CRM Trends 2021: How the Pandemic Altered Customer Behavior Forever

Customers flocked to digital channels and faced life-changing events in 2020. Here's how enterprise companies are changing their CRM practices for a new normal.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor

February 18, 2021

4 Min Read
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In 2020 organizations faced an unexpected and profound change in customer behavior. More customers than ever were choosing to interact digitally with their banks, their grocery stores, their insurance companies, their doctors, and many other industries. To meet the higher consumer demand for digital interactions, businesses big and small leaned on technology.

Chatbots, enabled by natural language processing and other artificial intelligence technologies,  are one of the major use cases for how industry used technology to respond to the change in customer behavior driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are a number of other ways businesses are pivoting to anticipate changes in customer behavior.

Now that we are a year down this new path, there's no turning back.

"Realize we are in a new world order," Forrester VP and principal analyst Kate Leggett told InformationWeek. "Customer behavior has fundamentally changed."

How has customer behavior changed, and how will it impact the enterprise in the months and years to come? Leggett recently spoke with InformationWeek about these changes, how enterprises rose to the challenge in 2020, and what organizations will be doing to get ready for a new era of customer interaction and customer service. She has also identified five CRM (customer relationship management) trends that will shape customer relationships and engagement in 2021.

The impact of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders affected just about every industry. For instance, banking customers gravitated to self-service and digital touchpoints. That created a new bottleneck for those areas of service.


"As customers shifted to digital channels, the volume of interaction in online channels increased," Leggett said. "Using AI was critical to being able to do this without increasing employee headcount."

Organizations already had projects like customer service automation, chatbots, and other AI on their roadmaps. The pandemic accelerated them.

Leggett's report for Forrester about CRM trends in 2021 identifies one of these trends as the following: AI and automation will improve CRM outcomes. It's not just with chatbots. When it comes to live customer service calls, agents are dealing with more intense issues such as setting up a new mortgage payment schedule for a newly unemployed customer so that customer doesn't lose their home. These kinds of customer service conversations require empathy. AI-fueled CRM can guide sellers and agents through the right actions and insights, in these cases, according to Forrester. What's more, it can be leveraged to optimize campaigns, product configurations, and pricing.

Although many organizations may face cost-cutting pressures in 2021, firms will continue to invest in AI to automate tasks and augment CRM users, according to Forrester. RPA and bots that have clear ROI will get priority.

Another CRM trend for 2021 is that customer engagement will move to the edge from company websites to third-party digital channels like social media, voice apps, and gaming consoles, according to Forrester. For instance, David's Bridal launched a channel with Apple Business Chat which saw $30,000 in sales in the first few weeks of launch.

Hyperpersonalization is another big trend in CRM for 2021. Customers now expect engagement that is based on their history, preferences, context, and intent. This will only improve this year as companies build out enhanced customer profiles and use them for more unique customer engagement, Forrester predicts.

A unified CRM system is another trend that will start to appear in 2021 as organizations begin to bring together all the different silos of the customer journey into one system. That means providing users with a single view of the customer that incorporates all interactions from sales to marketing to commerce to customer support.

Finally, Forrester says that in 2021, as customer renewals and expansions gain even more importance in the wake of economic uncertainty, companies will put more focus on the customer. For instance, Forrester predicts the rise of chief customer officers who will be responsible for post-purchase activities, particularly at B2B companies. Forrester also predicts that new CRM licensing models will focus on software consumption.

None of these new initiatives from enterprise companies are actually new.

"As the pandemic progressed, we shifted to a new normal," Leggett said. "Companies started to invest in standing up more comprehensive solutions that were broader and more effective. We say the pandemic didn't start any new initiatives. But 10 years of development got pushed into 2 months."

For more on customer service trends, read:

The State of Chatbots: Pandemic Edition

5 Chatbot Use Cases to Steal

10 IT Trends to Watch for in 2021

IT Leadership: 10 Ways the CIO Role Changed in 2020

About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Senior Editor

Jessica Davis is a Senior Editor at InformationWeek. She covers enterprise IT leadership, careers, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and enterprise software. She has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology. Follow her on twitter: @jessicadavis.

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