Today, Salesforce released its third “State of the Connected Customer“ report, based on a survey of over 8,000 consumers and business buyers across 16 countries. The report demonstrates a continued trend of elevated customer expectations, blurred distinctions between B2C and B2B standards of engagement, and an expanding role of business values and trustworthiness in customers’ paths to purchase.

Analyzing data across customer types, geographies, and generations, Salesforce uncovered four major themes.

Extraordinary Experiences Raise the Bar for Customer Engagement

Customers’ standards for modern engagement are a far cry from the transactional, one-size-fits-all experiences that were once the norm. Today, 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services. Tailored, contextualized engagement across multiple touchpoints is the benchmark, and disruptive business models are further raising the bar. Seventy-three percent of customers say one extraordinary experience raises their expectations of other companies.

Meanwhile, 64% of customers using different devices to start and complete transactions, and 59% are willing to go to Amazon when companies can't match its shipping speed and cost. What's more, 52% of customers say companies are generally impersonal, despite 73% of them expecting them to understand their needs and expectations. In general, companies aren't living up to customers' elevated expectations, with 54%of customers saying that companies need to transform how they engage.

AI, Connected Devices, and Other Emerging Technologies Shift the Digital Transformation Playbook

The pace of innovation is accelerating, with 67% of customers expecting companies to provide new products and services more frequently than before. Technological innovation underpins this sentiment, with 75% of customers expecting companies to use new technologies to improve their experiences, and 67% saying the way a company uses technology reflects how it operates in general.

Artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly prominent role in shaping customer expectations. In fact, 62% of customers are open to the use of AI to improve their experiences — up from 59% in 2018. And, 76% of customers use a connected device, including 29% of consumers who have a smart speaker in their home.

Trust Becomes More Important, Yet More Elusive, in Customer Relationships

Last year's State of the Connected Customer revealed a crisis of trust between customers and companies, and this year's study shows it has persisted. This year, 73% of customers say companies' trustworthiness matters more than it did a year ago, and 54% say it's harder than ever for a company to earn their trust. This crisis is impacting the top line, with 65% of customers reporting that they've stopped buying from brands that did something they consider distrustful.

Distrust has grown in no small part due to opaque privacy policies that have become commonplace, as 63% of customers say most companies fail use their data transparently, and 54% believe most companies don't use their data in a way that benefits them.

Brand Values Sway Buying Decisions

The days when businesses were expected to sit on the sidelines of societal issues are over. Today, corporate social responsibility is as much of a business imperative as an ethical one. In fact, 80% of customers say they are more loyal to companies with good ethics, while 68% say they won't buy from ones with poor ethics. And, 56% of customers actively seek to buy from philanthropic companies, while 65% say the same for environmentally sustainable companies.

Methodology

Data in the State of the Connected Customer report is from a double-blind survey conducted April 2–18, 2019 that generated responses from 8,022 individuals in Australia/ New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom/ Ireland, and the United States. All respondents are third-party panelists.

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