In 2022, customer experience is personal, hybrid and built on trust

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Businesses of all sizes tackled tremendous challenges in 2021, including ever-changing COVID-19 mandates, increasing privacy-related regulations and accelerated digital transformation timelines necessitated by new consumer behaviors and expectations. While it's hard to predict what 2022 may bring, I think it’s safe to say that many of the behaviors consumers developed in 2021 will continue into next year.

In 2022, brands that want to turn customers into loyal fans will need to find ways to provide customers with seamless and personalized experiences that also respect their preferences for data privacy.

Trust and privacy

Trust is a fundamental expectation of the customer experience. With today’s privacy-conscious consumers, the success of any business is anchored in consumer trust. Brands need to be transparent, gain consent and give consumers control of how their data is used. Once consumers grant brands access to their data, brands then have the responsibility to use that data only in mutually agreed-upon ways that enhance their experiences.

The days of tracking and targeting audiences through third-party cookies are coming to an end. Regardless of when that final end comes, companies need to double down on innovation, investing in ways to collect, unify, enrich and analyze first-party data so they can provide the personalized experiences consumers expect — in alignment with their privacy preferences.

Think about the last time you visited a retail website and immediately saw a pop-up ad with an offer for 15 percent off your next purchase by signing up for email offers. This is an explicit value exchange — where the company offers customers a discount and the ability to set preferences, in exchange for an email address. Loyalty programs are also another great way to learn about and deliver new kinds of value to customers. Through loyalty programs, brands can glean geographic information, past purchase behavior and even more specific information like shoe size or color preference. When this consent-based data is used to personalize the customer’s shopping experience, it can benefit both the brand and the customer.

To thrive in 2022, companies will need to be authentic and transparent to build trust or risk losing customers. According to Adobe’s new Future of Marketing research, 74 percent of consumers say they will stop purchasing from brands that break their trust.

Compelling, relevant and personal

Consumers expect every experience with a brand, whether in-person or digitally, to be compelling and relevant, and they expect the same personalized experience across channels, devices and stages of their relationship with a brand. And 2022 will be no different. Brands will need to find the right balance of personalized without being too creepy or annoying to win the hearts of customers. For example, reminding a loyalty program customer who purchased a 30-day supply of vitamins three weeks ago that it might be time to buy more could be considered thoughtful. On the other hand, retargeting a customer who added an item to their shopping cart but later abandoned it across email, digital ads, etc. can feel creepy and unnecessary.

To provide customers with the experience they expect, brands need to unify first-party data into a single view that is updated in real-time using technology like a customer data platform. Using technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, brands can quickly surface actionable insights and create personalized experiences that resonate with customers. Brands can even anticipate the next best offer that helps customers move further through the buyer journey or build brand affinity.

The shrinking divide between online and offline

The future is hybrid. Not only when it comes to how we work but in our daily lives as well. Workwise, half of U.S. workers prefer hybrid work models, and tradeshows that turned completely virtual the last two years are quickly becoming a mix of in-person and online programming. While we miss the networking and energy we often felt from in-person events. There is something nice about listening to a keynote in our pajamas. And it’s safe to say that consumers have developed some new habits, more contactless habits.

From increasing interest in curbside pickup to ordering drinks at sporting events from our seats to virtual hotel room keys, it's clear that brand interactions will continue to be a mix of both digital and physical. No matter how consumers interact with a brand, the experience has to be seamless and personalized every time. Think about a sports fan who has a fantastic in-stadium experience. Perhaps they are a user of the stadium’s app and throughout the game, they receive push notifications such as suggestions for the closest restrooms to their seats or discounts for their favorite food vendors. After the game, they go home and are immediately bombarded with emails encouraging them to download the app. This experience would be frustrating for anyone and may even annoy a customer to the point of opting out of brand communications and therefore decreasing the amount of first-party data a brand can glean.

As I mentioned before, first-party customer data must be unified in a single view and updated in real-time to provide brands with a clear picture of who the customer is and how they interact with the brand across each moment of interaction. Brands need to understand their preferences so that they can prevent irrelevant or annoying communications and provide the same wonderful experience to customers no matter which channel a customer chooses to interact with the brand.

The bar for good customer experiences is set by consumers, not brands. It’s up to brands to continue to innovate to meet and surpass customer expectations.

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