By definition, customer expectations are any set of behaviors or actions that individuals anticipate when interacting with a company. Historically, customers have expected basics like quality service and fair pricing — but modern customers have much higher expectations, such as proactive service, personalized interactions, and connected experiences across channels.

To better understand how customer expectations are changing, Salesforce Research surveyed over 6,700 consumers and business buyers globally. In this research, “customers” is an aggregate of both consumer and business buyer responses. These findings, published in the second edition of the “State of the Connected Customer” report, give an in-depth look at:

  • The factors influencing customers’ expectations

  • Which emerging technologies are influencing the future of customer experience

  • Why brand trust is increasingly important and how companies can foster it

For starters, the research found that 76% of customers now report that it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere — switching from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations.

As disruptive companies leverage breakthroughs in cloud, mobile, social, and artificial intelligence technology to deliver personalized, valuable, and immediate experiences, customers have more choices than ever. As a result, they grow to expect this superior experience from any business they engage with.

The research shows that understanding customers’ needs — and exceeding their expectations — are becoming table stakes for businesses to compete. Here are four expectations that are changing the game for companies.
  • 70% of customers say connected processes — such as seamless handoffs or contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions — are very important to winning their business. [Click to tweet]

  • Customers are 3.7x more likely to view seamless transitions between channels as important versus unimportant.

  • 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business. [Click to tweet]

  • 70% of customers say understanding how they use products and services is very important to winning their business.

  • 59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to winning their business.

  • Customers are 2.1x more likely to view personalized offers as important versus unimportant.

  • 56% of customers actively seek to buy from the most innovative companies (that is, those that consistently introduce new products and services based on customer needs and new technology).

  • 63% of customers expect companies to provide new products/services more frequently than ever before.

  • 66% of customers say it takes more for a company to impress them with new products and services than ever before. [Click to tweet]

  • Customers are 9.5x more likely to view AI as revolutionary versus insignificant.

Read more about the impact on business innovation.

  • 62% of customers say they’re more afraid of their data being compromised now than they were two years ago.

  • 59% of customers (including 63% of consumers) believe their personal information is vulnerable to a security breach. [Click to tweet]

  • 57% of customers are uncomfortable with how companies use their personal or business information.

 

Read more about customer trust.

In this era of exponentially disruptive technological change, often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, products and services that are cutting edge one day are outdated the next. In this context, the experience a company offers is increasingly its differentiator. But the scope of customer experience is changing, too. To win hearts and wallets, companies must not only deliver amazing marketing, sales, ecommerce, and service interactions, but also prove that they have the customers’ best interests in mind.

Customers expect a lot from companies, but don’t have faith in them to deliver. About half of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences. The reality is that today’s customers expect companies to understand and care about them as individuals, and treat them accordingly.

For businesses, there’s more focus than ever on going beyond the expected product or service to deliver a customer experience that truly differentiates. But while expectations for personalized, connected experiences are soaring, trust in companies to responsibly handle the data they require is bottoming out.

This research examines the evolution of these expectations, the technology that’s driving them, and the balance of trust between customers and companies. With more choice, more access to information, and less incentive to be loyal, today’s customers are firmly in control of their relationships with companies. Consumers and business buyers alike seek differentiated experiences based on trust and understanding, and will shop around to find them.

The ripple effect of a single bad experience or missed customer expectation goes beyond a lost sale. Fifty-seven percent of customers have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience. What’s more, 62% of customers say they share bad experiences with others. With the proliferation of peer review sites and social media, this practice can inflict widespread reputational damage. But this new dynamic is not all doom and gloom.

Seventy-two percent of customers share good experiences with others — a full 10% more than those who share the negative.

Two-thirds of customers will even pay a premium to companies that offer superior experiences, thereby introducing not just competitive differentiation, but increased or even new revenue streams.

The first edition of the “State of the Connected Customer” report polled 7,000 consumers and business buyers to learn exactly what those new expectations are — and how business leaders should repurpose their companies to respond.

This survey, conducted in 2016, established four core elements of the new baseline customer experience: personalization, immediacy, consistency, anticipation.

There is a considerable opportunity for brands that are able to interact on an individual basis with customers — from personalizing marketing journeys, to providing informed and unique customer care, to better understanding a customer’s unique needs. Seventy-two percent of consumers and 89% of business buyers say they expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, while 66% of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they feel treated like a number, not an individual.

For those companies able to deliver this more human touch, the rewards are considerable. Delivering personalized experiences drives customer loyalty, with 70% of consumers saying a company’s understanding of their individual needs influences their loyalty, and 69% saying the same of personalized customer care. The issue is more pressing with business buyers, 82% of whom say personalized customer care influences loyalty.

As connectivity becomes ubiquitous and customers grow used to conversational interactions with brands, immediacy has become vital. In the findings, 64% of consumers and 80% of business buyers said they expect companies to respond to and interact with them in real time. As the millennial generation becomes more powerful in the marketplace, the issue will only become more pressing — 66% of millennial consumers expect real-time responses and interactions, versus just 62% of baby boomers and traditionalists.

Meeting these expectations requires in the first instance a comprehensive, 360-degree view of each customer, so when interactions are initiated there is enough understanding for an accurate response. Second, business leaders must consider the viability of instant responses from a human workforce. Is the best solution a radical increase in headcount in customer-facing departments, or the deployment of chatbots and other AI-powered technology?

Again, matching expectations will have a considerable impact on customer lifetime value and churn, given 80% of consumers report that immediate responses to requests influence their loyalty to a given brand.

For many companies, several different departments clamour to own the customer, with marketing, sales, and service being three of the most common. Any decision on organizational structure changes must have at its core the ability for the company to deliver a seamless experience for the customer, regardless of the challenges behind the scenes. Seventy-five percent of consumers expect consistent experiences across multiple channels (web, mobile, in-person, social), with 73% likely to switch brands if they don’t get it. Customer loyalty — and attrition — is determined by every experience.

Predictive, anticipatory service is increasingly the norm.

As customers look to the future, they increasingly expect companies to leverage their data to provide anticipatory services. By 2020, 75% of business buyers expect companies that can anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they initiate contact, while 73% expect that products they purchase will self-diagnose issues and automatically order replacement parts or service.

For a company to effectively predict and prescribe actions for their customers, the ability to both manage existing customer data effectively and deploy new machine learning algorithms to make predictions is increasingly important.

Given the imperative for companies to deploy artificial intelligence algorithms to meet anticipated customer expectations, it’s fortunate that customer stances on sharing their personal data are softening.

Sixty-one percent of millennials are happy to share personal data if it leads to a more personalized in-store or online shopping experience, while 58% will share personal data to power product recommendations that match their needs.

The rapid evolution of customer expectations is made clear when we compare the millennial approach to that of baby boomers and traditionalists, for whom only 41% are willing to share data for personalized shopping experiences.