Today’s Customer Journey: What Has COVID Changed?

It is hard to believe that less than half a year has passed since we last published our annual State of the Customer Journey report. 2020 has been a year in which many businesses, consumers, and leaders have struggled. Controversial topics and COVID dominated the news headlines in the United States. Not only that. Global trade has been slowed or halted as well in many places. Industries like travel, retail, hospitality, and many others have been changed, potentially forever. The state of the customer journey in Q3 of 2020 is barely recognizable looking forward from earlier in the year. 

And yet, the value of journey orchestration and analytics to our clients has only grown. By helping them solve the challenge of delivering great customer experience during unusual times, we managed to stay relevant in part because the world faced so much adversity. That’s why we are looking back at the State of the Customer Journey 2020. While we could not have predicted the enormous market changes, some trends have continued or strengthened since the beginning of the year. Interestingly, some factors have also changed. Below we highlight 5 key insights that we had looking back on the state of the customer journey through the lens of COVID. For a deeper look at the data behind these insights, we encourage you to read the State of the Customer Journey 2020. The report is full of trends and data from the past year.


Four Strategies and Stats That Still Ring True During COVID

Our research on the state of the customer journey was built using data up through the end of 2019. Many things have changed since then, but the trends that began over the past few years have often strengthened during this era of COVID.

Web and Email Interactions Are Top Priority for Journey Orchestration

Web interactions become even more dominant in 2020The Customer Journey before COVID had been shifting towards personalized web experience and intelligent email programs, with growth in both of those channels year over year. With the rise of remote work, lockdown, and other conditions of the COVID pandemic, this trend has only continued. Personalized web experiences are crucial now more than ever because in some cases they are the only customer experience. Kitewheel’s clients have shifted programs online as call centers closed. As physical locations became limited, other changes to the journey had to be made. The benefit of this digital transformation will last long beyond the era of COVID, however. Digital investments today will continue to pay dividends for brands because the future of all experience is digital.

Journey Discovery and Real-Time Analytics Drive Orchestration Success

journey discovery grows as a major use caseWith the market changes that have happened so rapidly in the past year, historical data has lost much of its importance for experience and journey design. While trends and patterns may still reflect customer behavior normally, the new normal is necessarily different. Even before COVID, more brands were investing in journey discovery. Journey discovery is the process of identifying the paths through your business. Brands can then see which programs work and which ones lead to the business outcomes they desire. Many of Kitewheel’s clients had to quickly employ the Kitewheel Hub’s real-time analytics capabilities. They then rapidly shifted their strategies and resources to where they were needed.

It’s more crucial than ever to have this analytics data in real-time, not least because of how rapidly things change from day to day as states and regions enter different phases of lockdown and spending patterns change to match. 

Engagement and Acquisition Journeys Continue To Grow in Importance 

Kitewheel has identified 5 core use cases for journey management that span the entire customer lifecycle and match up with core business objectives, from increasing sales to retaining customers and more. Even before the era of COVID, digital investments had been exploding in the engagement and retention space. This makes sense, as brands naturally have more data on the customers who have profiles in their databases. But now experiences have moved even further online.  Engagement and retention as well as intelligent acquisition and lead management, are no longer simply improvements. They are now existential investments, especially for brands whose traditional channels were in person or even using call centers. 

Personalization Thrives As Part of the Larger Journey

While personalization can improve the customer experience, its implementation as a singular use case declined last year. Gartner even predicted that within the next 5 years, 80% of marketers will have abandoned personalization projects. Personalization on its own can yield great results, but to deliver the best experiences don’t use it in isolation. personalization is most powerful when used to engage customers, drive leads down the funnel, or to resolve service issues. While we saw this trend beginning during the year before COVID, it has only continued over the past six months.

Marketers may be dropping personalization projects, but CX leaders are weaving personalization into their efforts. At one Kitewheel client, as marketing shifted away from personalized advertising, the customer service team picked up web personalization as part of building new customer service efficiencies to respond to the increasingly digital customer experience due to the pandemic. We expect that trend to continue as well. 

One Stat That COVID Has Changed

marketing spend growth was changed by the covid pandemic During 2019 and the beginning of 2020, Kitewheel saw incredible growth in the Marketing side of journey orchestration.  More than twice as many interactions were occurring on marketing channels than in the year before. This trend matched with research thought leadership, and in our internal data. Yet – as COVID began to impact businesses we saw marketing budgets shrink. Even as those budgets begin to return we have seen more engagement than ever with the CX practices within our clients and prospects.  While we have long acknowledged that customer experience is the future of the journey space and is already the key competitive battleground, 2020 has seen increased investments in CX. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, investment in customer experience has only grown. Whether this spend is within marketing departments or as part of dedicated CX teams, it seems likely that when we look back on 2020 we may remember it as the year of the digital customer experience. 

How COVID will Impact the Future of the Customer Journey

Is there a post-COVID customer experience? Yes, but mostly not. The worst impacts of the global pandemic will someday fade and perhaps COVID specifically may even be eradicated. The lessons will linger, as will digital changes to business operations. This won’t be the last time the customer experience changes rapidly. In some ways, there is no going back from the increasingly digital customer experience that COVID has made necessary. Some have said that while marketing or IT had initially planned to lead digital transformation for the business, the real leader was the global pandemic. Digital transformation is a bell that cannot be unrung.

The customer journey will continue to change and COVID will shape it for the near future and beyond. Even as marketing budgets fell and experiences shifted online, the customer journey remained a resilient practice within many businesses. Kitewheel’s State of the Customer Journey 2020 report remains a useful document to understand where journey orchestration has been, and where it will be in the future.