Top best practices for standout customer experiences in 2021

What is the key to effectively managing customer experience (CX) in 2021?

That’s precisely the question that we posed to marketing, IT, and other executives, all of whom are on the hook for customer experience management in some shape or form in the year ahead.


Their responses below highlight the need for organizations to fine-tune their customer experience strategy to ensure it lives up to the expectations of consumers who are now living in a digital economy, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet the needs of increasingly digital consumers in 2021, organizations will need to build omnichannel customer experiences that use advanced technologies for customer intelligence, automation, personalization, and contextual relevance to serve the right experience to the right customer at the right time.

2021 customer experience best practices: Here’s what success will look like in the year ahead.

“Insight and intelligence are two of the top characteristics of an effective enterprise technology posture. Organizations must democratize data, harness intelligent services, manage outcomes and deliver business relevant insights on a real time basis.”

Andrew Wilson, chief digital officer, Microsoft

“Imagine you’re the customer. It does not matter if you are B2B or B2C. Customers will still compare their business experience to the best experiences they have had. And when you understand their perspective, you can create the best experiences for them.”
— Glen Hartman, president of the Americas, Accenture Interactive

“Technology will play a key role in improving customer experiences in 2021. Traditional flat customer profiles are becoming deep and broad, with leading IT organizations focused on deploying new systems that work across channels, providing a unified and real-time view of the customer journey.”
— Cynthia Stoddard, CIO, Adobe

“Brands play a larger role in life. With a convergence of growing challenges, we expect brands to respond with action. While it may be uncomfortable, that's leadership. Commit to taking a stance. Have a North Star for corporate social justice.”

Ty Heath, director, market engagement, The B2B Institute @ LinkedIn

“Trust is the underlying foundation for the Human Experience, which is driven by values, emotions, and actions, will be reinforced in 2021. By understanding people’s values, brands can ensure that the promises they make actually align to what their audiences care about most. Organizations focused on what customers value, will positively impact their bottom line. Technology platforms that enable this trend will emerge as winners in this space.”
Ashvin Vellody, partner, Deloitte Consulting

“As the global pandemic has restricted in-person interactions, customers in all age groups have learned to rely almost exclusively on technology to communicate with brands. Brands must therefore accelerate their digital transformation in order to deliver a seamless customer experience across multiple screens, voice assistants, social media platforms, instant messaging and offline.”
— Emmanuel Probst, SVP of brand health tracking, Ipsos

“Unsurprisingly, consumer preferences have radically shifted in 2020 and will continue to evolve in 2021. That said, for savvy marketers, the strategies for delivering best-in-class experiences remain constant: Think digitally, take a personalized approach, and always strive for seamless interactions.”

Mary Hines, U.S. consumer chief marketing officer, Citi

“Not only saving customers time, but also connecting with customers on an emotional level. We need to re-imagine journeys toward outcomes-that-matter for our customers, delivering emotional highs from memorable interactions. These new journeys will create more positive perceptions of brand value, leading to greater customer retention and customer lifetime value.”
Nigel Fenwick, VP and principal analyst, Forrester

“In 2021, putting the customer experience at the center of a brand’s strategy, means putting the digital agenda at the center of the business strategy. The best of the best does not just think digital first, they dream digital first.”
— Paul Robson, president of international, Adobe

“Personal, human connection is critical for impactful customer experiences, but 2020 taught us that ‘human’ isn’t synonymous with “in person.” In the future, successful companies will use technology and automation to augment human interactions, both live and virtual.”

Neesha Hathi, chief digital officer, EVP, Charles Schwab

“Data, and how it’s used, will be the lifeblood of creating exceptional customer experience next year. Leading brands will be those who stitch data into the heart of everything they do, base every CX decision on customer insight, and who drive action around customer outcomes.”
— Claire Darley, vice president, digital media go to market and sales, EMEA, Adobe

“In a 5G world, edge computing will make local devices and even “things” smarter and more responsive, allowing ever-more personalized and delightful experiences. Take advantage of these computing superpowers by designing for more intelligent experiences.”
Pete Stein, global lead for experience and commerce, Merkle

“Inclusion from inside out: Inclusion of the perspectives of under-represented users in brand ecosystems, inclusion of cross-functional teams to be better partners championing for CX, and inclusion as a focus in growing more diverse CX teams in our industry.”

Wendy Johansson, global vice president of experience, Publicis Sapient

“As technology takes the centerstage in providing contactless and cashless CX in the COVID world, the differentiator in 2021 is in building digital services that demonstrate care – offering comfort, confidence, control, convenience to customers, and deepening the connection with them.”
Wong Yan Jun, group director of digital services and chief information officer, Central Provident Fund Board

“CX in 2021 will require three key traits: a relentless pursuit of excellence, measurable and meaningful impact, and collaborative leadership across the business.”
Katie Martell, Adobe Insider and host of the Experience Maker Awards

“Staying agile and innovative in order to adapt to changing consumer behavior is key. We need to continue to provide our customers a menu of options to choose from depending on what they need in the moment and ensure a connected experience online and in-store.”

David Walmsley, chief digital officer, Pandora

“Our top best-practice for effective and lasting customer experience is to regard our customer as our partner – in the truest sense of the word. Not just being pro-active vs. reactive, but discovering, imagining, and building things, together.”
— Jerome Wauthoz, vice president of product, Levels Beyond

“In 2021, customer experience will need to evolve into true customer service; relationships over transactions. Omni-channel will shift from a competitive advantage to an expectation. Customers will expect seamless, consistent experiences highlighting the current need for contact-less and self-service options.”
— Dustin Holmstrom, North America head of digital architecture, BORN Group

Stephen Frieder, president, Adobe Americas

“The key is to use customer data to avoid “one size fits all” CX activities. Do your best to understand the unique value (and values) of each type of customer before engaging in CX activities with them. And then after each CX activity, carefully evaluate the incremental long-run impact of those activities at a granular level.”
— Peter S. Fader, Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia professor of marketing, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“Workplaces demanded logic while emotions were kept at home. Home and workplace divisions blurred in 2020. Great employee experience (EX) helps create great CX. Understanding human emotions like trust and empathy will be differentiators for great CX in 2021.”
— Abhijit Bhaduri, executive coach and author of Dreamers and Unicorns

“Without the in-person interaction of physical retail, shoppers are craving connection. Engage with consumers in an authentic way: lead with purpose, communicate authentically, and share how you contribute to the community. Key takeaway: bring humanity into the digital shopping experience.”

Kelly Wenzel, CMO, Amazon Pay

“For effective customer experience in 2021, focus on delivering immersive buying experiences. This includes everything from augmented reality, videos, reviews, and seamless in-store and online engagements. In a disconnected COVID-world, buyers want frictionless omnichannel experiences, not just shopping opportunities.”
Johan Boström, co-founder and chief product officer, inRiver

“In a word, empathy. The pandemic has forced consumers to reevaluate every purchase. Brands need to place consumers back in the driver’s seat of product cycle. Brands will win by successfully remodeling experiences to meet consumer needs. To do so, brands should pay more attention to user generated content remains one of the most underutilized sources of content.”
— Mordecai Holtz, director of global brand, United Hatzalah of Israel

“Controlled accommodation. With lives turned upside down it’s necessary to meet consumers where they are, accommodating a rapidly shifting landscape. However uncharted territory brings consumer uncertainty. Once the consumer is ‘met,’ a carefully controlled experience will provide order from chaos.”

Erin Hunt, co-founder, president and chief creative officer, Above The Fray

“When developing customer-facing content, don’t shy away from addressing the pandemic. Google’s algorithm now gives preferential search results to brands that address COVID in a way that informs and supports customers—from updated shipping policies to changes in services. They want to know businesses are relevant in the current state of the world.”
— Amanda Pressner Kreuser, managing partner, Masthead Media

“As digital becomes the primary engagement mode for consumers, marketers must move beyond designing the customer journey for lead acquisition and take ownership of every touchpoint across the overall experience to more effectively create the flywheel of service to sales.”
Joyce Kim, chief marketing officer, Genesys

“Customer experience will be defined by gaining a clear understanding of mission critical goals and performing against those objectives as the very definition of customer lifecycle. Only when we can draw a straight-line between customer priorities and our influence on those priorities, can we say we are providing a best-in-class customer experience.”

Justin Gray, founder and CEO, LeadMD

“If 2020 has taught marketers anything, it is that meaningful connections are everything. Whether your business is focused on B2B or B2C, using data insights into your customers experience with your brand and others, will be pivotal in building a very different relationship-based foundation than what we have ever seen before. Customers are demanding a different experience, a better use of insights and compassion.”
— Mellissah Smith, founder and managing director, Marketing Eye

“Effective customer experience is to provide timely, relevant, personalized content and services at the zero moment-of-truth. Achieving this requires integrated data and platforms, but most importantly integrated working squads consisting of people from content, data, technology, service, and operations.”
Ton Chirathivat (Boat), president, The 1 Central Limited

Susan Coghill, chief marketing officer, Tourism Australia

“In 2021, employee experience (EX) will become the new customer experience (CX) and technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality will unlock EX’s full potential. As more workers need to be upskilled and retrained than ever before, these technologies will allow them to be trained faster and be better engaged. Also, as Gen Z workers continue to enter the workforce, they will expect companies to be innovative in the way they train them, including gamifying learning and training and using new technologies like AR and VR.”
— Cathy Hackl, futurist and author of The Augmented Workforce

“Maya Angelou once said: ‘People forget what you say, but they never forget how you made them feel.’ Stop talking about your products — nobody cares. People don’t buy great products; they buy better versions of themselves.”
— Jon Ferrara, founder, Nimble

"Experience-driven commerce will continue to take center stage in 2021. The most successful retailers focus not only on getting their shopper's attention early but also extending the same level of focus post-purchase to win over life-long customers."

Tom Berger, VP of marketing, Bolt

“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the foundation for everything is people and relationships. We really must prioritize what customers need and want rather than just forcing what we would like to say—whether during good times or challenging ones. Embrace change, agility, empathy and resilience to connect and benefit through both experiences and outcomes.”
— Ian Gertler, social strategy, influencer relations, thought leadership, and communications, Citrix

“Effective CX, will be defined by the ability to influence positive interactions and experiences, on a consistent and prolonged basis. The process should be embracive for continuous feedback and improvement, which then increases the propensity of curating propositions, that would resonate with customers. “
— Anantharaman Sreenivasan, country head, India markets, Cognizant