CX Annual Planning for 2021

By its nature, annual CX planning is always a combination of some best-guesses and loose commitments to a possible year ahead.

Emphasis on “possible” year ahead — we know, 2021 feels tenuous. But if you work in a big organization, we bet the pressure is already on to set your projects and budgets for an unpredictable world.

2020 has thrown all of us a major curve ball — leaving many of us less sure than ever about what we can commit to for 2021. But as you look to the year ahead, here are 5 stakes you can put in the ground — giving you, your team, and your organization some much needed bearings heading into next year.

CX planning
Smart adult lady with pen reading data from laptop while sitting at table and doing remote job in home office

1. You already had to fix what’s broken, now fix what’s bent.

When stay-at-home orders went into effect in the Spring, it stressed some systems to their breaking point. Lots of our clients had to go in and re-tool or re-imagine their journeys just to keep basic services functioning. Many of us have innovated from a place of necessity in 2020 and we’ve impressed ourselves by how much we accomplished and how quickly.

If you’ve managed to get this far, we bet you’ve fixed what’s truly broken — but have you fixed what’s bent? Where are there spots in your journey where your customers or employees have to bend over backwards or take heroic efforts to make things work? Shine a spotlight on those areas and make 2021 the year to iron out the kink in the system.

Here’s what should be on your 2021 CX checklist:

  • Update post-COVID journeys: Update your customer journeys to reflect new experience realities and dramatically shifted customer needs.
  • Do an Ecosystem gut check: Look up from individual touchpoints to take an ecosystem view of your business. How has the playing field shifted — for your customers, your organization, and your industry?

2. The people you’ve kept want to keep the faith.

Whether they’re manning your virtual call centers, or field sales reps in the longest groundstop of their lives, or corporate remote workers zoning out from months-long Zoom life, your employees have certainly gone through their own reassessment of their lives and their work through this year.

This is a time when some extra communication on your expectations will be doubly valued. When you know what tools can make a difference in your people’s satisfaction and productivity, invest in those tools. And if it’s not a tool that will make a difference, invest in your people themselves.

We’re doing a lot of Design Thinking training and even Design Sprints for sales staff right now — because this is a time when just working your existing sales model harder might not change your results. Teams need a new problem-solving toolkit — how can you impart a new way of thinking in a sales team so they see the constraints of COVID as the start of an experiment, versus another dead-end?

Here’s what should be on your 2021 checklist:

  • Humans, first and forever: Check in with your people. Do they have the tools they need to make a real difference for your customers? What’s keeping them up a night and where are they bending over backwards just to get the job done? Say it sixteen times (if you have to). It’s not possible to over communicate in a time like this, particularly if a team is caught up in the stories of their own obstacles and constraints. Make time to talk things out and make sure your front-line staff see a path to solving their own problems.

3. Insist on the right insight for right now.

If you’re navigating from customer insight derived solely from a pre-COVID world, you’ve got a better chance than normal of going off-course in 2021. Thinking about your own consumer life, chances are you’ve recently traded-up, -down, or -out in some categories, and the behaviors that drove your household or business in 2019 have changed.

Now’s the perfect time for a refresh. If you’re in a category where the world has shifted on its axis (like home office furniture or wealth planning), you may need to look at your foundational understanding of the drivers and experiences that matter to your customers. In other categories, a light refresh might be all you need so that you’ve got some relevant customer voices in your head to help drive even the day-to-day CX decisions ahead.

Here’s what should be on your 2021 checklist:

  • Who are your customers now?: VoC (Voice of the Customer) programs are a great start, but we’re in an environment that cries out for deep listening to your customers about their emotional and social needs. Whether you’re using in -depth interviews, focus groups, or contextual inquiry, find ways to go deeper by leveraging your VoC program in new ways.
  • Learn from other categories: Customer expectations are being set by companies far outside of your traditional competitive set. Look at how other industries are bolstering their CX programs post -COVID to look for inspiration on what you need to do. Whether through Cultural Insights research or a Jobs -to -be -Done refresh, look outside your organization to see the road ahead for you and your customers.

4. Lifetime value and the loyalty loop will be amplified in 2021.

Are you starting to see a wave of COVID pregnancies and COVID divorces in your social circles? Intense experiences tend to either bond us deeply or sever the cords between us.

Your customers’ experiences with you may not be so dramatic, but going the extra mile during a pandemic will win you fans for life. Equally, if you’re not willing to deviate from the script when customers really need you, they will remember it and be more open to being wooed away. How are you investing your effort now into the wow moments that will become the stories that cement life-long relationships?

Here’s what should be on your 2021 checklist:

  • Substitute optimization for innovation: What got you here may not get you there… Don’t focus purely on optimizing the touchpoints in your stable that already exist — instead, start exploring new touchpoints or implementations of current touchpoints that will differentiate you in this moment. Consider unleashing your experience design and strategic foresight partners on what not just the year ahead looks like, but what five years and beyond might look like.
  • Do you have a service voice? Most companies have a brand voice, few have a well -defined service voice. Going the extra mile for one customer is magnified when all of your employees go the extra mile in the same way with the same tone for hundreds, thousands and hundreds -of – thousands of customers. What are the experience principles and service voice attributes you imbue into the DNA of every touchpoint to ensure you’re able to keep meeting your customers where they are?

5. Take a breath and take in the big picture.

Annual planning often feels like a heads-down, grind-out exercise — but its intent is really about stepping away from the day-to-day to ask, “How are we doing?” We know it can be difficult to step away from your own culture, lingo, and norms, so we’ve got a light-weight CX Maturity Assessment you can take yourself, or with your team, to get a sense of where you’re at in the overall journey. We hope it sparks a thought or two.

Here’s what should be on your 2021 checklist:

  • Take our CX Maturity Assessment: Now is the time for the look in the mirror. Where are you at really — and where do you hope you can go next? There’s never been a better opportunity to reimagine what’s possible in your organization. Your customers demand it.
  • Phone a Friend: The world of CX is, by definition, big, holistic, and often overwhelming. We love talking about this stuff. Feel free to reach out to our team for a catch up, a sounding board, or a thought partner as you consider what your priorities should be in 2021 and beyond.

Need more help with your 2021 CX planning? Reach out. Our experts love talking about this stuff.