At the beginning of 2021, there was a lot of speculation about what a “new normal,” if there is such a thing, would look like as the world began to emerge from the depths of the pandemic. Questions included whether digital-first customer behaviors would continue, if employees would return to an office environment, and whether contactless engagements such as telehealth would continue on an upward trajectory.
As we close out the calendar year, in addition to gaining some clarification on changing consumer behaviors, office dynamics and telehealth stabilization, there appears to be a common denominator to the topline changes likely to endure in these unprecedented times. Consumers are simply more empowered and increasingly aware that they are in control of the shape of their brand relationships. An expectation for a seamless experience across all channels and engagement touchpoints has hardened as foundational.
The fact that brands are still striving to meet this base expectation sheds some light on what we can expect as we turn the page on a new year. To wit, here are my predictions surrounding customer experience for 2022:
- Companies will innovate with the use of first-party data to drive brand equity – Consumers understand that first-party data is what drives the seamless, omnichannel experiences they have come to expect. In new research Redpoint conducted with Harris Poll, 66 percent of consumers surveyed said they are willing to provide brands more information about themselves if it is used to create a more valuable customer experience. Thus, with the impending shift away from third-party data, first-party data will become the standard for brands to gather insight.
Businesses that succeed in a soon to be cookie-less world will be those that foster consumer trust, building brand equity through the proper use and accountability for data entrusted to them. Data protection and stewardship will be a big focus, and successful brands will set the standard by ensuring all customer data never leaves control of the organization, becoming increasingly reluctant to push their data out to managed services.
- Consumer preferences and consent will become integral to the marketing team’s approach to driving revenue – In line with the increased focus on data stewardship, 2022 will see accountability for consumer data extend beyond a siloed IT function into marketing. Preference and consent management will become a new key function for marketing teams, as they take on additional responsibilities for how data is used to orchestrate consumer experiences.
With the willing exchange of first-party data for more personalized experiences, and with an expectation that this data is used in accordance with stated preferences, we can expect to also see leading brands establish data contracts with customers. This will go beyond checking a box of adhering to a new regulation to instead focus on adding long-term value and consideration to the consumer experience.
- Only the top 15-20 percent of brands will execute on a holistic omnichannel strategy – In yet another recent Harris Poll finding that underscores the importance of delivering a personalized experience, 82 percent of consumers (up 5 percent from a 2019 Harris Poll survey) say they are loyal to brands that demonstrate a “thorough understanding” of them as a unique customer.
Consumers increasingly demand omnichannel experiences that reflect such a thorough understanding, with consistency across all touchpoints. In fact, a lack of consistency was cited by 74 percent of consumers in the Harris Poll as a major reason why brands fall short of delivering an “excellent” customer experience.
What holds many brands back from meeting this expectation is that they often strategize and execute around the channel, not the customer. Putting the customer at the center from a business and an operational standpoint is the only way to truly achieve omnichannel customer engagement. However, this customer strategy will only be possible by the brands that embrace omnichannel capabilities for data, decisions and orchestration – enabling them to understand and act in the moment at the cadence of each customer, regardless of their channel. We anticipate that moving beyond ‘multi-channel’ or ‘cross-channel’ to omnichannel will only be achieved by the top 15-20 percent of brands that truly get creating, delivering and sustaining superior customer experiences right.
- The 90s are back, not just in TV reruns and fashion, but in marketing methodologies, too. Marketers will finally be able to market to a segment of one – Popularized in the early 1990s, one-to-one marketing is no longer just a concept – but now finally an executable strategy. Even though marketers have become very sophisticated at selections, offers and messages to package and send out, it has always been a segment of many. There never was a true market of one….until now.
We finally have a way to drive this market of one in real-time, using in-the-moment insights to engage consumers. With machine learning and AI, marketers can generate thousands or millions of models to establish a market of one, versus building a model around a segment. Technology – underpinned by trusted data – is what enables this. With this in mind, brands will finally start to leverage machine learning to gain a single point of control over their decisions, tapping into the ability to engage a true market of one and advancing customer strategies exponentially.
In closing, I see 2022 as a tipping point in terms of how brands think about customer experience. By this time next year, I think we will see many more brands and organizations appreciate that first-party data is the cornerstone for providing omnichannel customer experiences that align with customer expectations. While some of the coming changes will be driven by new privacy regulations and the end of third-party cookies, compliance – however important – will finally be understood as secondary to the overarching reason brands will better protect data they’ve been entrusted. That is, they know the exchange of first-party data in return for a continually improved omnichannel customer experience forms a relationship with a customer based on trust, which becomes central to the brand promise.