Where Will the Customer Experience Take Us in 2021?

Protiviti Experts Share Their Insights 

 Recently, Tech Insights interviewed a number of Protiviti’s Technology Consulting leaders to get their thoughts on the “hot topics” on which CIOs and CISOs should focus in the year ahead. These insights are based on the conversations our experts have had with tech leaders throughout 2020. Today, in the final post of this series, we review how technology will impact the customer experience this year and well into the future.  

Customers are the lifeblood of an organization. So when COVID-19 hit in 2020, fundamentally and instantaneously changing the way customers and organizations interact, CIOs and their teams were called upon to respond to the new demands for a comprehensive customer experience (CX). Organizations represent a wide range on the CX spectrum, from pioneers to beginners. But every company, regardless of size and scope, had to demonstrate they could quickly adapt to rapidly evolving market factors. Here’s what our experts feel will be important for CIOs to focus on to improve CX in 2021.  

The CX Evolution, Looking “Outside-In” 

Greg George

COVID happened and changed the way businesses interact with their customers,” said Greg George, associate director and CX expert. “Buying patterns have shifted. Retail stores are no longer the place to go to get products. What I’m most excited about for customer experience in 2021 is that businesses are starting to understand the concept. They’re willing to invest to improve their customer experience and are trying to understand as much of the customer’s behavior as possible. The goal is to improve the customer’s life while improving the brand experience. 

Carol Raimo

Managing Director Carol Raimo, who is Protiviti’s global lead for the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry and also focuses on improving customer experiencefor clients, agreed. “E-commerce is not going away. Everybody’s been at home since March of 2020. Last year, online sales increased 35 percent and that is not expected to change going forward.” Will brick-and-mortar stores remain relevant?  “Customers do like to feel and touch things,” Raimo said. “I think brick-and-mortars will continue but will continue to develop omni-channels for customers, curbside pickup or mobility. When in the store, customers will be able to see available inventory to decide whether to buy on the spot or have the item delivered. There’s going to be a lot of innovation going on around the technologies related to customer experience.”    

Traditionally, organizations looking to improve CX take an “inside-out” approach, looking at the current tools they already have and asking, “how can we apply them to improve our bottom line,” said George. “With an outside-in approach, the flow is completely reversed. Understand the customer’s needs and expectations and work back into the organization to solve any challenges that may exist, like the multiple silos that typically exist. Think about the end result first. Consider the customer’s relation to the brand and work through the outside-in process to put in place the technology, people and ecosystem that will best serve the customers’ needs.” 

George cited a well-known women’s athletic wear company’s “outside-in” approach as an example of that innovation and combining the online and in-store experience. This company began as an online retailer, then “saw a need to better understand their customers by seeing them in person as well,” he said. “They began opening stores in select locations to offer personal interaction, while capturing information from the customer. This has given them a fuller picture of who they are and allows the business to make decisions based on the customer instead of the more traditional organizational silos. They have incentivized customers to use the company app on mobile phones while shopping, which provides data on which products the customer picks up or tries on and ultimately buys.” Using that information, the retailer can personalize the customer experience. “That’s what the CX environment is all about,” George said. A personalized, frictionless experience that’s seamless and consistent.”  

Collaboration, Culture and Consolidating Technologies 

In most organizations, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) owns the e-commerce infrastructure. “Our clients are saying that determining the right CX ecosystem creates collaboration across the organization,” said Raimo. “It’s not just the CIO’s issue. Finance and accounting need to be involved. Sales needs to be involved. The supply chain must be involved. But most importantly, the CMO – the customer marketing officer – is where much of the decision-making lies. All of these groups need to work together to develop a holistic CX ecosystem.”  

George agreed, saying, “First and foremost to CX success is addressing the organizational structure and silos. Call centers, with agents and customer-facing people are in their own silos and the digital experience team is in another. All have their own KPIs and metrics to measure success, based on their individual perspective of the company’s brand. Companies should work to achieve solid data management … centralize their data in the cloud and in essence create a data lake. This achieves multiple outcomes. It allows for seamless cross-channel analytics to provide KPIs that are balanced across the organization. This breaks down those organizational silos, providing a clear picture of the customer interactions across all those channels and then you’re able to set goals that are focused on the customer and not the organization. It allows for artificial intelligence then to analyze the entire business. 

Incorporating tools like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also key to CX success. “We see companies struggling to bring all their customer data into one location,” said George, adding, “but companies who can move and map data into one data lake have a completely different, holistic view of their brand. They can look at analytics across channels and identify consumer patterns that then allow them to create a better customer experience. ” 

Consolidating technologies also leads to lower cost and better governance, Raimo said. She cited the common example of a customer call center with “four or five different vendors,” each with a different technology. “Cloud technology allows companies to consolidate and better manage these vendors and functions, freeing the company to more effectively focus on improving the customer experience.  

Engaged Teams and AI  

Are customer-facing employees engaged and involved with the CX process? If not, they could be negatively impacting the customer experience. “What we’ve found is that employee engagement is critical,” said George. “Employees represent the brand and are the first point of contact with the customer. It is critical they feel they are an important part of the CX process.” Many call centers experience high turnover as employees spend their days doing repetitive tasks or repeating the same tasks. “I would say the biggest trend in 2021 is that organizations which have a customer experience strategy and roadmap in place, but which doesn’t include artificial intelligence, will be left behind. Creating an AI infrastructure that identifies customer issues allows the organization to route those contacts, by phone or online, to knowledge bases or FAQs to answer the basic questions,” George said. Artificial intelligence can then predict what the next questions will be, based on past issue resolution, allowing agents to work on more detailed customer inquiries. 

With a solid digital experience based on a comprehensive data lake and AI investigating and creating algorithms and patterns to be predictive across all customer channels, organizations strengthen their employees’ ability to interact with the customer and enhance the customer experience, ultimately enhancing their brand. 


This is the final blog in our 2021 Tech Priorities series, but we will continue sharing the latest technology trends with our readers throughout the year. Earlier blogs in the series include best tech investments, a 30,000 foot view of what’s ahead in 2021, data privacy/security and cloud imperatives for 2021. Don’t miss our next post – subscribe today by filling out the form to the right of this post. To learn more about Protiviti’s Technology Consulting capabilities, contact us 

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