a wall  of QR codes as seen through a crystal ball
PHOTO: Mitya Ivanov

As a regular reader and consumer of science fiction, I like to think of myself as forward-thinking (although strangely, all my published fiction work to date has been historical in nature), so I always enjoy a touch of end of the year crystal ball gazing to figure out what we will be doing next.

But if 2020 has proven one thing, it’s that no matter how clever we think we are at predicting future trends, reality has a habit of getting in the way.

One thing that is for certain however is the events of 2020 will have a significant impact on 2021 and beyond. What does that mean from a customer experience perspective? The shift in work patterns to a greater proportion of people working remotely will continue to build reliance on digital experiences, and the need for the systems to support that while enabling business continuity and growth will fuel the ongoing acceleration of digital transformation projects.

While I see a definite continuation in the adoption of newer cloud-based platforms as part of that digital transformation, I believe that 2021 will also be a year of consolidation, a time to take a step back, look at what we have, and figure out how we can use the assets we already have to deliver even better online experiences for our customers.

So having polished up the crystal ball, here are five trends I think we’ll see in customer experience over the next twelve months.

Do the Basics Better

As more companies, particularly those with consumer-facing activities, realize that the digital experience is becoming the prime interface between them and their customers, we will see a growing desire to take a more holistic approach to the customer experience. I believe we’ll see less focus from the C-suite on shiny new technologies like augmented reality et al and more focus on connecting content and data across the various currently siloed systems.

Related Article: It's the Journey That Matters: Improving Customer Experience and Loyalty

More Rich Media

Traditional websites, which are little more than electronic billboards, are giving way to information-driven portals that provide customers with real value. One of the keys to engaging customers to interact with those portals is providing content that is timely, relevant, consistent across the delivery channels, and engaging.

The majority of marketing folks already know that rich imagery and video drive engagement, producing more conversations than any other type of content. That idea no longer only applies to marketing. The same applies to the wider customer experience; employing engaging relevant rich media at different stages of the customer journey is now a vital part of the developing customer experience.

Digging Into the Archives

With photo and video shoots canceled and creative staff disbursed it’s been difficult to create brand new content to drive the customer experience. Yet challenges are when creative folks are often at their best, and we’ve already seen several examples of companies using their existing archives of material in new ways to produce effective on-brand experiences. Nike’s excellent inspirational “You Can’t Stop Us” piece provides a great example that drew over 58 million views since July. The key to being able to use existing content assets like this is to ensure they have the right metadata attached so they can be found and used in the correct context and for the correct audience. This is where technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will start to have a significant impact as they will allow these existing content archives to be cataloged, and tagged at scale with a speed and accuracy that would have been previously impossible.

Related Article: Power Your Content Marketing With Archives and DAM

Increased Use of 3-D

One area of the customer experience that is difficult to replicate online, especially in a retail environment, is the ability to physically hold a product, feel its weight, texture and shape. But there is one aspect of the physical product interaction we can deliver digitally, and that is the ability to look at a product from all angles.

We are already seeing many examples of online product listings expanding beyond just stock images to include some sort of 3-D experience, be that through full sets of images giving different perspectives, unboxing videos, the use of 360 spins, or even fully rendered 3-D files. I expect to see a lot more of this as traditional photo studios begin to explore the use of rendered 3-D files and the expansion of virtual photo-shoots to help replicate that in-store experience online.

Say 'Hello'

I believe in the coming months we will also see exponential growth is in the development of audio. Companies need to be developing an audio content-strategy now to take advantage of the fast development of audio interfaces. These types of interfaces are quickly becoming the initial touchpoint in the customer journey to get questions answered. From audio assistants on our phones and in the home, to connected internet-of-things devices, to audio-driven chat bots, audio is the key interface of the future.

Related Article: Getting Started With Voice? Think Mobile