Staff Writer
Jan 18, 2021

A marketer roadmap to the future of customer engagement in 2021

In an era when customers are expecting brand communications to be convenient, seamless and empathetic, marketers need to step up their digital transformation game.

Photo credit: Salesforce
Photo credit: Salesforce

New year, fresh start...and rising customer expectations of brands, according to Salesforce’s State of Connected Customer report, which surveyed 3600 business buyers and 12,000 customers from July 16 through August 18, 2020. 

2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges for marketers and business leaders. Covid has driven customers to adopt a digital-first mindset overnight — throwing meticulously-mapped out customer journeys and touchpoints into disarray, and forcing marketers to come up with innovative and sensitive ways to stay connected with a stay-at-home crowd in the face of slashed budgets. 

The pandemic has also shifted customer expectations — with many feeling that brands should take a greater role in helping employees, customers and the community. In fact, 78% of customers say this year’s crises should catalyse for business improvement, per the Salesforce report. 

Stepping into 2021, how should marketers revamp their strategy to provide seamless and empathetic experiences? 

Win customers’s trust and build your brand in their mind

In a year marked by health and socio-political turmoils, 86% of customers say that the societal role of companies is changing. 56% are evaluating — or re-evaluating — a brand’s trustworthiness through the prism of the pandemic, with 90% saying how a company acts during a crisis demonstrates its trustworthiness, versus 73% just a year ago.

Photo credit: Salesforce

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Aside from Covid, 2020 was also a year of social justice movements and environmental crises. With their lives upended, customers are increasingly looking to brands to help them navigate this turbulent time. 

Yet, the report also shows that marketers need to work harder to gain the trust of customers. 61% of customers say it’s difficult for a company to earn their trust — 7 percentage points higher than the previous year. It no longer suffices to put out a feel-good message — brands must deliver that in an empathetic manner and follow that up with action. 

Encouragingly, many brands have walked the talk in 2020 — from those who have made commitments to hiring those laid-off because of Covid, to those who leveraged their platforms to make public service announcements. But trust is also a long-term game. With 71% of customers paying more attention to corporate values than they did a year ago, brands must not only do good during the pandemic or other crises, they must also prove that they’re consistently doing good in the communities they serve. 

One misstep and the loss could be huge — 62% of customers say they have stopped buying from a company whose values didn’t align with theirs.

90% business buyers in APAC say experience is as important as products and services 

One way for brands to build that trust is to offer better customer experience. 

In a year when 52% of customers expected offers to always be personalised — up from 49% in 2019, customer experience was still the key competitive differentiator. And it will continue to be in 2021. Today’s customers are no longer satisfied with just a good product, with a majority placing as much emphasis on flawless engagement as they do on product quality. 

The focus on customer experience is even more of a differentiator in the B2B world, especially in APAC. According to Salesforce’s research, 93% of business buyers in Singapore say that the experience is as important as the product and service, with that number shooting up to 95% and 98% in Thailand and the Philippines. This shows that customers do feel an emotional connection to the brands they buy from the most and are more likely to make another purchase after a great service. Across the world, 84% business buyers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that demonstrates an understanding of their business goals. Key to that customer experience is a real understanding of business goals. 

Photo credit: Salesforce

Yet, the report also shows that there is still a lot of work to be done, with 57% of business buyers saying that sales representatives often lack adequate knowledge of their business. 

Another interesting finding from the report is the central role that convenience plays in brand stickiness. 

While 54% of customers believe companies should offer new products and services in response to COVID-19, it is less than the 69% who want companies to translate the products and services they’ve enjoyed all along into new formats, for example, digital versions of in-person experiences. 

To maximise brand experience, marketers need to better map customer journeys to find out where the points of engagement are, and where the pain points are. 

A single source of truth is a core enabler on the path to digital transformation

After all, the report suggests that brands are not quite there when it comes to delivering seamless experiences. The pace of innovation is accelerating, with 76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments, but 54% feel that sales, service, and marketing teams don’t share information.

So how should companies get down to delivering extraordinary experiences? 

If marketers want to deliver business value and build sustainable customer relationships, the ability to analyse marketing performance in real-time is imperative. If you wait to measure performance after a campaign ends, it may result in a waste of valuable marketing budget.

Customer data platforms (CDPs), artificial intelligence (AI), and automation can help deliver a single source of truth about your customers. With this, marketers could deliver cohesive, value-driven and personalised customer experiences across marketing, sales, and service. That’s the reason Salesforce built Customer 360 Truth, a suite of solutions that helps knit together customer and account IDs, harmonise data, and manage consent. Customer 360 Audiences is a key component of Customer 360 Truth, providing reliable and accessible customer profile so coveted by marketers.

This is a needed evolution, as 59% of customers feel like they are working with separate departments rather than one company. With their data seamlessly connected across your departments, customers are primed to view brand interactions with the feeling that you know and understand them — because you really do.

Photo credit: Salesforce

Many companies already had digital transformation as a key priority pre-Covid, but it has taken on rising urgency during the pandemic. While 74% say they’ve used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction, 66% says they’ve used multiple devices to start and complete a transaction. Disconnected experiences inconvenience customers. In a socially distanced environment, all-digital customers and many new converts have come to view digital engagement as a necessity. Brands, in turn, will have to accelerate their digital transformations.

In just one year, online customer interactions have hit a tipping point and grew from 42% in 2019 to 60% during the period of uncertainty in 2020. When people crave personalised interactions across channels and devices, marketers need integrated solutions that’d help them turn customer data into actionable insights to deliver first-rate digital experiences. 

Yet, brands must also gain the trust of their customers, who understand that businesses need to digitally transform but hold an ambivalent attitude towards giving out their data. While 88% expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to COVID-19, only 48% trust companies to use AI ethically, and 54% are concerned about its potential bias. 

One of the biggest challenges for marketers in 2021 is to close this gap: marketers need to gain customers’ trust in using their data if they want to deliver personalised experiences. 

How to stay ahead of your digital marketing game in 2021 

As our world continues to adapt and shift day by day, business leaders and marketers will need to play the best game. That means matching business challenges with solutions and matching customers to the right product  yours. If you haven’t developed your 2021 marketing strategy, start the New Year with a clear action plan of the goals and achieve them with high performance. 

To learn more, download Salesforce’s latest 4th edition State of Connected Customer report to stay ahead of the marketing game and get ready to use this knowledge to give your customers their best experience in 2021.

Campaign Asia

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