The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our world forever. People are living differently, buying differently and in many ways, thinking differently. From bulk buying to online shopping—consumer attitudes, behaviors and purchasing habits are changing. 

Businesses can no longer rely on traditional channels to meet customer expectations. Consumers now expect to connect with businesses in a variety of ways—whether that’s in person, over the phone or online. Consumers value speed, choice and convenience, all while expecting highly personalised and conversational interactions. 

This change in consumer behaviour provides a new opportunity for many businesses to re-imagine the customer experience (CX). So, how can businesses better prepare for the post-COVID and modern-day customer? We spoke with DiUS experts—Kirsty Miller, Sadia Mir, Tom Wall and DiUS Director and Co-Founder, Joe Losinno—on the future of CX in 2020, and beyond. 

What are we seeing today in relation to CX? 

Kirsty Miller, Head of Partnerships

In a market that’s still cautiously spending, businesses are not holding back in two areas: digital transformation—an area that they perhaps wish they’d invested in already—and uplifting their customer experience. The ability for an organisation to digitally pivot, and be able to function when a major disruption occurs cannot be underestimated. But running a close second is understanding your customers and being able to seamlessly serve them in different channels.

More than ever, data is playing a larger part of the story with organisations wanting deeper insights into their customers as well as analytics that improve service, track results and boost revenue. Businesses with a data strategy are more likely to be able to quickly experiment with customer experience initiatives and measure the results, which is important in a time where customer behaviour is changing so quickly.

Organisations should look back to view customer experience holistically, examining overarching customer journeys to identify any gaps, and then work to fill them. A large portion of our engagements are indeed helping organisations like these—helping them to connect things under the hood, often in pursuit of that single customer view or the unification of service platforms to drive frontline engagement. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) chatter in customer experience has also picked up. Conversational AI, voice and chat has been popular for a while now, but we’re seeing personalisation, search and forecasting being looked at more closely. The focus again is on looking at how to integrate these with what’s already there to best serve an organisation’s customers—what’s the problem we are trying to solve and is AI fit for purpose in this case.

Sadia Mir, Experience Designer 

The promise of AI and connected devices is finally taking a turn in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven exponential growth and adoption into things like automatic temperature scanning, facial recognition and geographical dependent apps for tracking and screening in the fight against the global health crisis.  

A push towards contactless experiences, driven by health concerns for staff and customers means we are witnessing an increase in self-service type models—enabled by technology—cropping up in every industry, as businesses fight to reinvent themselves or simply stay afloat. 

This drive towards contactless and self-serve experiences places a greater focus on nailing the intuitiveness of user interfaces BUT also thinking through the larger, more holistic impact on the service design experience as everything is reimagined. It certainly is a time for exciting and disruptive changes that highlight how technology can support changes in consumer behaviour. 

What does the future of CX look like?

Tom Wall, Experience Designer 

We live in strange and complex times. Cultural researcher, WGSN’s Andrea Bell and futurist Tracey Follows of FUTUREMADE talk of life being ‘post-normal’ in the years following our exit from the global pandemic. For Bell, ‘the coronavirus pandemic is shaping up to be the biggest global driver of change in most people’s entire lifetime’. Follows also sees three key values—creativity, flexibility and harmony—key for organisations to engage and support their customers looking to live again in the ‘post-normal’.

According to Follows, post-normal times are characterised by three things: complexity, chaos and contradiction. Faced with almost overwhelming complexity, Follows said people retreat to simpler ideas. The futurist said a new approach to facing complexity and chaos is needed—and it revolves around creativity. “Complexity cannot be managed, it can only be navigated.” she continued. “We need to eradicate this obsession with problem solving. It’s so definitive—it already suggests there is only one answer, which is actually hardly ever the case in postnormal times.” A move away from problem solving with single solutions, to constant sensing and responding at a systemic level to provide simpler, more human tailored solutions—products tailored to the customers life and context, not one approach fits all. 

Business will be expected to deliver faster, flexible and more personalised services—experiences that reflect diversity and an understanding of the customers life. Consumers who have felt forgotten about or unsupported during the crisis will quickly move on, impatient and looking for another service that will meet their needs and their niche. Data and measurement will need to be deeper than surveys and NPS—understanding the customers needs, emotions and life deeply to provide hyper-personalised services will take understanding their journey end to end. 

Ripples of social upheaval, eco-anxiety and financial uncertainty will continue to ebb outwards—in uncertain times, people crave stability, a sense of routine and harmony. After years of supporting a business’s growth, customers expect to be supported back through the current instability and anxiety. Businesses will need to help consumers who are navigating these uncertain, changeable times with less clutter and streamlined offerings—designing calm services and products that help smooth their anxieties, concrete commitments to giving back and creating a brighter future amidst noisy politics, fake news and consumers being treated as data sources. 

Our lives might have ‘de-synchronised’ from the regular patterns, moving into new ‘post-normal’ times, but human needs remain the same—life, love and laughter—with a rush back to the world to fill the gaps we’ve felt as we did after the pandemic in 1918. Digital was our lifeline, is now a baseline, but engaging with customers needs at a deeper, more personalised level will be the future.

How can businesses better prepare for the future of CX? 

Joe Losinno, Director and Co-Founder of DiUS

Jim Collins, author of the seminal business book “Good to Great,” references how truly great organisations survive periods of uncertainty. The specific example that comes to mind, given the events of 2020, is the notion of oxygen canisters.

Great organisations or great leaders display productive paranoia, and so are always prepared for the worst. Collins references US mountaineer David Breshears, as an example, who successfully scaled Mt Everest in a period of inclement weather when many other groups failed; he was able to do this because he brought along extra oxygen canisters to support his attempts, particularly useful when a storm hit. In the business context, oxygen canisters are resources that will help an organisation prevail.  And while cash and capital are critical, customer service and brand reputation sit right alongside them.

In order to create long-lasting value, or oxygen canisters of cultural capital, we need to create a culture that is all about the customer, collaboration, driving outcomes and is focused on delivering value at every turn of the customer’s journey. At the end of the day, a large part of an organisation’s success comes from culture, or as management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  

From what we can see about the future, customers will continue to increasingly have choice and influence over the products and services they procure, and we as providers will need to be more responsive. And with the ease and speed with which new products and services can be developed, competition will be even more fierce. So it’s more important than ever to differentiate your products/services and establish a framework that will allow you to evolve, compete and dominate in that changing landscape—and a focus on CX is pivotal to how we continue to navigate success, deliver great outcomes and stay ahead of our competition.

The future of CX is personalised, seamless and frictionless. To survive, thrive and outperform, organisations need to invest in:

Growing their design capability 

Shift from being product-centric to customer-centric. Put your customer at the centre of your universe and make them your North Star—let them help guide your business and the decisions you make. This will help you create great products, services & experiences that your customers want/need.

Leveraging modern technology

Double down on a ‘digital and cloud-first’ strategy. This will enable you to move at speed and adapt to the changing demands and needs of your customers—enabling what we call ‘technical agility’— a key ingredient in establishing lean and agile ways of working.

Measuring their progress

Have a constant focus on how you’re performing, understanding those areas of your business/product/service that make the most impact and look for areas for improvement. Shift your thinking to a test and learn approach, introduce a healthy balance of experimentation to drive improvements whilst ensuring you’re sustaining what makes your offerings great. 

Embracing innovation

Invest in the intersection of design and technology—this intersection is an organisation’s secret sauce. It can reduce your cost to serve, whilst improving your customer experience through the introduction of new and emerging technologies that support our customers desires, needs and wants. In the short term, establish true omnichannel experiences that enable your customers to transact/interact with you in different ways. Mid-long term, leverage AI technologies that will shift the cognitive load from your users to the tech and will enable you to create the next-generation, personalised, seamless and frictionless products/services.