trend may accelerate when autonomous cars are on the road.
Business leaders need to think through the implications of this new relationship with vehicles. Meeting customers where they are might mean connecting with people when they’re on the road. Conversations about marketing and support will take place at home, at work and in vehicles, where voice-first martech solutions are an ideal way to connect.
- Recognize the implications of greater equality for women: Ongoing clinical trials suggest that we may be on the brink of a breakthrough in birth control for men. The U.S. recently elected the first woman as vice president. Families cocooned together during the pandemic, which blurred the lines between work, school and home, maybe irrevocably. Parental roles are changing too.
Greater equality has many implications for businesses, but it can also change brands’ relationships with customers. Marketers need to review their ideal customer profile and make sure it still fits. Maybe suburban moms were the target shopper for a product in 2019. It’s possible city-dwelling dads, who are more involved in childrearing thanks to remote working (and want to keep it that way), make up a larger share of buyers now.
- Understand the focus on home — and aspirational possibilities: The economic situation is uncertain, but people are still making investments in their immediate surroundings. Spending is up in the home improvement sector because people are staying home more and using their residence for work, school and play. But it’s also a reflection of consumers’ inward focus. Perhaps counterintuitively, people are paying more attention to future possibilities like space travel at the same time.
Marketers who want to connect with customers during this uncertain time need to understand where people are focused and meet them there with the right products and messaging.
Appeals to consumers that emphasize investing in their immediate surroundings and exploring future possibilities are likely to resonate.
As 2020 ends, the world hopes to turn the page on the COVID-19 pandemic. Promising news about the Pfizer vaccine trial is allowing people to think beyond their current circumstances. That said, these broad trends are likely to persist into 2021. What we’ve all experienced this year has changed our perspective in deep and fundamental ways.
The customer experience is formed by every interaction a person has with a company, and digital channels provide more opportunities to build connections But delivering a truly great customer experience is only possible when the business understands the customer’s perspective. Digital outreach informed by an understanding of changing consumer outlooks can position your brand for success in 2021 and beyond.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tara Kelly, CEO of SPLICE Software
A serial innovator, published author and founder of SPLICE Software, Tara Kelly is passionate about technology’s potential to change lives for the better. She has consistently channeled that belief into developing technologies that enhance operations, enable better service delivery, and improve the customer experience. An open source activist and recognized user experience designer, Kelly has served as a board member for the International Board for Voice User Interface Design, the Canadian Cloud Council, Technology Alberta and the Entrepreneurs Organization.