No one could’ve predicted the challenges of 2020, and with a new year, comes a new set of challenges. Will a vaccine change the way we’ve learned to live and work? Will companies return to in-person work? And, will customers feel comfortable stepping into your store?
While there will always be unknowns, Salesforce executives believe there are important scenarios and technologies businesses must plan for in their approach to the new year.
For example, companies will need to embrace flexibility in their return to work strategies, while continuing to deliver the digital-first experiences customers and employees expect.
Access to data and AI tools like bots will help companies create a surprisingly human touch to deliver new levels of customer experience.
And in 2021, customers will increasingly demand companies to deliver demonstrable positive impact on the communities they serve.
Read on for Salesforce leaders’ predictions for 2021.
The evolution of work-from-anywhere
The work from anywhere model is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be working from home forever. 2021 will welcome a new hybrid model that combines remote work and in-office experiences in a way that unlocks even greater flexibility.
Unlocking untethered talent — This year has shown us the power of flexibility. The work from anywhere model has not only helped our colleagues stay happy and well during this difficult time, it’s also unlocked exciting new productivity and growth across our workforce. As remote work continues in 2021, employers have an opportunity to transcend traditional boundaries and tap into new pools of talent. We anticipate that more companies will turn to an all-digital talent strategy to build a more dynamic and inclusive workforce – broadening their search beyond urban centers and welcoming talent from new communities and geographies. – Brent Hyder, Chief People Officer
Employee Experience and Customer Experience will become inextricably linked — Customer experience has been the topic du jour for the better part of a decade now, but as we shift to an all-digital, work from anywhere world companies are starting to realize they need to prioritize employees just as much as customers. In fact, according to Forbes Insights, companies that succeed at both employee AND customer experience see almost double the revenue growth as those that do not. As a result, processes like onboarding, provisioning devices, wellness, and benefits will see a significantly increased focus in 2021. – Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Evangelist
HR becomes Employee Experience — In 2021 progressive businesses will begin to elevate culture past perks, process and proximity to personality. Well stocked break rooms will be replaced with connected cultures focused on employee experience. Traditional HR departments will transform into employee experience teams, fostering collaboration, community and co-creation. HR will become the catalyst to help organizations transform from product-centric to customer-centric, playing a pivotal role in reskilling employees in the language of agile and outcomes. Micro skilling and AI become the tools of transformation. – Karen Mangia, VP Customer & Market Insights
A more intentional office experience — Absence makes the heart grow fonder. While many employees have welcomed the flexibility that comes with remote work, many are hungry for the collaboration, networking and innovation that comes with going to the office. In 2021, employers have an opportunity to recreate the magic of the workplace. Gone are the days of a sea of desks — offices will be reimagined as community hubs and places for innovation. We expect offices to become a “one-stop shop” for employees – combining office, retail, and additional services all in one place – as employers seek to create seamless new experiences for their employees, customers, partners, and the community. – Brent Hyder, Chief People Officer
Serving the digital-first customer in a digital-first world
Digital transformation is a matter of survival. In order to meet customers where they are, brands must go digital and fast.
The death of the 2-3 year digital transformation project — If it’s one thing the pandemic taught us is that “digital” isn’t the only valuable outcome of digital transformation. With the future of the economy uncertain and the need to focus on creating opportunities, 2021 is the year of accelerating time to value and driving meaningful outcomes. When IT leaders and CIOs are evaluating how to build out their tech stacks for 2021, the main criteria can no longer just be digitization. Now, the speed to implement, cost, and time to ROI are instrumental in aligning with the speed of the customer and market evolution. What’s different moving forward is how return is measured. It’s time, it’s value to the organization and to customers, and also competitiveness. Long term vision is of course essential, but you need to begin seeing value from digital transformation projects within months, not years if they are to be deemed successful. There isn’t really an end state in digital transformation now. It’s about progress, agility, and operational plus digital business model innovation, now and as trends continue to evolve. – Brian Solis, Chief Innovation Evangelist
Double down on digital, but be prepared to innovate safely with physical experiences — As we look to next year, we know there’s no replacing our need for human connection. Whether digital or physical, marketers will have to rethink the entire transaction experience moving forward. We’ll continue changing the customer experience in real-time as we instrument digital journeys and experiences that drive meaningful connection, but must continue experimenting to find new ways to stay connected and engaged. Live events will return when safe, but will have a very different shape and size. Of course, there won’t be 100,000-person gatherings for quite some time, but once we reach public health milestones, they will swing back on the local-level with small, intimate events of 20-40 people. We’ll see a hybrid digital and physical marketing push with an emphasis on meaningful experiences. – Stephanie Buscemi, Chief Marketing Officer
Delivering white-glove experiences, virtually — This year, every day felt like Black Friday for retail and consumer goods companies — global digital revenues have grown by 54% year-to-date. Despite the pandemic, customers still want to receive the same, in-store, white-glove experience — online.Companies will use AI to deliver those experiences customers want. Expect to see more virtual try-ons, smarter delivery and pickup options and interactive virtual event marketing. – Adam Blitzer, EVP & GM, Digital at Salesforce
The rise of the appointment-driven economy — In 2021, we’ll see the continued rise of the appointment economy — and it won’t be limited to just restaurants or doctor appointments. Businesses everywhere will embrace appointments (virtual and in-person) as much-needed lifelines to stay afloat — especially as customers seek out safe experiences for a semblance of “return to normal.” Expect businesses like banks, retail stores, amusement parks, zoos, and much more to usher in a new appointment-driven economy. – Eric Jacobson, VP, Field Service
The rise of the digital nomad — Work from anywhere has become the status quo for many breathing life into a new persona; the digital nomad. In 2021, expect to see brands courting this semi-permanent professional with new product offerings, and marketing strategies to target this hybrid business traveler, like targeted ads and rewards programs enticing travelers to “WFH” from resorts. Brands are not alone, businesses will need to create new HR packages and technical capabilities to attract and retain this new worker. Digital nomads and their employers should also brace for the unknowns ahead; the current lockdowns looming present unique challenges to these travelers, from being stuck outside the country, to obtaining healthcare to taxes. – Mathew Sweezey, Director, Market Strategy
Technologies that fuel the needs of today’s customer
With more digital touchpoints comes more opportunity to leverage rich data and technology to provide exceptional customer experiences. When, where, and how a company deploys these tools will set leaders ahead of the pack.
The democracy of data — Data is front and center like never before: This year’s events have accelerated the need for organizations and policymakers to adapt and evolve with timely, accurate decision-making rooted in data. As a result, there is rapidly growing demand to empower people with the ability to explore, understand, and communicate with data. As we look toward 2021 and beyond, data literacy skills will be foundational to every role at every level of an organization, and will be critical in determining who survives and thrives as leaders going forward. – Andrew Beers, CTO at Tableau
The rise of bots — In 2020, bots are widely being deployed in customer service apps, but will soon spread to sales management — from connecting with Account Executives after a sales call, to even sitting in for you in a meeting or call when you’re double-booked. Bots should be an integral part of your strategy to support employees in delivering a human touch. – Bruce Richardson, Chief Enterprise Strategist, Market Strategy Group
AI is ubiquitous — Entering 2022, AI will finally have entered the mainstream. AI will be the unifying force behind all key technology advances serving employees and customers: from workflow, to process automation, guided selling, customer communication, and customer data platforms. AI is what will power customer engagement and employee engagement.” – Michael Maoz, SVP, Innovation Strategy
Business as a platform for change
Today, we are facing multiple crises: a health crisis, an economic crisis, a climate crisis, a crisis of racial injustice, a leadership crisis and a crisis of trust. Companies that succeed in 2021 will manage all of their stakeholders and rely on their values to navigate uncharted waters.
Business as a platform for change will become the (new) business as usual — This year’s challenges showed the importance of a values-driven culture, one that outlasts a pandemic. As businesses, we are rewriting the corporate narrative with every action we take. Lip service has never been enough but some companies have been able to hide behind it – until now. The current challenges have cemented the importance of a business’s role in corporate citizenship. The role of business as a platform for change will no longer be the exception, but the standard, and the work that used to happen on the fringes will become the central source of transformation. Eventually, there won’t be task forces or special ops for this work, it will simply be (the new) business as usual. – Ebony Beckwith, Chief Philanthropy officer
A wave of mission-driven founders & CEOs — We are in the midst of several crisis at once — a health crisis, economic crisis, inequality crisis, and climate crisis. Thus, impact investing has never before been more important. We need to take this moment to invest in a new, more resilient and inclusive economy for the future — one that ensures the long-term health and wellness of citizens, drives job creation and protects against future shocks coming from climate change. In 2021, companies will continue launching impact investing initiatives, bringing more capital to bear in a time when it is so urgently needed. The result: a wave of mission driven founders and CEOs getting funded that reflect the diversity of this country, and who bring their lived experiences to the problems that they are solving. – Claudine Emeott, Senior Director, Salesforce Impact Fund
Climate change solutions will go mainstream — Climate change is happening before our eyes, with the Arctic burning, wildfires and other natural disasters impacting individuals, communities, and the economy. As we head into 2021, individuals, governments, and corporations will catalyze global systemic change by going beyond immediate relief to build a more equitable future where everyone has equal access to clean air, water, and energy. Solutions like technology, trees and teamwork will all play an important role in climate action. Climate change won’t wait, and we all have a responsibility to become more sustainable for now and future generations. – Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer
While the future is uncertain, the biggest success stories in 2021 will be the organizations that are nimble, that embrace new technology, all while listening to their stakeholders and honoring their values. Is your company prepared for the future of work?