The 2021 Customer


With 2020 reaching its inevitable end, it seemed to promise the hope of a new day as we turned the corner into a new year- perhaps even promised the illusion of an end to the global pandemic. With 2021 edging nearer and nearer, it had most gearing up for a post-pandemic life with the hope of ‘normality’ being restored.

Alas, along with a whole new perspective on how the new year was welcomed in- what with an earlier curfew, more restrictions and liquor stores being shut down again, there was no popping of bubbly to break in the early hours of 2021- rather we welcomed it in our homes as we faced another lockdown.

The questions now being asked are, “Is the post-pandemic world even in our sights?”, and “What does the 2021 customer look like amid all the lockdown versus no lockdown back and forth?”.


How the Covid-19 pandemic has revolutionised business


If you start to scratch beneath the surface of lockdown way of work, it is clear that this moment in history – the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic – has meaningfully transformed the world of retail.

Prior to Covid-19, the customer increasingly expected organisations to create seamless customer experiences. This often meant leaning on digital capabilities to create a seamless, omni-channel experience by linking different aspects of the customer journey more closely and reducing friction where possible. Some organisations were better at this than others and often reaped the benefits. It was a significant data point for them, but of course during pandemic their hard-earned profits have been directed again to supporting and improving their online customer interactions.

So, how can organisations ensure they offer the hassle-free ecommerce experience that customers crave?

  • The safety and security of consumer data: Payment security is a critical consideration for customers, with 64% of South Africans saying a secure checkout experience is fundamental to a good shopping experience.
  • Personalised offers: Through personalisation, organisations can connect with their customers, and upsell and diversify revenues. The use of Artificial Intelligence and algorithms can provide a personalised, customised experience that converges physical and online as an optimal way to achieve loyalty and drive sales.
  • Loyalty and rewards: Reimagining loyalty is certainly key to turning online customers into return customers, and 62% of South Africans said promotions and loyalty initiatives are components of a good shopping experience. (Take a look at our Loyalty Modelling blog for more insights.)
  • Social media and marketplaces: Marketplace apps and websites are expected to account for more than 60% of digital commerce by 2023, partly because they provide a steady stream of consumer traffic for organisations while also supporting the credibility of their products or services. With fewer opportunities to browse in the stores in person, social media and search engines have emerged as a critical platform for finding the most attractive products and offers.


What Lies Ahead for Customer Experience in 2021?


As we are all aware, the year 2020 had called for significant acceleration of digital transformation for businesses. With the possibility of ‘lockdown’ being a long-term reality, let’s look at some of the trends that you should ratify now in order to serve your company well in the future:


1.     Full digital journeys replace physical interactions

The transition to digital experiences has been underway for several years in the many business sectors. In today’s climate, organisations must differentiate themselves by offering alternatives to the brick-and-mortar experience, a situation accelerated by events in 2020.

Systems such as click & collect, previously utilised by the principal retail players, are expanding to all industries, what’s more, since the rise of digital interactions is set to increase by 40 percent in 2021, according to Forrester, organisations must adopt the channels which their customers use and love, while further having the competencies to manage those channels with ease and frictionless effort.

2.     Flexibility is a fundamental

Organisations relying mainly on the cloud were able to ensure this transition quickly. In 2021, the versatility to remain ready to satisfy customer expectations becomes indispensable to standing out. Therefore, organisations should embrace adaptable strategies empowering them to accommodate changes relatively easily. This means using extensive technologies to be flexible and blend the innovations of tomorrow with the company vision and fundamentals.

3.     Asynchronous communications proceed to grow

With 2 billion users on WhatsApp and 1.2 billion on Messenger, the habits of customers are changing and encourage the increased use of these messaging apps throughout the customer journey (Rio, 2020). Google, for example, began the rollout of Business Messages, enabling users to message a business rather than making a phone call and instead encouraging direct messaging.

Due to circumstances in recent months on a global scale, the peak across each and every industry in demand for customer service teams has exploded. This too has led to a rise in the adoption of asynchronous messaging channels, as the mode of exchange in which the customers favour has shifted. To meet the expectations of instantaneity, fast asynchronous communication is increasingly succeeding synchronous channels such as live-chat. In 2021, implementing the best tools to handle these demands and answer within the appropriate time frame will be imperative.

4.     Customer experiences by phone is developing further

Digital channels are adapted to many circumstances and enjoyed by a rapidly increasing number of customers. While a pre-lockdown environment saw it being the root of CX difficulties, essentially, because of queuing or wait times, but the phone sees its methods enhanced thanks to digital.

Call deflection makes it feasible to redirect calls to digital channels when this is suitable for the customer and the company. It can be proposed before the call, throughout the queue, or during the call. Automation and digital make it possible to reduce call volumes and provide much faster answers. Agents are less constrained by resolution time goals and can provide better service. In 2021, the call deflection approach will be more widely adopted to support the transition of telephone interactions to digital.

5.     A better balance between human and automation

Artificial Intelligence is a significant trend that has been unfolding for many years. Organisations have increasingly identified the most fitting cases for chatbots. They have ascertained more enhanced collaboration among chatbots and agents, which can free up time to concentrate on demands with greater added value.

6.    The integration of customer service and unified communications tools enhances CX

Employee satisfaction also has a meaningful impact on customer service. By providing agents with the best tools, they can interact seamlessly with the team through different modes (team messaging, video, and phone) to receive the information they require and resolve customer requests quicker and more efficiently.

Agents can lose up to an hour a day shifting between tools, and 77% of them have to keep customers waiting to get the responses they need internally. The increased use of remote working makes the adoption of unified communications tools even more likely and necessary. This axis should hence be a preference for businesses wishing to continue advancing their customer relations in 2021.


The Tired Customer

Besides considering how Covid-19 has changed how we do business; it has also significantly impacted customers. What with customers actively waiting for some relief in their day-to-day, be it having the freedom to walk outside at any time they wish, go to the mall and not wait in a queue to get into their favourite shop, or simply go to a restaurant without having to wear a mask and order an ice-cold beer. Going from a strict lockdown (level 5) to almost tasting freedom (level 1), and then being thrown back into a level 3 lockdown, customers and citizens at large are feeling the burn of the pandemic and are experiencing fatigue in all spheres of life.

Of course, there are the obvious financial and medical strains, however, South Africans are at a point where they are just tired… from goods being off-limits to becoming available and going back to being banned overnight- the South African consumer finds themselves in a constant tired state, simply waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. This state has inevitably created a mindset shift, changing the way in which we make purchases.


Ways Covid-19 Changed How Customers Buy


1. Being Better

Without question, lockdown has impacted the customer mindset. Whether clapping for health workers and supporting community initiatives, setting ambitious fitness goals or taking up home baking, the pandemic circumstances have inspired millions to take varying forms of positive action.

Social distancing has also unleashed a wave of self-improvement while skill-building has become a form of entertainment in its own right. It is critical that organisations consider this and exhibit empathy. All brands will be expected to come across as supportive towards this customer’ mindset at various stages while remembering it may shift quickly depending on the state of the pandemic at any given time.

2. In it together, but experiencing it differently

Although we’ve all gone through lockdown together, people have been affected in significantly different ways. Some are saving money they can’t spend on holidays or restaurants, whereas others have lost their entire livelihoods, but yet are having to pay more on groceries and utilities.

Lockdown experiences definitely depend on the customer’s subjective financial situations, home environment, and social context. This has meant that customers experience and perceive an organisation and brand with their particular lens, to someone struggling a brand encouraging spending on luxury items could seem tone deaf. It is more important than ever to listen to and know your customers.

3. Putting actions behind your purpose

Brand purpose and developing goal-orientated business strategies has been a hot topic for years, but the COVID-19 lockdown has undoubtedly pushed down the accelerator. Day to day, values must correlate with customer experience. That’s particularly true in the business-to-business (B2B) sector where, in addition to offering fantastic products with real value, service excellence and deep customer relationships, businesses will need to demonstrate an understanding of their wider role in society as we rebuild in the wake of lockdown.

Brand leaders and marketers have an important role to play in ensuring this is not just about warm words, but concrete actions. as customers, regulators, employees, and the public will hold organisations to a different standard. B2B brands that overclaim and underdeliver will soon be found out.


In conclusion, while listening to the voice of your customer and understanding business context has always been important, it has never been more critical than now – during the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced many changes to both how to businesses operate and also the profile of what is important to customers. Be sure to stay connected as closely to both as you can and understand the ever-changing needs and mindsets of customers.