In 2020, for the first time in more than five years, we saw two financial services companies achieve an “Excellent” score in our Customer Experience Index (CX Index™), which measures how successfully a company delivers customer experiences that create and sustain loyalty. But even as these digital leaders begin to pull away, the mainstream banks are stagnating. This trend will accelerate in 2021, and not just in banking. The COVID-19 crisis has forced consumers onto digital channels, playing to the strengths of European digital powerhouses like ASOS, Monzo, and Zalando.

In 2021, customer experience leaders in digital brands will widen the gap further by concentrating on core customer experience competencies, such as:

  • Research: to derive quantitative and qualitative insights from journey analytics, and from unstructured data like Monzo’s Community Forum.
  • Prioritisation: to rapidly adapt to further changes in customer behaviour as the pandemic evolves.
  • Enablement: to empower employees and partners to act in service of delivering a great customer experience.

When uncertainty is rampant and customers are having to relearn how to interact with you — at home on digital channels, in stores redesigned around new health and safety rules, and on the phone with agents working remotely — being able to make decisions in the moment is a game changer. Preparing for 2021 will be an exercise in both focus and agility:

  • With shrinking CX budgets, prioritisation will be key. Despite the upheaval of the pandemic, we found that the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak had little effect on customer perceptions. However, we expect that to change. In the wake of the first wave of the pandemic, banks responded quickly and empathetically, providing assistance and credit to customers and allowing flexibility around loan repayments. As the second wave of the pandemic hits Europe and economic uncertainty deepens, banks (and other industries) will move from benevolence to cost cutting and risk management. Maintaining customer experience quality in the face of shrinking budgets will make prioritisation (focusing on what’s most important for your customers’ experience and your business’s success) more important than ever.
  • Brands must rapidly redesign offline experiences to win customers’ trust. Even as the pandemic fades, heightened awareness of how contagion works will leave people more concerned about proximity and hygiene than in the past. Brands will need to build trust offline (and online) by employing design tactics that build customer confidence and help bridge online and offline experiences. A handful of companies able to rapidly upskill their customer-facing workforce will do best at winning and retaining customers (and employees) as this emotionally explosive environment persists well into 2021.

It’s likely to be a bumpy ride, as there will be a further polarisation of customer experience leaders and laggards. Crises create opportunity for companies that use quantitative and qualitative data smartly to focus on what matters most to customers and communicate with honesty and openness to build confidence in the face of uncertainty.

To understand the major dynamics that will impact European businesses next year, download Forrester’s complimentary Predictions guide.

To dive even deeper into what we see for the coming year, check out our Predictions 2021 complimentary webinar series and engage directly with the analysts who made the predictions.