There's no debating that COVID-19 changed life as we know it around the globe. But what is debatable is when — and if — we'll fully return to normal. From a business perspective, companies and organizations can count on one thing: Many of the shifts and trends in digital consumer behavior we saw over the past year are here to stay. In fact, some industries are already operating 5 to 10 years in the future thanks to the pandemic.
While there are many insights to take in as we continue to navigate the first half of 2021, we wanted to get a first hand account on how businesses are adapting in order to not just be digital first in their approach, but "digital best" to ensure they're not just surviving online, but rather thriving. We spoke to a few of our customers and partners to get their takes on the biggest trends of the past year that were most relevant to their business, their strategies as we move forward, and a few bold predictions for 2021.
Up next in our multi-part series, we have Davide Contrini, Managing Director, Digital Marketing Lead ICEG at Accenture and Nik Shroff, Senior Director of Global Technology Partners at Adobe.
2020 has certainly been a year of unpredictability – and also one of transformation. What are the shifts and trends that stood out most to you in the past year?
Davide: The global pandemic has displaced how and where we work, learn, shop and play — and even where we live. As place displacement became a global theme in 2020, activity displacement emerged hand-in-hand with it; changing completely how we do things.
Relocation has had a monumental impact on people's behaviors, and many companies must now face the fact that the customers they knew so well have changed.
Another keyword of 2020 has been empathy: longstanding inequalities between rich and poor, old and young, men and women, and different ethnic groups came under sharp focus as Covid-19's impact was felt unevenly around the world. People are increasingly concerned about the purpose and ethics of the organizations they work for and whose products or services they use.
Companies must figure out how they want to handle polarizing narratives and which side of the story, if any, they choose to support; furthermore – and more difficulty – they need to be consistent with their brand information, across all digital and physical touchpoints.
Nik: The macro trends of 2020 accelerated the shift towards digital for all industries. And that shift is going to continue. We've seen traditionally in-person industries, including education, healthcare, and grocery, embrace new technology to serve their customers, patients, and students. A good example of this is how city and state governments launched new websites with improvements to help citizens easily find the latest information and resources related to COVID-19.
In a world gone (largely) virtual, it makes sense to think about digital strategies. How has your view of digital changed this year, and what do you think will be its importance looking forward into 2021?
Davide: While the importance of home screens has risen sharply, our willingness to use shared screens in public spaces has plummeted. Until we have a reliable vaccine, touch as a form of interaction is in trouble and various companies are accelerating their efforts to develop alternatives. Even before the pandemic, proximity interactions were becoming contactless and self-service checkouts automatically scanned items placed close by.
We live nowadays in a constant strain between desire and fear of leaving our homes to get a real-world experience; "waiting time" will no longer be accepted as a part of the experience, nor will it be missing or wrong information about physical boutiques. More than ever before, digital will become a fundamental support and complementing aspect to the shopping experience.
Overall, there is also a sort of screen fatigue we all suffer from: we notice a certain sameness caused by templated design in digital, UI is fast becoming monotonous. I believe that 2021 will be about reconsidering design, content, audience and the interaction between them to inject greater excitement, joy and serendipity into screen and real-world experiences.
Nik: As more businesses embrace digital channels, exceptional customer experience will become an even bigger differentiator for businesses. Customer expectations for the brands they engage with are higher than ever before. Customers expect brands to deliver engaging and personalized experiences at every interaction, including their search experience. And digital will play a key role in the success of brands to deliver these experiences customers expect. Data paired with technology like artificial intelligence will enable brands to scale their personalization efforts.
Make a bold prediction about your industry: What's going to happen or be a hot new trend in 2021? What are your big predictions for 2021 in general?
Davide: Working from home has become living in the office. The shift towards remote working only accelerated in 2020, as it has been evolving for years; but it forces now employers to rethink the give-and-take with employees and their experiences.
My prediction for 2021 is that it will be about leveraging on new opportunities to innovate in areas such as culture and talent as we enter an era of prototyping what the future of work could look like.
The other trend this year will be an increasingly 'liquid infrastructure'. Relocation has changed how people experience and get hold of products and services. Now, supply chains are under unprecedented pressure to meet new demands, placing stress on business models. Organizations will evaluate all their physical assets and refocus on points of delight in the last few steps before purchase.
Companies need to consider their supply chain as a growth driver. Demand for personalization presents an important opportunity—one that requires supply chains to be more flexible and responsive.
The bold statement I would embrace is one of hope: that we see 2021 as the true start of the 21st Century, taking all of the best of what we have learned forward and leaving those things we don't want behind us. All of us at Accenture cannot wait for it.
Nik: There's no doubt that the customer experience landscape will continue to evolve, and there is still uncertainty around just how much change to expect. Organizations that focus on creating more meaningful digital experiences by moving to first-party data, consent and identity resolution, and those that double down on digital transformation, while also building a foundation for agile content marketing will come out on top.
How is your business thinking about refining or continuing transformative plans as we head into 2021? What strategies will you continue? Which will you sunset?
Davide: At Accenture, we have always defined ourselves as the experience business; I believe that this year, the emphasis on experience is arguably at its greatest.
The structure of almost everything we do – how and what people buy, how and where they work, and how they interact with others – has been upended by world events in 2020. The consumer behavior shifts we're seeing today are not a blip; they are likely to stay with us for a long time, some likely forever.
We believe that customer experience (CX) is no longer enough; good CX has become mainstream, leading to a sea of sameness. At Accenture we are reimagining business through the lens of experience, evolving towards the business of experience (BX).
An evolution of CX, BX is a more holistic approach that allows organizations to become customer-obsessed and reignite growth. Whereas CX was limited to the CMO or COO purview, BX is in the boardroom as a CEO priority because it ties back to every aspect of a company's operations.
The business of experience is very much a new category of leadership that savvy CEOs and their leadership teams will embrace as we move deeper into the coming decade.
Nik: When it comes to digital transformation, no single company can deliver on the full vision and business objectives that our customers have. Our customers operate in heterogeneous environments with many sets of technologies that need to work together. Our technology partners, including Yext, bring a unique value by filling the gaps. In 2021, we are going to unleash the potential of our technology partners with stronger collaboration so together we can help our joint customers extract greater value out of the investments that they have already made.
How do Yext solutions fit into your business's transformation in 2021?
Davide: Yext will continue to be a fundamental technology partner for us at Accenture, to provide our clients with the best experience on the planet.
Yext solutions will allow us to deliver a consistent and relevant experience across all touchpoints of the customer journey, ultimately leading to conversion rate optimization. Starting from on-site internal search, up to drive-to-store moments, brands can manage their presence and narrative to spark empathy amongst clients and employees.
I am excited already.