Updated: Jan 19
Whether you are in the business of retail, luxury, hospitality or healthcare – B2C or B2B - this is the year of trust and connection.
In the few months since leaving my “corporate” job and starting Brilliant Workplaces, I have spent a lot of time attending webinars and reading where I didn’t previously have time. There is so much great content about any subject out there, it is kind of amazing. Now that I’ve spent some time networking, learning and listening to many customer experience educational sessions and webinars, customers and peers, there are some themes are starting to emerge for where customer experience is headed for next year. The themes seem to center around the desire for connection and experience – whether it be through digital experiences or in-person.
The pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves, our values and redefined work and experience in many different ways.
After listening and learning from experts that focus on business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) experience, this is my take on the trends that we will see for 2022 and beyond in experience. The themes focus on trust, connection, empathy and transparency, and apply to any industry. I’ve boiled my findings into 5 themes that businesses should examine and incorporate into their strategy if they haven’t already.
Employee Experience (EX) – Resilience and Connection
When I worked in corporate customer service, it became clear that without focusing on the employee experience and culture, you will never get truly exceptional customer experience. This philosophy is so much stronger and evident today. Let’s face it – we are burnt out. The great resignation is evidence of the disconnection and disengagement that so much of us feel at work. Micro-management, a mismatch of values with the organization, crappy work schedules that don’t align with home life – people are over it. Plus, working remotely has been both a relief and difficult for connections and bonds at work. I love working remotely, but I do miss popping into people’s offices or having the pre-meeting banter.
In 2022, businesses have to focus on their people and their experience with the organization in order to be able to create great experiences for customers. Resilience strategies are not pizza or doughnuts in the breakroom or a random thank you. Overcoming burnout and forging connection takes focus and work with a purposeful strategy. As in customer experience, employee experience seeks to find ways to understand what your employees need at the moment through focus groups, surveys, whatever means necessary. Then, putting together strategies that are meaningful, trainings on how to connect virtually, or journey mapping what the future employment experience might look like. A strategy that engages the employee in your business, where they can feel supported and connected, and create loyalty to your organization will shine to your customers as well. If you do anything next year, this is it.
The pandemic acceleration of digital experience was awesome. Suddenly businesses had curb-side ordering and pick up, tele-health visits with their doctor, touchless payments, remote work. I saw organizations who reluctantly were doing digital experiences suddenly have no choice but to give into the digital demand.
All signs for next year is that the focus on digital experiences will continue, with all industries. The trick is how to make those experiences not seem clunky or disjointed from one another, but smooth and seamless for the customer (and the employees who support the processes in operations). Customer experience is about understanding all the touchpoints in a journey, and the digital experience will need to take a bigger share of your attention this year to make sure it is not left out.
Digital experiences must be smooth and seamless for the customer (and the employees who support the processes in operations).
Going back to the employee experience, employees also need ways to interact with your business digitally also. Think about the internal experiences that could be digitally based that could improve the employee experience. This will not only help with efficiency, but with satisfaction with the organization and retention.
Personalization and Localization
Over and over, I’ve heard customers and patients say they don’t want to be treated like a number. They want organizations to understand who they are, what challenges they face, and make it easy for them to find the solution. When I was in healthcare, the patients did not want standard discharge instructions from the hospital, they wanted solutions that met their needs. Patients would say “they didn’t understand me – they are telling me to take this medication, but I’m concerned about how I am supposed to go up and down the stairs after surgery.” Sometimes, these issues would get addressed ad hoc, but unfortunately it was more an outlier than a regular, standard approach. How do you understand what is important to your customers or patients? Ask what concerns them the most and build this into your strategy and operational improvement initiatives to be executed every time.
Personalization is extremely important for all industries, but especially the luxury customer. These customers can be fiercely loyal and cultivating real relationships with the brand that are personal and individually tailored is essential.
Fortunately, digital experience presents a new frontier for personalization. Businesses have robust data that can be used to create personalized experiences, and new technologies can automate processes so that customers feel as though solutions are tailored for them. This can be extremely efficient for your business to implement also - once you have a strategy in place. Customers today also want solutions and experiences that look like the communities in which they are. They want to feel more connected to those around them, even if they are not leaving the house. Businesses who consider cultural, language and inclusion in their experience strategy will help win hearts and minds with customers, as they will see themselves within the brand. In addition to your personalization, think about localization as well.
Communication, Transparency and Trust
Communication and transparency will be a major theme next year, including (and especially) in the B2B space. Customers will want more personal, emotional connections with the people they do business with, they want to feel as though businesses are being honest with them about operations, accessibility, or anything, really. As people seek connection, they want to be able to trust the people they do business with – whether that be B2C or B2B. There is nothing worse than feeling like a brand has not had your best interest, and more than ever can be a deal breaker for customers. Customers have choices, and the way you are honest, engage and interact with customers can be a winning strategy.
Customer loyalty can be generated through connection. Connection comes from understanding (see empathy above) and clear, honest communication to customers. Keeping people informed, being transparent and having their interest in mind is a winning strategy for next year (and beyond). Communication and connection can be fostered virtually as well, with the right strategy in place for a seamless, more emotional connection to the brand.
There has been so much discussion about empathy lately in the CX world. In healthcare, empathy and cultivating empathy has always been a core tenant. The focus on “being empathetic” is a tough one, especially with the burnout that all of us (especially caregivers) face, and the differences in opinion that we might have of others’ choices. Cultivating empathy begins when you start to get perspective about what a customer or employee might be feeling and thinking, and then developing strategies that truly get to what someone might be going through.
The focus on empathy starts will be a big one next year for business and thinking about the customer (or employee) perspective. Storytelling, training and interventions for all levels of an organization that help us to imagine what people are going through and integrating that into our operations will be a winning customer centric strategy. The outcome will be a workplace and business where leadership genuinely cares about its people, and its customers.
Being in customer experience and service for many, many years now – I’m excited about what I perceive to be a major focus for the customer and employee experience in 2022. Now is the time to create connections with our customers and each other so we can live in a kinder, connected world that values relationships. Businesses that put people first are poised to be successful as we weather this pandemic and get out on the other side with success.
Suzanne Olson is the Owner and Chief Experience Architect of Brilliant Workplaces, a consulting firm specializing in customer experience, service and culture design. Suzanne has many tools in her toolbelt to foster customer loyalty through empathy, communication and connection, and is looking forward to 2022. Suzanne can be reached at Suzanne@brilliantworkplaces.com.