• January 20, 2021

What’s in Store for CRM in 2021?

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Without a doubt, 2020 was a year of unexpected disruption. Now, with 2020 behind us and, hopefully, an end to the pandemic in sight, businesses are looking to get back to business in the new year. But industry pundits do not expect the world to go back to business as usual just yet, as many of the following predictions indicate.

There’s No Turning Back From Digital…

“2020 brought exceptional change to shopping behavior and the customer experience. Because the pandemic forced so many people to stay home, they turned to digital channels to fulfill their shopping and commerce needs. This shift to online is not going anywhere in 2021. In fact, we’ll likely see a more pronounced and accelerated trend toward omnichannel commerce, personalized and data-powered customer experience, and the integration of contactless technology systems to reinforce retailers’ safety efforts. There is unprecedented opportunity for brands and retailers to connect and deliver powerful solutions for their customers.” —Jennifer Conklin, vice president and unified commerce sector lead at Capgemini

“When COVID-19 hit, most businesses were caught flat-footed, without the infrastructure to support the surge in customer queries. Organizations were forced to pivot quickly, and many doubled down on digital solutions, such as intelligent virtual assistants and scalable cloud technology. Having learned the hard way, businesses will continue to invest in digital strategies and agile solutions in 2021 to better prepare them to take on future disruptions or uncertainties.” —Jeff Nicholson, global head of CRM at Pegasystems

“Marketing is once again experiencing digital disruption. In 2021, we’ll see more teams working together across different disciplines and functions and forming digital teams or factories to build, launch, and iterate digital experiences. This will quickly become the new normal for digital-first businesses to adapt, survive, and thrive in a post-COVID world.”—Bridget Perry, chief marketing officer at Contentful

“Digital experiences and digital content will become exponentially richer, more dynamic, and more immersive, as brands in all sectors embrace emerging technologies to offset the lack of public gatherings and in-person experiences. Greater focus will be placed on being able to map the consumer purchasing journey, identify touchpoints that drive their experience along the way, and smartly invest in those key elements that deliver measurable results.” —Nishant Patel, cofounder and chief technology officer of Contentstack

“Digital marketing is, of course, nothing new, but in 2020, when most of the world sheltered in place, the already ubiquitous internet gained even higher reach as a marketing channel. With so many continuing to self-isolate at home, expect to see a similar trend in 2021.” —Scott Anderson, chief marketing officer at Intermedia

“As we move into 2021, organizations will be seeking better, broader options for digital customer care as well as mobile app support for agents to service on-demand requests; team collaboration and performance monitoring; AI-powered responses, routing, escalation, tagging; more advanced knowledge management, including next-best-action and orchestration abilities. —Julie Miller, vice president of product marketing at Clarabridge

…And Many of Us Are Staying Home

“Call center agents are never going back to the call center. Following the pandemic and reopening of markets across the globe, contact center agents will permanently remain at home or remote. Now that contact centers and agents have realized the advantages and have jumped through technology barriers with cloud-hosted solutions, they are just as productive as being in the office.” —James Isaacs, president of Cyara

“COVID-19 had such a profound effect on everything. Organizations are embracing the work-from-home concept, recognizing that it works pretty well while welcoming virtual agents into their workforces.” —Allan Andersen, global director of enterprise solutions at IPsoft

“In 2021, the contact center is everywhere. Companies have been forced to adopt massive technology changes to accommodate work during the pandemic. I don’t see us going right back to cubicles and mandatory attendance inside commercial offices in 2021. Managers and agents have already figured out how to work well remotely, and COVID-19 has left an imprint on this industry that has changed its trajectory forever.” —Daryl Gonos, CEO of CommunityWFM

We’ll Put Ourselves in Customers’ Shoes

“The business challenges brought about in 2020 have made it clear that company leaders need to go all in on empathy. They must tap into the human perspective to help them make customer-informed decisions. They must see the world from their customers’ perspectives. Empathy might sound like a fluffy word, but it will be what sets apart the leaders from the laggards in 2021.” —Andy MacMillan, CEO of UserTesting

“All the changes 2020 brought are here to stay, so businesses need to have their eyes wide open to these shifts to address new customer needs in 2021. There is an expectation of more personalization and feeling valued and genuinely heard. This level of empathy, humanity, personal relationships, and deeper trust will not only continue but will be central to all that customer success leaders do.” —Heidi Lasker, vice president of customer success at Bynder

“As we enter 2021, we know there’s no replacing our need for human connection. Whether digital or physical, marketers will have to rethink the entire transaction experience moving forward. We’ll continue changing the customer experience in real time as we instrument digital journeys and experiences that drive meaningful connection but must continue experimenting to find new ways to stay connected and engaged.” —Stephanie Buscemi, chief marketing officer at Salesforce

“The pandemic has shone a light on just how many customers are vulnerable, and understanding vulnerability will become more of a priority than analyzing sentiment. Brands will turn to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing technologies to identify vulnerable customers in real time to improve CX.” —Jeff Gallino, founder and chief technology officer of CallMiner

We’ll Meet Customers Where They Are…

“In a post-pandemic world, human interactions with customers matter more than ever. In 2021, we can expect to see a more profound confluence of CRM and unified communications technologies that enable natural face-to-face conversations, significantly benefiting the contact center. Customers want to reach a company when and how they want and are more loyal to brands that let them choose how to engage.” —Cara Daly, senior director of product marketing at Vidyo

“Contact centers will be able to initiate a trouble ticket with a voice call, continue via group text chat, and conclude on the web. Brands will increasingly meet their customers where they are rather than forcing them into a pre-chosen channel. Increased commercial use of messaging services, such as WhatsApp and Facebook, and adoption of new messaging technologies like RC, will expand the options that consumers have for engaging with their favorite brands.” —Glenn Weinstein, chief customer officer at Twilio

“If there’s anything we learned in 2020, it is the need for flexibility. Throughout COVID-19, many companies took their surveys down as consumers reeled with the impact of the pandemic. In 2021, companies will apply learnings from 2020 and go from reactive/survival mode to a more permanent strategy of gathering customer feedback through an omnichannel approach, analyzing conversations from a variety of channels to understand the customer experience, and reducing even further their reliance on surveys.” —Fabrice Martin, chief product officer at Clarabridge

“In 2021, go-to-market teams will increasingly adopt best-in-class martech partners with complementary technologies, rather than one single vendor, to help them effortlessly orchestrate campaigns across channels at scale. Marketers will see new levels of integration, interoperability, and data flow between their choice of tech tools, which results in more efficient go-to-market efforts.” —Randi Barshack, chief marketing officer at RollWorks

…and Newer Channels We’ll See Increased Growth

“Chatbots now are so much more than just chat. Chatbots today guide deep conversations, kick off complex workflows, take actions on your behalf, and escalate requests accordingly. The communication is personalized and contextualized. In 2021, organizations that invest in chatbots will accelerate their constituents’ trust because of the clear, 24/7 communication chatbots provide.” —David Karandish, CEO of Capacity

“The meteoric rise of connected TV will continue into 2021. As marketers shift more investment into CTV and optimize reach within the channel, they will look to integrate middle-funnel signals to drive understanding of how CTV’s reach influences consumers through their journey. Middle-funnel metrics will grow in importance as marketers continue to navigate privacy and data interoperability required for omnichannel attribution.” —Jessica Hogue, general manager of measurement and analytics at Innovid

“Voice search and virtual assistants continue to gain adoption and usage. In the U.S., smart speaker adoption will surpass 100 million users. In 2021, we will start to see meaningful usage of smart speakers as a marketing channel by enterprises and as a commerce and buying channel by consumers. Messaging and chat adoption continue their gains as critical tools for both sales and customer service across consumer platforms.” —Greg Sterling, vice president of Insights at Uberall

“In 2020, bots were widely being deployed in customer service apps but will soon spread to sales management, from connecting with account executives after a sales call to even sitting in for you in a meeting or call when you’re double-booked. Bots should be an integral part of your strategy to support employees in delivering a human touch.” —Bruce Richardson, chief enterprise strategist at Salesforce

 Good CX Will Become Even More Important

Because of COVID-19’s extensive impact on consumers in 2020 and its lingering effects likely to impact the beginning of 2021, consumers have been forced to rethink and retrain their approach to researching, interacting, and purchasing products and services. I see 2021 as a pivotal year for data and analytics to identify the shifts in consumer behaviors and purchasing preferences vs. their previously exposed traits.” —Colleen Thorndike, director of client success and strategy at Valid

“The sophistication of CX will skyrocket. There will be a new wave of automation at the customer level that will eliminate all the background activities and give time back to customer-facing teams to truly be customer-facing. AI will help in that regard, and organizations will need to apply higher skill sets to free up their ability to engage with customers to build hyper-personalized experiences.” —Ryan Tamminga, vice president of customer success at Alchemer

“Customer retention will be priority No. 1 in 2021. In previous years, securing new customers was just as important as upselling current customers. Because of the negative financial and economic repercussions from the pandemic, the biggest priority for businesses in 2021 will be to simply retain customers, which won’t come easily.” —Howard Brown, CEO of ringDNA 

“More companies will take risks with their messaging. The need to stand out in 2021 is probably more important than ever, and it could be a make-or-break year for many businesses. A lot of companies got a bit of a pass during COVID-19, but that won’t happen in 2021. For many businesses in 2021, the stakes are higher than ever.”—Rebecca Biestman, chief marketing officer at Reputation.com

 We’ll Be More Precise in Our Targeting

“Personalization in B2B will be a huge focus in the year to come and beyond. Throughout 2020, we became conditioned to prioritize personalization efforts. Even when events come back, B2B marketers will be held to the new standard of thinking about their audiences and their evolving needs. To fuel this personalization, intent data will become a more important asset.” —Tom O’Regan, CEO of Madison Logic

“Artificial intelligence is great, but enterprises don’t have time to integrate half-baked or risky technology in the new year. Behavioral marketing will remain every effective marketing team’s secret weapon. As we exit 2020, marketing and consumer budgets are projected to get healthier. Growth-minded marketers won’t get swept up in these projections and will remain nimble with the powers of automation, a skill that holds value long after we stop penny-pinching through the pandemic.” —David Greenberg, senior vice president of marketing at Act-On Software

“2021 may be the year we really see AI-enabled marketing explode. This would literally give the words marketing automation new meaning. With huge amounts of interaction data available to many companies and advances in machine learning we could see next-generation, real-time, AI-enabled marketing where signals are detected and hyper-personalized messages and offers are instantly dispatched without a marketer or marketing operations person lifting a finger.” —Donna Tuths, chief transformation and innovation officer at Sutherland

But We Won’t Sacrifice Trust

“In 2021, businesses will thrive by prioritizing trust. Trust is about confidence in relationships. We took this for granted in the past, with the ability to fly out or meet prospects or current customers over lunches and dinners. With the shift to remote work, analytical capabilities can quantify trust and help us deepen it through screens rather than in person. This will create a chasm of those who embrace customer relationships and those who are solely focused on the sale.” —Jim Benton, CEO of Chorus.ai

“In 2021, we will see more collaboration between marketing and IT departments. With the rise of cyberattacks, data can easily fall into the wrong hands. As marketing departments gain more data from customers, they need to make sure it is properly protected. Additionally, we’ll see significant consolidation within marketing tech stacks, allowing brands better control over their data.” —Diaz Nesamoney, CEO of Jivox

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