Customer experience in 2021: Which trends are here to stay, according to top CX leaders

COVID-19 catapulted CX to the top of company priorities—but are these trends here to stay? Find out three top findings from our recent CX study and discussion with senior CX leaders.


Christine Rimer

December 17, 2020

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Times of crisis bring both challenges and opportunities. For customer experience (CX) professionals, COVID-19 has ushered in an opportunity to help organizations adapt to changing customer needs by leveraging customer feedback to listen and take action on what customers are saying.

To better understand how companies are leveraging CX programs to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, we surveyed 1,777 CX professionals. Then, we shared the results of our CX study with 34 senior CX leaders at our roundtable series to get their reactions to the top insights. The engaging discussion that followed provoked the question: “What trends are here to stay and which are short-term pivots that will be reversed on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis?” 

We’re excited to share with you what we learned from the discussion, including which CX trends we think will stick around—from customer marketing to digital investments and agility. Read on for the takeaways or download the full report here: Taking the lead: Why CX teams will play a critical role in COVID-19 recovery

Customer marketing is rising in importance

During times of crisis, slashed budgets can make acquiring new customers an uphill battle. With the financial challenges that impacted many organizations in 2020, we hypothesized that many companies had shifted their focus to retention. The data in our CX study backs that up:

  • 87% of respondents say customer feedback has become more important since COVID-19

  • Over half agree there’s been an increased focus on their CX program from the C-Suite

  • 60% added new touchpoints as a result of the pandemic

In our roundtable discussions, we heard organizations are prioritizing engaging with their existing customers in 2021. Multiple CX leaders observed that their marketing organization was increasing their attention to communication with existing customers. For B2Bs, this meant more proactive communication on sharing product roadmaps and introducing new features.

One CX leader noted the siloed functional approach to customers had diminished in her organization this year. Customer success, support, product, and marketing teams were more coordinated in how they engaged with customers across the journey. By listening to customer feedback, they could start by providing content to educate customers. 

Another trend was the attention to customer segmentation. The pandemic has hit industries differently. A conversation with a customer in travel, professional sports or hospitality should be different than one with someone whose business supports the digital transformation. Whether CX leaders set up a scoring system to guide front-line employees or offer training, the trend for improving your customer’s experience starts with segmenting to provide more personalized, relevant experiences.

Digital investments will continue in 2021

We know most companies have multi-year digital transformation plans at play, but we wanted to understand if these initiatives were accelerated in 2020 given the massive shift online that we’ve seen happening across industries this year. And since customer feedback is critical to getting transformation initiatives right, we also wanted to understand if CX leaders felt that they’re more involved with these initiatives now than before the pandemic.

Our CX study revealed that companies are indeed racing toward the digital sphere, and increasingly looking to CX leaders to pave the way:

  • 80% say their organizations’ online interactions with customers have increased since COVID-19

  • 75% are accelerating new or planned digital transformation initiatives today

  • 80% of CX professionals say they’re involved in their organization’s digital transformation initiatives, and nearly ⅔ are more involved in these initiatives today than they were prior to COVID-19

The discussion with CX leaders started by acknowledging that some organizations are not only inherently digital, but they also provide the technology and services enabling the digital transformation. Of course, other businesses are in industries built on human interactions which are experiencing a dramatic shift to digital in 2020. 

In the discussion, some CX leaders shared that their digital experience was originally designed to allow them to scale customer education and support through emails and customer portals.

However, the pandemic has also highlighted that digital is about more than scale—it’s also about offering a great experience. The self-service experience built for smaller customers is not just desired but expected from larger customers who don’t want to talk to a human for the simple tasks. Self-service isn’t just about cutting costs for your company—it’s also about providing your customers with the great, self-service digital experience they’re seeking. 

As with any CX initiative, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and try to boil the ocean. The roundtable recommendation was to start small with quarterly sprints to improve parts of the experience so you finish 2021 stronger.

One CX leader posed a question that the group struggled to answer. She shared that her organization invested in training front line employees to demonstrate empathy when talking to frustrated or upset customers and she asked the group, “how do you build empathy into the digital experience?” 

Our customers are people and we know in this crisis, we are talking to people who are  having a really hard time—physically, mentally, and/or financially. Just as organizations have to think about investing in training front-line employees to listen to customers and adjust their tone, CX leaders need to be thoughtful about building their digital experiences with the ability to listen and gather feedback along the journey so they can iterate, improve and adjust.  

2020 CX Research: Learn how to leverage agile, collaborative CX to boost your company's recovery post-COVID-19
Download report

Agility supports growth

Of course, some industries have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, and no amount of investment in CX efforts can minimize the impact shutdowns will have on live events, travel and hospitality. 

That said, we did hypothesize in our CX study that companies demonstrating agility with regards to adapting to changing customer expectations were more likely to survive the pandemic and be set up to thrive as the economy re-opens.

Our CX study found companies with financial growth since COVID-19 were three times as likely to say they can adapt to changing customer needs very quickly vs. companies with revenue decline. Additionally, agile companies were more than twice as likely to feel prepared to withstand an economic downturn, compared to slow-to-adapt companies.

Staying flexible and agile, listening to the voice of your customers, and pivoting in response to what you’re hearing is critical to navigating a crisis. One CX leader shared that while many in his industry—which has been significantly impacted by the pandemic—have been furloughed, his role was elevated as a result of his running an agile feedback program that enabled his organization to pivot.

One CX leader in our discussion shared her experience with agility: early in the pandemic, her food delivery company saw a significant drop in sales at one location versus another nearby. Reviewing customer feedback and further surveying some of their more engaged customers helped them learn that one of the stores was relying on their new app, which provided a less-than-ideal experience. By fixing a few key parts of the app based on customer feedback gathered in less than a week, they saw an immediate rise in sales within the month. Talk about agility!


Ultimately, there are opportunities in every crisis. For CX professionals, the rise of CX, digital transformation, and agility during the coronavirus pandemic could be the turning point needed to win over skeptics. Those who previously said, “do I really need CX?” may finally see the value of understanding customer experience and bringing that data into a holistic overview of the business overall. 

Want to see the full results from our CX study? Download the report to find out what we learned about key attributes of successful companies, how feedback plays a role, and what steps organizations can take now to aid in their recovery.

Curious about the SurveyMonkey CX Leader Roundtable program?

I couldn’t be more grateful for the SurveyMonkey CX Leader Community for taking the time to invest in their peers. By providing such great benchmark data and joining regular roundtables to discuss the results, these leaders are helping us all get better together—showing up for our customers. If you or someone you know would be interested in joining the SurveyMonkey CX Leader Roundtable program, please take our sign up survey.

2020 CX research report: Why CX teams will play a critical role in COVID-19 recovery
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