Understanding Customer Experience in 2021

By Deon Nicholas

Customers today versus customers 25 years ago look very different. Before the popularization of the Internet, consumers accepted that they needed to wait on the phone or grab a number and wait in line. 

Now with the prevalence of technology, expectations have shifted. It’s no longer enough for brands to offer the lowest price and get away with lackluster support. Customers want the whole package, from start to finish. 

In other words: They want a great customer experience. 

“Customer experience” gets tossed around a lot, and you may have some lingering questions surrounding it. At Forethought, we’ve written about it before, but we wanted to take the time to examine it. So, let’s look at what it means, how it’s changed over the years, and how you can deliver a positive customer experience. 

Defining Customer Experience 

Customer experience refers to the “impression your customers have of your brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer’s journey.” It focuses on the entire relationship between you and a customer and not just the service (i.e., email, phone, text, or chat support) they receive when they have an issue. 

That experience includes every interaction, ranging from your marketing materials, blog, demos, the quality of your product or service, support options, billing options, and more. If they’re engaging with you at some point, that’s part of their experience. 

Naturally, you want that to be a positive one. Consider the bad experiences you’ve had in the past. Did you engage with a sales representative who lacked empathy? Was it challenging to find the appropriate contact information to reach out to a company? Did you find yourself waiting for days for an answer or being passed from agent to agent? Or perhaps a brand misled you on how their product or service operated? 

At any of these moments, you likely formed some judgment about that company and whether or not they made doing business with them enjoyable. If that happened to you, it could happen to your customers, too. 

And you don’t want that. 

With more freedom to take their dollars elsewhere, customers have the upper hand when dealing with companies. That’s why you must provide an excellent experience at every level to keep them doing business with you. If you don’t, you may be subject to this statistic: 50% of customers will switch to a competitor after one bad experience

So, how do you prevent that from happening? First, you should understand how the customer experience has recently changed. 

What The Customer Experience Looks like in 2021 

Customer experience isn’t a new concept, but the stakes are higher than ever these days. That’s primarily due to technological disruption in every industry and the COVID-19 pandemic that drastically altered how consumers interact with, well, everything. 

Let’s look at what was already happening in the realm of customer expectations, the driving force behind customer experience, before the pandemic. Thanks to advancements in technology, particularly with artificial intelligence (AI), consumers have taken most of, if not the entire buying experience, into their own hands and online. That includes:

  • Researching products and services 
  • Looking for touchless or simple ways to buy 
  • Troubleshooting, resolving issues, or looking for answers 
  • Upgrading and purchasing additional services 

Despite much of this happening on the web, customers still wanted that friendly feeling they got when they shopped in-person or spoke with a live person. Brands stepped up to the challenge by deploying different customer service software solutions and advanced AI. Experiences began to reflect customers’ reality until COVID-19 initiated significant adjustments to the way people live, work, and shop

Experts argue that those changes will continue for the foreseeable future, so it’s critical to keep adapting your customer experience for both the digital age and the post-pandemic era. Consider these tips that take how experiences have changed in the last year: 

  • Being tone-deaf or insensitive to current events will no longer fly. Marketers shouldn’t inappropriately hop on trends, brand teams shouldn’t schedule messages months in advance, and sales and support agents must eject empathy into how they communicate. COVID-19 showed us that focusing on the care and concern matters most when uncertainty abounds — and it always should. 
  • Meeting your customers where they are. Online shopping has exploded in popularity. Finding ways to innovate your sales and service to fit a digital model is of utmost importance. Companies experimented with this by offering contactless delivery or pickup. Customer support teams started using more advanced methods to handle the influx of consumers due to this. For instance, at Forethought, we helped countless businesses meet an increase in online support demand with Solve
  • Practicing being proactive and reactive in customer support. Not every experiment that arose from COVID-19 will stick around, and something new will always come along. You can and should plan for what the future holds, but no one can 100% accurately predict what will happen. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore change altogether because you weren’t prepared. 

No matter what, the mandate of every organization should be to deliver an exceptional customer experience no matter what. Staying on top of what customer experience and expectations look like can enable success. Creating and following a solid strategy is also a core component. 

How do you do that, though? 

Keys to Developing a Customer Experience Strategy  

Even in the face of ever-evolving technology and expectations, a good customer experience will always win in the end. But you need a solid strategy to deliver yours. Luckily, there’s a lot of reliable guidance you can follow to create and improve yours. 

Here are examples of a few helpful tips:

  • Research your customer and map their entire journey. As noted, the customer experience is the summation of every small touchpoint your customer has with your company. And it will be different from person to person. To engage with them effectively at each point, you need to know who they are, what they want, their preferred communication channels, and the issues they could have. 
  • Craft a customer experience statement. What do you envision your ideal customer experience to be? What would be considered positive in your eyes if you were a customer of your company? What does it look like to put the customer at the center of everything you do, top to bottom? Meet with different stakeholders within your organization to narrow down your experience mission statement, document it, and send it to everyone in your business. 
  • Build a strong customer support team. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s more complicated than it sounds. You’ll need a group of agents who have a range of skill sets and experience. That way, you can efficiently respond to every kind of customer. 
  • Invest in the right tools – including AI. Prioritize the tools that make the most sense for your business and start working with them. They can be anything from chatbots, knowledge bases, ticketing systems, and more. AI-powered solutions can help you augment all of these by taking care of quick, repetitive tasks or connecting your service channels for an omnichannel experience.  
  • Measure and incorporate customer feedback. You’ll never know for sure if your strategy is working if you don’t measure it. With customer surveys, you can look at everything from Customer Satisfaction Levels (CSAT) to Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and more. These can confirm what’s effective and where people may get stuck. It’s critical to acknowledge these surveys and let the customer know you’re taking their feedback and applying it to their experience. This creates a “customer feedback loop” that builds trust and improves loyalty. 

Get Started 

Understanding the true definition of customer experience, staying updated on what experience and expectations look like, and taking time to build a robust strategy can help improve your customers’ perception of your organization. And if you do this, customers will reward you by repeating business with you or telling family and friends! 

Curious for additional advice or details on how AI-powered tools can enhance your strategy? We’d be happy to chat! 

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Interested in generative AI for customer support? Check out this guide to learn about the 3 key pillars you need to get started.

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