What Are Customer Expectations, and How Have They Changed?

Customer expectations hit all-time highs.

Time to read: 3 minutes

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, personalised interactions, and connected experiences across digital channels.

To better understand how customer expectations are changing, Salesforce Research surveyed 15,600 consumers and business buyers globally. In this research, “customers” is an aggregate of both consumer and business buyer responses. These findings, published in the fourth edition of the “State of the Connected Customer” report, give an in-depth look at:

  • The factors influencing customers’ expectations
  • The emerging technologies influencing the future of customer experience
  • The reasons brand trust is increasingly important and how companies can foster it

For starters, the research found that 80% of customers now consider the experience a company provides to be as important as its products and services.

As disruptive companies leverage breakthroughs in cloud, mobile, social, and artificial intelligence technology to deliver personalised, 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.



of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations

Source: "State of the Connected Customer," October 2020.

Understanding new customer expectations

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.

1. Customers expect connected journeys: Break down your business silos.

  • 76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments, yet 54% say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing teams don’t share information
  • 74% of customers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction

2. Customers expect personalisation: Customise everything.

  • 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalised — up from 49% in 2019
  • 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, yet 66% say they’re generally treated like numbers

3. Customers expect innovation: Keep pushing the limits.

  • 88% of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to COVID-19
  • 69% of customers believe companies should offer new ways to get existing products and services in the wake of the pandemic, and 54% believe they should offer entirely new products and services

4. Customers expect data protection: Make trust your priority.

  • Only 48% of customers say they generally trust companies
  • Only 27% of consumers completely understand how companies use their personal information, and 86% want more transparency
  • 61% of consumers feel like they’ve lost control over how their personal information is used — up from 46% in 2019

Read more about customer trust.

Customers expect great experiences but reality falls short

In this era of exponentially disruptive technological change, 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, and their standards are being elevated as they interact with various sectors. The result is that businesses must look beyond their own industry to understand the benchmarks they are being evaluated against.



of customers say their experiences with one industry influence their expectations of others

Source: "State of the Connected Customer," October 2020.

Business buyers’ expectations mirror consumer expectations for company interactions

Customers’ expectations for empathetic, personalised, and digital-first engagement don’t stop when they go to work. Much like consumers, business buyers see a gap between the standards that have been set and the reality they experience.

Why exceeding customer expectations is critical

Put simply, it pays to provide great customer experiences. In fact, 91% of those polled say they're more likely to make a repeat purchase after a positive experience, and 71% say they’ve made a purchase decision based on experience quality.


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