It’s that time of year again, when the soothsayers surface, taking a cue from their crystal balls to project what’s ahead for the new year. From more Basque Burnt Cheesecake to increasing inclusion, prognostications will range in size, impact, and import — not to mention veracity.

A social epidemiologist at Yale even predicts that, when the pandemic finally subsides, we will find ourselves in our own version of the Roaring ‘20s. Will this mean a resurgence in dining out? In-person shopping? Business travel? We can let the futurists make their predictions, but I am certain of three things: customer experience will continue to be paramount, digital will remain essential, and trust will be both a driving factor in and outcome of each.

Why am I certain? First, consider the extent to which “digital” has permeated our daily lives. From how we bank to how we work, engaging via digital technologies has undeniable advantages for efficiency and speed, to name only two. Customers have simply gotten used to using digital channels as a way to interact with brands, and they’re not going back.

When it comes to the staying power of the customer experience, consider another trend: Brand loyalty can no longer be taken for granted. Customers used to have a good initial experience and return because they knew the brand. But given the ease of comparison shopping on digital platforms, brand recognition alone is no longer enough to drive loyalty.

Trust and the New Brand Loyalty

For the authors of The Physics of Brand, trust is so essential to a brand that it’s a part of their definition: “A brand is a vessel of trust.” (Italics mine.)

A recent Edelman survey confirms the value of trust: When it comes to purchasing, loyalty, and advocacy, consumers are over twice as likely to go with a brand they’ve trusted for a while versus one they don’t fully trust. While social impact is important (38% base trust on this), the customer experience (56%) and product experience (87%) are still paramount. (Of course, if you’re viewing your customer lifecycle holistically, the product experience is inextricably linked to the customer experience.)

Learning Opportunities

Trust is essential for keeping customers loyal. While built over time, it can be shattered in an instant. That is why brands must consider each touchpoint as a chance to continually build that trust, make use of analytics to see where along the customer journey people are dropping off, and then focus on improving that part of the experience.

The End-to-End Customer Experience — Building Trust for the Long Term

Providing a truly end-to-end customer experience that drives trust requires designing and delivering omnichannel journeys and creating easily repurposed content that can traverse them. It also requires gathering and connecting cross-channel data, understanding what it’s telling you, and using that insight to personalize and optimize engagements, all while maintaining privacy and security. And as the pandemic wanes and we return to a “newer” normal, it will also mean connecting digital experiences with physical ones.

What does this mean for 2021? As we build our plans for the year ahead, it’s critical to consider the processes, workflows, teams, and tools that will enable holistic customer experiences that drive trust.

The pandemic changed everything for businesses seemingly overnight. Most marketers knew how critical digital transformation was, but we couldn’t imagine how fast we would need to accelerate it to stay ahead of the competition. Those who had already begun their digital transformation found themselves at an advantage, and I’m certain that those who do the work to revamp their end-to-end customer experience are likely to reap similar rewards this year and beyond. If you’re looking for more planning insight, you can find a host of resources here.