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This was the year it was all going to come together. Customer experience. Employee experience. The digital workplace. How we work together and where.

2020 upended customer and employee experience programs. But 2021? It was the year we were supposed to put everything in the rear-view mirror, take the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and apply them in our marketing, customer experience and digital workplace efforts.

Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out that way. Despite the COVID-19 vaccine rollout globally, companies were still challenged by health concerns, supply chain worries and still today are determining the best ways to do work. In 2022, we expect these challenges to remain.

However, it's worth one last look at the top stories of 2021 according to our readers. So, without further ado, here are the top 25 most popular articles on CMSWire from 2021:

25. The Future of Work From Home: 5 Trends Shaping the 2021 Workplace

As vaccines roll out around the globe, companies are preparing for the workplace of 2021. While some are readying their return-to-office plans to resume business as usual, others are embracing a dispersed workforce and adapting accordingly. 

24. Bad UX Cost Citibank $500M – What Went Wrong?

In August 2020, Citibank was administering the loans to cosmetics and personal care company, Revlon. As part of that function, Citibank wanted to pay the interest due to the lenders. Using a software called Flexcube, Citibank accidentally wired the full loan amount (interest and principal) to the creditors: $7.8 million in interest and $894 million in principal — for a total of roughly $900 million. How could that happen?

23. Not So Open Any More: Elasticsearch Relicensing and Implications for Open Source Search

Elastic, the company founded by the creators of the Elasticsearch search server, announced a change to the license of its core product. Previously under the permissive Apache 2 license, future versions of the software will be dual-licensed allowing users to choose between Elastic’s own license or the Server Side Public License (SSPL) created by MongoDB.

What does this change mean for users of the software?

22. Forget Digital Transformation – Just Become Digital

The age of the customer has taken businesses down a path of nonstop change in the last 10 years, driven by technology innovations that continuously raise the standard for experience. Then, in less than 90 days, the pandemic pushed us five-plus years further into the future.

The world is constantly evolving, and leaders are being tasked with pivoting on a dime to better serve their customers. 

21. The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care

The cure for burnout is not self-care — that's the message from the new book by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D and Amelia Nagoski, DMA titled, "Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle."

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement to work from home (WFH), we have been inundated with articles and advice on dealing with workplace burnout. Invariably we hear about the need to “book quiet time,” “take control of your time commitments,” “make time for reflection/meditation,” “take Fridays off,” “say no to non-critical meetings,” “triage your emails” ... the list goes on.

20. Is 2021 the Year AI Dominates the Call Center?

AI and machine learning are coming of age, and 2021 is set to become the year that AI dominates the customer service call center, by providing real-time feedback, predictive analytics and in-depth analysis. AI is enhancing the customer experience while improving the lives of call center employees. This article looks at the ways that AI is changing the game when it comes to call center dynamics.

19. Why Remote Working Will Not Become the New Work Model

Recently, the multinational professional services network provider KPMG released research into the gradual return to work once the COVID pandemic has passed. While some companies have already indicated over the past year that they will continue remote working into the future, the assumption that it will be widespread and even desirable is a little simplistic. Instead, the research shows that many business leaders are having second thoughts and are now looking to bring a large number of their workers back to the physical workplace.  

18. What's Behind Sitecore's Avalanche of Acquisitions in 2021?

Sitecore’s undergoing a makeover of sorts. And fast. The digital customer experience software provider has fired off a series of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based product acquisitions the first half of this year. And it's heated up over the past 70 days with three alone in that span.

17. How To Use Cohort Analysis in Google Analytics' GA4

If the idea of cohorts in marketing feels familiar, it is. It's been around for a long time — I even explained cohort analysis in Google Analytics back in 2015. The application for cohort analysis has grown among marketers, and Google had to keep up, particularly with the recent redesign of Google Analytics, GA4. Enter the updated cohort analysis in GA4.

16. Microsoft Viva – Who Is It For?

Microsoft launched its new Viva offering on Feb. 4 to an overwhelmingly positive response. Pitched as an "employee experience platform," the goal is to tie together "engagement, learning, wellbeing and knowledge discovery, directly into the flow of people’s work." But what is Microsoft’s actual positioning, and how much of what is currently on offer about marketing?

15. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce Lead the Charge Back to the Workplace

Remote work has been a "thing" for a long time. While the numbers of people working remotely soared over the course of the past year, many companies were already putting the pieces of a remote strategy in place long before that. The offer of remote working had also become a strong recruitment tool. At the beginning of 2019, for example, a survey of U.S. knowledge workers by Intermedia showed that one in four workers said they would not take a job that does not offer tools that enable remote working. 

14. That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

The COVID-19 pandemic has thoroughly disrupted many things, including the digital world. Every industry and consumer now recognize the importance of digital channels and experience. Zoom has become our default handshake and remote work is now a mainstay. However, because of its continuing impact, little mainstream emphasis has been given to the death of third-party cookies and how that will change the $500 billion digital advertising industry in perpetuity.

13. MACH Architecture: What It Is, Why You Should Know It

Customer experiences today span multiple channels and digital touchpoints and require brands to remain agile as they adapt to sudden market changes. Companies need to not only react to these market changes, but also need to continuously evolve to keep up with their customers’ expectations. 

To learn more about a new approach being dubbed “MACH” architecture, we’ve spoken to experts who are actively implementing it as part of their strategies.  

12. The Demise of the Cookie and the Rise of First-Party Data

We live in a world where our every digital interaction is recorded, sometimes with our consent and other times without our knowledge.

Over the last few years, tech behemoths like Facebook and Twitter have come under increasing scrutiny from regulators, pushing them to strengthen their security and privacy controls and be more transparent about how they handle customer data. Legislation, such as GDPR and CCPA, have emerged to protect customer data and give consumers control and transparency over how companies store and use their information. 

These are all steps in the right direction. But what comes next for the industry?

11. What Does the Qualtrics $14 Billion IPO Mean for the CX Market?

Qualtrics, which provides voice of the customer (VoC) and customer experience management software, announced its plans for an intended $14 billion IPO at the end of 2020. This may be a “non-event” in the eyes of some because SAP, which acquired Qualtrics in 2018, announced Qualtric’s IPO intentions five months earlier. Qualtrics, meanwhile, has been operating as an independent entity under SAP’s wing since the $8 billion acquisition.

However, the $14 billion IPO aspiration is another investment that validates the VoC and CX market as more than a third-party application that plugs surveys into large customer experience management software suites.

10. Google Set to Compete With Microsoft Teams for the Enterprise

One of the most significant announcements in the productivity space in 2021 was when Mountain View, Calif.-based Google announced a series of updates that build upon its vision to deliver a single, integrated communication and collaboration solution to everyone via Google Workspace.

Now, all of the company's three billion-plus existing users across consumer, enterprise, and education have access to the full Google Workspace experience, including Gmail, Chat, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Meet and other capabilities.

9. Is Austin Emerging as the New American Technology Hub?

They may want to "Keep Austin Weird" in the southernmost U.S. capital city. However, “Keep Austin Growing” may be more appropriate for Austin these days.

Austin continues its surge as one of the top American tech hubs. Many say it now rivals Silicon Valley and may be crawling out of the COVID-19 pandemic in a business sense even better than its California counterpart.

8. 5 Areas to Factor Into Your 2022 Content Marketing Planning

Content marketing has played an important role in the marketing mix for both B2B and B2C marketers for a while now. Ninety-five percent of B2B customers view content as a marker of trust when evaluating a business, which makes it indispensable for B2B marketers. While consumer marketers had to make drastic changes to their content marketing plans as a result of the pandemic, the importance of content grew as more people turned to digital channels for information than ever before.

7. How COVID-19 Changed Marketing

How has the pandemic changed marketing? What has shifted and what has stayed the same?

Results from the 26th edition of The CMO Survey published in February 2021 and the Special COVID-19 version published in June 2020 reveal several important trends.

6. Does Your Customer Experience Strategy Yield a Diamond or a Lump of Coal?

When I think about the “Perfect 10,” my mind goes back to watching Mary Lou Retton get a perfect score on the vault to narrowly win the gold medal during the 1984 Olympics. Well over 5,000 gymnasts have participated in the modern Olympic Games, yet there have been fewer than 50 perfect scores. That is fewer than 1%. 

I recently spoke with a friend of mine who works for a consumer goods company. He said he had just accomplished a month where every customer experience (CX) score he received was a 10. It was the first time he’s attained the mark in the year he has been with the company. 

5. 10 Marketing Certifications That Can Help You Earn a Better Salary

Marketing certifications are in demand in many industries. Employers use certifications as a sign that an applicant has the necessary knowledge and skills for the job. Even experienced digital marketing specialists use certifications as a way to demonstrate their commitment to keeping their skills current. Google marketing certifications are one example of a highly desirable qualification that can help increase your earnings.

This article looks at the leading academic marketing qualifications and the most in-demand marketing certifications from multiple vendors.

4. Innovate, Pivot or Stay the Course: How Customer Experience Responds to Disruption

Brands already faced global market changes before the pandemic rolled around. With disruption to business now the norm, brands are reconsidering how they respond, particularly in the design and delivery of customer experiences (CX). Businesses typically respond in one of three ways: innovate to lead disruption, pivot to leverage new opportunities, and stay the course, streamlining and making modifications where needed.

3. Refine Your Customer Experience With These 3 Strategies

As the post-pandemic economy opens up, there's been a lot of chatter about the hybrid workplace. The debate between remote and in-person offices looks poised to continue far into the future. But another important topic doesn't come up as often in these discussions: the future of the customer experience. As traditional retailers stage a comeback, how will it influence the customer experience? Will classic, in-person CX interactions become a focal point? Will online CX remain at the front of the pack? Or will we see a hybrid of the two?

As is the case with the office, the last option is most likely. Going forward, we'll likely see a split between ecommerce activity and in-person sales. That said, here are a few CX strategies to consider while refining your plans for the transition ahead.

2. Down Periscope: Twitter Discontinues the Livestreaming App

In December 2020, Twitter announced plans to shut down its video streaming-focused Periscope app. Periscope was pulled from app stores, and the platform formally shut its doors on March 31, 2021. In its announcement on Medium, the Periscope team explained the decision was caused by several factors.

1. What Tesla Gets That Apple Understood Before It

Tesla is approaching a playground that previously only Apple played in. Take a look at Apple's products. The functionality is no better than competitors' products. Yet the company has managed to brand them as status symbols. Customers are perceived as sophisticated, technological and elitist. Purchasing an Apple product means belonging to this high-end group.