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The COVID-19 pandemic has guided a new era of consumer behavior, marked by rapid digital adoption and new expectations. As businesses grapple with these changes, the role of Customer Experience (CX) leaders has never been more critical. Drawing from Forbes and McKinsey & Company insights, my article examines the changing consumer landscape and offers actionable strategies for CX leaders to thrive.

The New Consumer Landscape: Navigating the Digital Shift

The COVID-19 pandemic, while presenting numerous challenges, has also been a catalyst for change, particularly in the realm of digital transformation. McKinsey's observation that a decade's worth of digital adoption was condensed into a mere 100 days is a testament to the rapidity of this shift. This transformation, as highlighted by McKinsey, is not just about numbers but represents a fundamental change in consumer behavior and expectations.

Forbes, in its analysis, provides a tangible example of this shift, emphasizing the surge in online shopping. Even demographics that were traditionally anchored to in-store shopping, like the baby boomers, have pivoted dramatically. Today, a staggering 92% of baby boomers have transitioned to e-commerce. Their online spending didn't just show a marginal increase; it skyrocketed by nearly 50% in 2020 alone, as noted by Forbes.

1. Embrace the Digital Surge

Actions Now: Prioritize creating a seamless digital experience, integrating innovations like virtual try-on. Ensure website usability and mobile optimization.

Obsolete: Merely having an online presence without advanced digital features. Consumers lack patience, now more than ever, and will go to a competitor if there's high effort involved.

2. Focus on Value and Flexibility

Actions Now: Offer flexible payment plans, like "buy now, pay later."

Provide genuine value through quality products.

Obsolete: Rigid payment structures without transparency; lead to a lack of customer trust.

3. Elevate Experiences Over Transactions

Actions Now: Focus on the entire customer journey, from browsing to post-purchase. Ensure customer satisfaction at every touchpoint.

Obsolete: A purely transactional approach without post-purchase engagement.

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4. Create a Purpose-Driven Brand That Customers Love

Actions Now: Align brand values with consumer demand. Focus on what they care about as they vote with their wallets. Effectively communicate brand values and initiatives.

Obsolete: Ignoring the growing consumer demand for ESG (Environmental, social and governance). 

5. Harness the Power of Personalization

Actions Now: Use AI and machine learning to customize shopping experiences. Understand consumer preferences for relevant product recommendations.

Obsolete: Generic marketing campaigns that take a "cookie-cutter" approach.

6. Build and Maintain Communities

Actions Now: Leverage the power of communities, as author Mark Schaefer emphasizes in his book, Belonging to the brand. Community is reshaping the landscape; “we are on the cusp of a revolution” as he explains on my podcast which presents a tremendous opportunity for brands to win customer hearts and their wallets.   

Obsolete: Depending on traditional paid advertising for brand awareness and engagement

7. Invest in Omni-channel Integration

Actions Now: Integrate in-store experiences with digital touchpoints. Ensure a consistent brand experience across all channels as there is a shift of consumer spending habits online versus in-store channels.

Obsolete: Treat online and offline as separate entities. Too often, company internal silos cause external customer frustration.

money spent by consumers screenshot

8. Leverage Data-Driven Insights

Actions Now: Utilize advanced analytics for actionable insights.

Regularly gather Voice of Customer (VoC) feedback to understand consumer needs.

Obsolete: Decisions based solely on intuition without data.

9. Prioritize Employee Experience (EX)

Actions Now: Improve internal customer (employee) experience to ensure external customer satisfaction. They go hand in hand. Create a speak-up culture where people feel valued, empowered, and committed to customer excellence. Research proves this: “Companies that get CX right outperform their peers on a number of important dimensions, including customer loyalty (+17 percentage points) and revenues (+11 points), according to Forrester Research. Companies with highly engaged workforces (EX excellence) are 21 percent more profitable than those with poor engagement. In fact, companies with great EX outperform Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 by 122 percent.”

Obsolete: Neglecting employee well-being and feedback.

employee experience graphic

10. Engage in Proactive Crisis Management

Actions Now: Set up proactive crisis management strategies. Update business continuity plans regularly.

Obsolete: Reactive approaches without foresight.

Looking Ahead: The Role Of CX Leaders In the Post-Pandemic Era

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a paradigm shift in the way businesses operate and interact with their customers. As companies grapple with these changes, the role of Customer Experience (CX) leaders becomes even more pivotal. Given the evolving dynamics, what does the future hold for the position of CX leaders in organizations? Here are some predictions:

1. Increased Demand for CX Leaders

As businesses recognize the importance of customer-centricity in the post-pandemic world, the demand for skilled CX leaders is set to surge. Organizations will increasingly understand that to navigate the complexities of the new normal, they need experts who can keep a finger on the pulse of consumer behavior and guide strategies accordingly.

Prediction: The next decade will see a significant uptick in the hiring of CX professionals across industries, from retail and e-commerce to healthcare and finance who will focus on breaking organizational silos.

2. Rise of the CXO (Chief Experience Officer)

Traditionally, organizations have had CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) at the helm of their marketing strategies. However, with the increasing emphasis on holistic customer experience, there's a growing realization that CX encompasses more than just marketing. It involves every touchpoint a customer has with a brand, from the first ad they see to post-purchase support. It's no wonder that Gartner dubbed CX as the "new battlefield" where companies will fiercely compete. In fact, 80% of businesses anticipate that their success will hinge on their ability to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Prediction: There will be a rise of CX leaders and CXOs based on the growing importance of customer experience in business. As people continue to demand more personalized and efficient brand interactions, companies that prioritize CX will be the ones that succeed and drive the charge in shaping the future.

3. Evolving Responsibilities of CX Leaders

The responsibilities of CX leaders will not remain static. As consumer needs and behaviors change, so will the role of CX professionals.

Prediction: CX leaders will take on more strategic positions, moving beyond just understanding and analyzing consumer behavior. They will play pivotal roles in product development, digital transformation initiatives, and even in areas like sustainability and corporate social responsibility, ensuring that every aspect aligns with consumer expectations and enhances the overall customer experience.

4. Integration of Technology and Data Analytics

The post-pandemic world has seen an explosion in digital interactions, leading to a wealth of data. CX leaders will be at the forefront of harnessing this data to derive actionable insights.

Prediction: Future CX leaders will need to be adept at data analytics, machine learning, and AI. They will collaborate closely with IT departments to develop tools and platforms that offer personalized experiences to customers. The CX leader of the future will be as much a technologist as a strategist.

5. Emphasis on Continuous Learning

The rapid pace of change in the post-pandemic world means that CX leaders cannot afford to be complacent. They will need to be lifelong learners, continuously updating their skills and knowledge.

Prediction: Organizations will invest heavily in training and development for their CX teams. Regular workshops, courses, and certifications will become the norm, ensuring that CX leaders are always equipped to handle the evolving challenges of the market.

In Conclusion: Key Takeaway

In the post-pandemic world, business success relies on understanding and adapting to changing consumer behavior. The heart of this is customer experience. Brands that place CX at the forefront of their strategies and integrate data will not only navigate the challenges but will gain a competitive advantage.

By Stacy Sherman

Stacy Sherman is a customer experience and marketing global keynote speaker, journalist, co-author of two books, coach and host of the award-winning DoingCXRight podcast. Known for her Heart & Science™ framework that produces profitable clients and brand loyalty—fueled by empowered agents and employees. Stacy's been walking the talk for 25 years as a strategist and practitioner at companies of all sizes and industries, such as Liveops, Verizon, Schindler Elevator Corp, Wilton Brands, and AT&T. She's also a board advisor at multiple universities, featured in Forbes and other top-rated publications.