Article

What is CX and how has it changed in 2021?

Customers are saying CX matters more than ever before. Find out how to meet shifting consumer expectations and provide exceptional customer experiences.

By Patrick Grieve

Published April 9, 2021
Last updated May 3, 2021

Customer experience (CX) has always been integral to a company’s success, but its significance has grown considerably in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, half of all customers say that CX is more important to them now than it was a year ago.

With the pandemic creating potentially lasting shifts in consumer preferences and customer service strategies, there are suddenly new—and higher—standards for what’s CX-ceptional in the eyes of your customer base.

As the stakes rise, so do the challenges. With CX mattering more than ever before, businesses need to learn how to meet heightened expectations and satisfy changing tastes.

What is CX?

CX definition: CX, or customer experience, refers to all the interactions that a consumer has with a company. CX encompasses each stage of the buyer’s journey, including prepurchase, purchase, and post-purchase.

CX stands for customer experience—every single aspect of it. It encompasses all the seemingly little things that influence the way a customer feels about your brand. It’s every interaction they’ve had with your business, from the first time they saw an ad for your products to the most recent call they made to customer service, and everything in between.

With each interaction, companies can influence a customer’s perception and impression of them. This means CX plays a critical role in determining a company’s success—it directly impacts customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. CX management can help businesses meet customer expectations and provide positive experiences.

What is CX management?

Many businesses say they’re committed to providing exceptional customer experiences. But with so many moving parts, delivering consistently great CX is easier said than done. One way some brands attempt to get a handle on everything is through CXM, or Customer Experience Management.

CXM is a company’s system for tracking, overseeing, and influencing every physical and digital touchpoint for customer interactions. Brands use CXM to create the sort of consistent, personalized experiences that drive brand loyalty and deepen engagement.

To do that, CXM requires businesses to evaluate their brand experience from the customer’s point of view—not their own. They study the customer journey to understand how it feels from the outside looking in. What processes are particularly frustrating? What aspects could be better streamlined?

With CXM, the company’s interests may initially be at odds with the customer’s. For example, trying to lower support costs by a certain percentage might translate to a worse customer service experience. Similarly, putting a time limit on support conversations may increase efficiency but frustrate customers who feel they’re being rushed. In these scenarios, companies must keep the customer perspective in mind and adjust their objectives.

Many businesses also use customer experience mapping to visualize the common paths that consumers take to make a purchase. A comprehensive CX map can help organizations quickly identify and prioritize the changes they need to implement.

The role of customer support in shaping CX

In the earliest stages of CX, marketing and sales tend to have the most important roles. A consumer’s awareness of a brand is usually sparked by an advertisement they see online or elsewhere. When a lead seems ready, a sales rep will often contact them by phone or email. The rep guides the buyer through the evaluation and engagement stages of the sales funnel until the customer signs on the dotted line.

But after the deal is done, customers don’t have as much use for marketing or sales. In the (hopefully long) post-purchase phase, a customer is more likely to interact with your support team if they need more help. So, your support team plays a huge part in crafting the customer experience—that role will only get bigger. Here are the critical ways agents influence CX.

busy agent providing positive CX

  • Providing and tracking customer satisfaction

    Your support team’s CX success can be measured by several metrics. Sending customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys after every support interaction gives you an easy way to gauge the ratio of positive to negative customer experiences. Key performance indicators, such as average reply time and time to resolution, are good indicators of your support team’s efficiency.

    Because support agents work so closely with customers, they’re in a great position to gather critical feedback. Customer service reps know what questions and complaints surface most often. That information can be used to create more comprehensive help centers and FAQ pages or to make product upgrades.

  • Handling the spike in support tickets

    For some businesses, customer service has always been the backbone of their CX. But for others, support agents only recently became more important than ever.

    “Last year, more customers were stuck at home and online, so we saw a huge surge in support requests,” says Maggie Mazzetti, a data journalist who contributed to the Zendesk CX Trends Report 2021. “Support requests went up about 20 percent globally in 2020.”

    Your support agents are becoming “the de facto face of your brand.”

    “One interesting thing has been this transition for support agents, who have become a more integral part of how people experience companies and their interactions with them,” Mazzetti continues. “Fewer people are having in-store experiences, so the role and visibility of support agents have dramatically increased. They’re sort of becoming the de facto face of your brand.”

    Indeed, the pandemic has made those traditional in-person shopping experiences less common. Consumers spent a whopping $861 billion online in the U.S. alone last year, up 44 percent from 2019. And now, 65 percent of customers worldwide want to buy from companies that offer quick and easy online transactions.

    With so many buyers shifting to online shopping, in-store interactions are being replaced by phone or web conversations with customer service reps, giving them a bigger part to play in CX.

How the pandemic has changed what CX means in 2021

Along with increasing the number of customer support interactions, the pandemic has inspired several additional notable CX trends. When it comes to preferred support channels, our report shows many customers are shifting their allegiances. Successful brands are adapting to meet those new expectations as well as other changing tastes.

CX in 2021

  • Customers are embracing messaging like never before

    Amid the 20-percent spike in global support requests was a significant escalation in tickets created via messaging.

    “There was this accelerated shift towards digital messaging channels,” Mazzetti explains. “Of the 64 percent of customers that tried a new way to contact support teams during the pandemic, more turned to messaging than any other channel.”

    Social messaging apps—including Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and WhatsApp—also became common ways for consumers to connect with customer service. In 2020, the number of customers who cited social messaging as a preferred support channel rose 110 percent from 2019. WhatsApp experienced a 101-percent increase in support request volume over the same period.

    Mazzetti attributes the surge in messaging support requests to the dynamics of the pandemic. “I think that people were stuck at home, they needed to reach a support team, and perhaps the phone lines were overwhelmed, so they tried something different,” she says. “Because [messaging is] an asynchronous communication channel and people can respond whenever it suits them, it’s a convenient option for those juggling Zoom meetings, kids, and whatever else they may have going on.”

    That logic would also explain the year-over-year rise in popularity of channels like texting (up 75 percent), chat (up 17 percent), and email (up 12 percent). Meanwhile, the number of customers who listed the phone as a preferred channel decreased by 6 percent. It’s likely that customers who were annoyed by long phone wait times switched to channels that wouldn’t put them on hold.

    From 2019 to 2020, the popularity of social messaging and texting support rose 110 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

    There’s evidence that many consumers will remain loyal to messaging even after things are “back to normal.” Of the 64 percent of customers who used a new support channel for the first time in 2020, 73 percent say they plan to continue using it.

    That’s very good news for the brands that added messaging as a support channel last year. More than half of the companies that added new support channels last year added messaging, making it the most widely adopted new channel of 2020.

    Some other digital channels also proved popular with companies last year. Thirty-three percent of businesses that adopted new channels added social media, allowing customers to contact support through platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And 32 percent of companies added video conferencing, mirroring the rest of the world in moving conversations to Zoom.

    Clearly, brands looking to provide modern CX should consider offering more digital channels—especially messaging.

  • Top businesses are succeeding with an omnichannel CX approach

    In addition to tracking changes in customer preferences, our annual report identified global trends in how high-performing companies use support channels.

    “We created an index looking at the top CX performers, meaning the companies that had the highest CSAT scores and the fastest resolution and reply times,” explains Mazzetti. “We found that the top CX performers were more likely to provide omnichannel support than their lower- performing peers.”

    The report found that 50 percent of high-performing companies had adopted omnichannel support, compared to 18 percent of low-performing businesses.

    “So, if you do the math, top CX performers are 2.8 times more likely to have omnichannel support than low performers,” Mazzetti says.

    Half of all high-performing companies have adopted omnichannel support, which top CX performers are 2.8 times more likely to offer than low CX performers.

    An omnichannel support solution integrates multiple channels to provide customers with a seamless experience. While many companies offer various support channels—such as phone, email, and chat—they’re often totally separate from one another. This creates an unfortunate siloing effect. If a ticket is transferred from one channel to another, the context is lost. Agents end up asking customers to repeat themselves, making the interaction more frustrating for everyone involved.

    But with omnichannel support, context is never lost. Omnichannel messaging platforms allow agents to easily transfer a conversation from social messaging to in-app, or from an email to text—or any other combination. Because agents can immediately access a customer’s relevant information, they’re able to resolve issues more quickly and provide a more personalized experience.

    The omnichannel approach wasn’t the only differentiator between high and low CX performers: “High-performing support teams also typically used more workflow management tools, including things like automations, macros, and triggers,” Mazzetti adds. “And in terms of internal work, top CX performers were more likely to have developers so that they could customize their support solution as well.”

Invest in customer retention by investing in CX

What is CX worth to a customer? Quite a bit in 2021. Expectations have risen, and 50 percent of customers say they’ll switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. Additionally, 75 percent of consumers are willing to spend more on brands that provide a good customer experience.

“In our separate survey of CX leaders, we also found that more mature CX organizations are more likely to make significant investments and exceed retention goals,” says Mazzetti. “So, they’re investing more in customer experience—and they’re exceeding their customer retention targets—compared to less mature CX organizations.”

Zendesk Support Suite is the ultimate CX investment, enabling companies to deliver consistent, conversational service across all channels. The omnichannel platform supports popular social messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, and WeChat. The unified workspace allows agents to respond to each customer across channel touchpoints such as chat, email, voice, and more—which empowers them to provide exceptional CX.

Start elevating customer experiences today and see how your business grows.