The fifth edition of Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report reveals how trust, personalization, and digital-first experiences are increasingly central to meeting customer needs. Based on a global survey of consumers and business buyers, the report also highlights how customer expectations and behaviors have changed over time.
Brian Solis has one critical piece of advice for businesses undergoing digital transformation: “In times of change, make customers’ needs and expectations your corporate North Star,” says Salesforce’s Global Innovation Evangelist. “Keeping customers at the center will inspire loyalty and deepen trust.”
But what, exactly, do customers need and expect from businesses today? How can brands earn, maintain, and build the ultimate currency of customer loyalty: trust? To find out, Salesforce surveyed over 13,000 consumers and nearly 4,000 business buyers across 29 countries for its latest study, State of the Connected Customer.
Trusted enterprises win the hearts of customers
As customers navigate a rapidly-shifting world, questions of trust, values, and integrity occupy their minds: 88 percent of customers believe trust becomes more important in times of change.
In contrast to an ongoing downturn in trust of media and government, trust in business is on the rise. Customers expect businesses to not only meet their needs but to do so responsibly. In fact, 68% of customers trust companies to act with society’s best interest in mind — a significant jump from the 59% who agreed in Salesforce’s 2020 survey.
Customers expect companies to help solve, rather than exacerbate, intractable issues such as inequality or climate change. Solis explains, “When it comes to important issues, companies can’t stand on the sidelines. Your values are an important part of your brand.”
78% of customers say environmental practices influence their decision to buy from a company.
Not doing so risks impacting the bottom line. Salesforce’s research shows that over three quarters (78%) of customer purchasing decisions are swayed by environmental practices and two-thirds (66%) have ceased buying from companies whose values didn’t align with their own.
Importance of customer experience hits an all-time high
Of course, values aren’t the only factor when deciding whether or not to buy from a company. Increasingly, customers consider whether their interactions with a company are easy and enjoyable.
In short, customers care about the experience. Eighty-eight percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services — the highest it’s ever been.
Great experiences provide an important bond between brands and customers, particularly as loyalty proves elusive. As consumers spend more time online, they gain access to an abundance of options, luring them away from tried and true favorites in favor of trying new alternatives. In the last year alone, 71% of consumers switched brands at least once as priorities, lifestyles, or financial situations changed.
Customers are in a decidedly digital-first mindset
Customer interactions with brands are more important — and more varied — than before. Many customer behaviors initially adopted as quick solutions to quarantine restrictions are now enduring habits.
“Customers who use contactless payments, AR/VR, and social media shopping — among other habits adopted amid the pandemic — overwhelmingly expect to maintain or increase their use of such digital-first experiences over the coming three years. So this really shows the lasting appeal of digital-first engagement,” explains Solis. “I’m optimistic the next couple years will improve the quality of those experiences as well — that businesses will take hurried, early-pandemic tech investments and thoughtfully integrate them into connected, useful, and satisfying experiences.”
Even as in-person activities rebound, customers continue to lean into digital-first engagement options, with younger generations self-reporting as the most enthusiastic adopters.
Demand grows for personalization at scale
The breadth of new digital touchpoints provides additional breadcrumbs (data) to inform personalized experiences. After years of increased digital engagement, the majority of customers assume companies understand their individual needs, especially given the abundance of personalized insights gleaned from customer interactions.
73% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations.
To deliver on these expectations at scale, many companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI). And while customers are increasingly familiar with AI — whether it drives the music playlists they listen to or provides directions from one location to another — they also have some misgivings.
For AI to be effective, businesses need a substantial amount of data as fuel. And as use of third-party cookies wanes, companies must find new ways to responsibly collect, make sense of, and activate data.
To feel more at ease, customers want input into how AI is used and opportunities to provide direct feedback on how AI is explained or implemented.
Solis sees this as an opportunity, “An end to third-party cookies doesn’t mean an end to personalization: it’s a new beginning. The need for robust first-party datasets ups the ante for companies to earn trust via consent-forward approaches to deliver the experiences customers expect.”
61% of consumers are comfortable with companies using relevant personal information transparently and beneficially — up from 52% in 2020.
When customer information is collected thoughtfully, companies can deliver remarkable experiences and deepen trust at the same time.
A unified experience helps build long-term customer relationships
In addition to rising expectations across individual touchpoints, customers increasingly expect all interactions with an organization to smoothly tie together while staying true to values and protecting customer privacy. Although a tall order, organizations must pay close attention to what customers need to build relationships long into the future.
And, according to Solis, relationships will be critical in a changing customer engagement landscape.
- Check out the Salesforce Connected Customer Report.
- Use Tableau to segment the report’s data by region, industry, and more.
Data in the State of the Connected Customer report is from a double-blind study of 13,020 consumers and 3,916 business buyers across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia Pacific. Data was collected from December 8, 2021 to February 1, 20202. All respondents are third-party panelists.
For further detail, see the State of the Connected Customer Report.