As we head into 2021, there’s reason to be optimistic about the future with a number of promising vaccines coming out. But the health and economic environment will continue to fluctuate for most of the year as organizations enter into what I’ve labeled the ”Reorient” phase of the recovery

During this period, customers and employees will start to settle into patterns of behavior that will stick beyond the crisis period. Organizations will need to adapt by repositioning their existing offerings and messaging, and create forward-looking operating norms.

This future orientation is critical, especially when it comes to your Experience Management (XM) efforts. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to re-establish your previous programs as-is, especially since most XM efforts need to be modernized. Instead, redefine your XM efforts based on the current environment and focus on improving what you’ve done in the past.

As a start, here are seven bold moves that I recommend making in 2021:

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1) Scrap your XM metrics

One of the things that I often tell people is that you should always prioritize changing for the future over tracking against your past. It’s even more true in this moment. Now that many of you have paused your historical tracking, it’s the perfect time to ask whether the XM metrics programs that you’ve been using are the right ones to drive your XM efforts. Does it make sense to continue with an 11-point NPS question or a 12-question employee engagement score? It might be, but you should explore the possibility that there’s a better way for you to track what you want by using a relative metric, simplifying around critical areas, or redoing your entire metric program to drive more action. Make sure that whatever metric you end up using helps answer the two ultimate questions: What have you learned? What improvements are you making?


2) Stop asking people what they like

As you adjust your efforts in response to people finding their way to a new normal, it’s more important than ever that you truly understand customer and employee preferences. But there are much better ways to uncover this information than just asking them what they want. Who doesn’t want lower prices, better service, or a company benefit that includes serving more meals?!? Technology has made it much easier to identify more detailed preferences using analytical approaches such as MaxDiff, Conjoint, and Kano. These approaches better pinpoint the relative value that people perceive across multiple options, which is the information you need to make smart decisions on where to invest your time, energy, and budget. 


3) Keep executives huddling

Many organizations established regular meetings to deal with the crisis, often pulling together leaders on a daily and/or weekly basis to review XM insights. During these sessions, executives adjusted their organization’s activities based on information about suppliers, customers, employees, and partners. These huddles helped ensure that decisions and resources were continuously aligned with the realities of their environment. While in many cases it may seem like the immediate crisis is over, just about every organization can expect to be making major changes throughout 2021. Rather than stopping these sessions, turn them into an ongoing weekly or bi-weekly rhythm of the business. Catalog the types of decisions being made and develop insights that focus on those areas.


4) Shift from big data to little signals

The year ahead will not bring a return to long-term historical norms or even resemble a continuation of 2020. It will be full of unique challenges and opportunities. This is an important distinction for your analytical approaches. Analysis built on large data warehouses can often suffer from confirmation bias, ignoring small abnormalities that don’t line up with the preponderance of other data. In times of change, these data blips can often be critical indications of what’s around the corner. Rather than smoothing out inconsistent data, you need to treat them as meaningful signals. For each of your key constituents (customer, employees, partners, and supplies) identify the mechanisms like targeted pulse surveys to spot and amplify these critical leading indicators.


5) Flex your qualitative muscles

I don’t care how much quantitative data you collect, it won’t tell you what you need to know as people reorient to a new normal during 2021. You should expect to get caught off guard and for there to be a lot of unexplained insights in your data. So plan to expand your use of qualitative mechanisms like open-ended questions on surveys, learning from contact center interactions, input from customer advisory boards, journey mapping, and focus groups. And don’t forget to actively listen to and learn from one of your best insight channels, employees! You should also budget for more ethnographic studies, deploying these methods to more deeply understand new behaviors as soon as they seem to be taking hold. 


6) Focus on customers employee resilience

We can have philosophical discussions about which group is more important, customers or employees, but in 2021 I’m not open for debate; employees come first. With all that people have been through in 2020, it will be very easy to lose your employees’ focus and commitment. No matter how brilliantly your organization may be at spotting opportunities, your workforce may not have the stamina to keep stepping up to make all of the necessary changes. So you need to view the level of employee resilience as a critical constraint to your efforts.  Prepare to invest whatever time and energy you may need to keep employees engaged in your mission, aligned with your efforts, and feel supported along the way — even if it means slowing down every once in a while.


7) Stay uncomfortably positive

By early 2021, we will have been dealing with the pandemic for a year. The ongoing pressure and stress of this marathon challenge will take its toll on the emotional state of just about everyone. People will become increasingly downtrodden and easily frustrated. You need to fight this off and remain positive. Focus on maintaining your physical and mental well-being, and go out of your way to be as positive as you possibly can be. This will not only improve your efforts, but it will also have an enormous impact on your co-workers and everyone around you. The world will need beacons of gratitude and positivity!


The bottom line: In 2021, prepare for the future instead of recreating the past.

Bruce Temkin, CCXP, is the Head of Qualtrics XM Institute