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2021 Digital CX trends: What you need to know about what’s next

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Think back to where your brand was 2 years ago with your digital roadmap. Most companies knew that digital channels were growing in popularity but expanding or accelerating their digital strategy wasn’t the priority. Jump forward to 2020, and suddenly, digital was the only way for many brands to do business.

As vaccine rates steadily increase and restrictions are lifted, many brands may be tempted to go “back to normal,” and take their foot off the gas when it comes to improving and innovating their digital experiences. But according to our research (and your customers), this is the exact opposite of what brands should do!

From the data, three major trends were derived to help guide digital strategy for brands across industries.

Digital experience trend #1

Digital is more than a trend: Top-of-the-line-digital experiences are no longer a nice-to-have. They are table stakes when it comes to competing for customer loyalty.

When COVID-19 restrictions came into play in early 2020, publications and thought leaders were abuzz with talk about the vital role of digital experiences. And they were right (to a point). Digital channels like websites and apps were the only way homebound consumers could interact with their favorite bands, and so many expected a significant jump in digital usage over the course of the pandemic.

What the research demonstrated, however, is that consumers were already using digital channels, so much so that the increase in usage due to the pandemic was minor.

Most industries experienced an increase in digital use, but it was very slight in most cases in both the US and Canada (2%-13%). What this tells us is that consumer interest in digital experiences isn’t a new trend; it’s an established expectation.

In Canada, retail, grocery, and pharmacy, and food service had the most significant increases in digital use. These same industries in the U.S. maintained the same digital use during the pandemic, suggesting that digital adoption was already high (48% of retail, grocery, and pharmacy consumers and 52% of food service consumers used digital services once or more a week).

In the U.S., the industry that experienced the most significant increase in digital use was financial institutions. Because members could no longer go into the branch, they were forced to take care of all transactions digitally. However, financial institution consumers in Canada maintained a high digital use before and during the pandemic.

The story for financial institutions in the U.S. and retail, pharmacy, and grocery brands in Canada becomes especially interesting with the next question. Asked to list brands they interact with most digitally:

  • In the United States, one out of every three consumers named a retail or food service brand.
  • In Canada, one out of every four consumers mentioned a financial institution.

This tells us that there is an incredible amount of opportunity for U.S. financial institutions and Canadian retail, pharmacy, and grocery brands to step up their game and meet consumers’ digital expectations.

Takeaways and action steps

When it comes down to it, consumers have always been digital, pandemic or not. This means that they are going to continue to be open to and utilize digital experiences after the world opens up again. Every brand regardless of industry needs to continue devoting resources here to meet ever-growing expectations (more about these in trend #2). Here are some action steps brands can take to make the most of their digital channels:

  • Increase awareness: If consumers are not aware of digital options, they won’t utilize them. It’s obvious from the data that consumers like to operate digitally, so be sure your brand is educating them about their options with marketing campaigns, emails, and app notifications.
  • Utilize data from everywhere: Consumers expect digital options to be available, but what makes these options attractive to consumers? Metric-based surveys alone won’t get you those kinds of insights, but open-ended questions and unsolicited feedback will. They’ll allow you to directly ask digital consumers what worked, derive those answers from review sites and social media, and ultimately, get a better understanding of your digital experience so you can make improvements where they’re necessary.
  • Phone a friend: Digital experiences can’t be successfully created in a silo. You’re going to need some help from those outside of your customer experience team. Whether they’re in IT, user experience, marketing, web development, or elsewhere, gather your key players in a room and break down customer feedback about your digital channels (maybe even share a few verbatims). Then, create a plan for how you can improve based on customer preferences.
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