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Article 7 min read

Customer expectations: Definition, types, and tips

Customer expectations frequently change, so staying informed is essential. Learn what customers expect and how you can earn and keep their business.

By Heather Wintermantel, Senior Director, Customer Experience Strategy & Programs

Last updated May 2, 2024

What are customer expectations?

Customer expectations describe how customers envision each interaction with your company. From self-service options to customer service wait times, these expectations span every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.

Picture this: You walk into your favorite café, and the smell of freshly ground coffee beans meets you at the door. You expect a warm greeting from the barista, quick service, and, of course, a perfect cup of coffee. But if the service is slow or the coffee is lukewarm, your once-favorite spot suddenly loses its charm, and you question whether or not you’ll return.

With interactions being magnified and amplified across social media platforms, understanding and exceeding customer expectations is now more crucial than ever. Prevent your customers from running toward the exit by positioning yourself as a customer-first company. Read on to learn how customer expectations have changed and what you can do to satisfy them.

More in this guide:

Why customer expectations are important

The ability to meet customer expectations can directly influence the success and sustainability of any business. Customers have more choices than ever, and their expectations can evolve rapidly. Understanding and meeting those expectations can differentiate your business from the competition and build strong customer relationships. High satisfaction rates usually lead to greater customer loyalty and more referrals.

Additionally, meeting customer expectations enhances overall brand reputation and creates positive word of mouth, helping to attract new customers. By prioritizing customer expectations, businesses can stay relevant, adapt to changing needs, and thrive in a competitive market.

How customer expectations have changed

When one company sets new customer standards, it creates a ripple effect, impacting expectations for all brands. Although constantly meeting rising expectations may seem daunting, you can satisfy your customers by maintaining a commitment to improving the customer experience.

Here are some key takeaways from the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2024 regarding customer expectations:

A man in purple pants sits beside a statistic on how 53% of consumers will prefer interacting with AI agents in a few years.

  • Customers are less lenient: 57% of customers would switch to a company’s competitor due to one bad customer experience—a trend that’s grown by 5 percentage points year over year.
  • Customers now expect CX teams to use AI: 70% of consumers believe AI has become a modern part of customer service.
  • Unlike in the past, customers expect bots to be highly skilled: 53% of consumers believe that in a few years, they will prefer interacting with AI-powered agents due to the lack of human error.

Use these insights to adjust your customer service initiatives accordingly so you can keep up with the times and prevent dissatisfied customers.

How customers form expectations

Several factors shape what customers expect from your business. Here are a few:

  • Customer experience history: A customer’s past interactions with your brand heavily influence their expectations. Positive experiences set a baseline for future interactions, while negative ones can create a hurdle to overcome.
  • Industry benchmarks: Customers often compare your company to competitors and transfer their expectations to your company. If industry leaders offer faster shipping or more generous return policies, those features can become the baseline expectation for your business.
  • Marketing and communications: Your marketing materials, advertising campaigns, and social media presence shape customer perception. If you promote good customer service, it becomes a part of the expected experience
  • Online reviews and word-of-mouth: The digital age empowers customers to share their experiences widely. Positive online reviews can raise expectations, while negative ones can make customers more cautious.
  • Generational and cultural differences: Different generations and cultures may have varying expectations about communication styles, response times, and service formality. Understanding your target audience is crucial.

One of these factors may set the bar for what a customer anticipates, but with the right approach, you can shape their expectations to cultivate a loyal customer base.

Stay on top of customer expectations with the Zendesk CX Trends Report

We surveyed nearly 7,000 business leaders and consumers to help you understand where expectations currently stand and where they might be going.

5 types of customer expectations

There are five identifiable types of customer expectations: explicit, implicit, interpersonal, digital, and dynamic performance.

  • Explicit: These are defined expectations the target audience has about your product or service. For example, when customers visit your store or website, they’ll expect specific products to be within a certain price range.
  • Implicit: These are customer assumptions around what doing business with your company will be like based on what they know of other businesses. Implicit expectations can also be influenced by whoever recommended a business to them.
  • Interpersonal: These describe customers’ expectations for personal interactions with your team members. Interpersonal expectations include in-person, phone, and live chat support interactions.
  • Digital: These are expectations for how you will handle interactions on your website, on your social platforms, or via email. Digital expectations apply to how easy the channel is to navigate and how simple it is to make orders or reservations.
  • Dynamic performance: This refers to how customers expect your product or service to change over time to match their evolving needs. Businesses need to enhance their offerings to stay relevant, like a restaurant adding the option for online reservations.

Understanding how each type of expectation affects customers’ overall experience with your company will help you take actions that improve customer satisfaction.

Common customer expectation examples

Customers expect a lot from the companies they do business with. Here are additional customer expectation examples from the Zendesk CX Trends Report 2024 to further illustrate what is important to consumers:

Three icons represent common customer expectations, like experienced AI, comprehensive support, and humanized interactions.

  • Effective resolutions with AI: 68% of customers believe chatbots should have the same level of expertise and quality as highly skilled human agents.
  • Streamlined, comprehensive support: 80% of customers expect chat representatives to assist them with support, sales, and everything in between.
  • Humanized experiences: Customers want businesses to put their personal data to use by offering more personalized and humanized interactions.

Unsurprisingly, customer expectations only get higher over time. Consumers want their trusted channels to remain available while the tech advancements improve the quality of service they receive.

5 customer expectation management tips

Invest in the customer experience to keep up with rising customer expectations. Here are five ways your business can stay aligned with your customer base.

Five icons represent tips for managing customer expectations.

1. Research your customer base

Delving into demographic information, psychographic traits, and consumer behavior patterns helps businesses stay customer-centric and gain valuable insight into customer wants and needs. This information allows you to tailor your products, services, and marketing strategies to align with customer preferences and enhance the overall customer experience.

Additionally, customer research enables you to identify emerging trends, anticipate changing demands, and accurately measure the customer experience. When you understand your customer base, you can track the right key performance indicators (KPIs), offer personalized solutions, and continuously improve offerings to exceed customer expectations.

2. Be agile

Consumer expectations can shift rapidly, and companies prioritizing agility are better positioned to thrive. Investing in technology that fosters flexibility allows you to adapt to these changes quickly.

This could be customer service software with no-code apps and integrations that make it easy to expand to new business use cases, data analytics tools that provide real-time customer insights, or AI solutions that enable you to scale up and down based on changing ticket volume. By adopting agile technologies, you can ensure your products and services remain aligned with evolving customer needs, keeping you ahead of the curve and fostering long-term customer satisfaction.

3. Use AI-powered resources

AI-powered tools can help you meet consumer expectations for fast and seamless support.

AI agents, also known as advanced chatbots, can provide 24/7 support so customers aren’t stuck on hold. And AI-powered forecasting can accurately predict staffing levels so human agents are available in the channels where they’re most needed. Meanwhile, customer service quality assurance software can leverage AI to flag conversations to review to ensure you meet your service level agreements.

4. Be proactive

Once you’re aware of common customer problems, you need to get ahead of them. Instead of waiting for customers to come to you with questions, you can proactively give them information. Guide customers toward quick resolutions by utilizing in-product messaging, creating informative how-to videos, or emailing them a list of best practices.

Not only does this help with managing customer expectations, but it can also create a smoother experience for everyone involved. You can use a solution like Zendesk customer experience software to sync customer data across your different systems, allowing agents to stay fully informed on support issues and provide proactive customer service.

5. Stay open to feedback

Many customers are honest about their experiences. When they speak up, remain open-minded and resist the urge to be defensive. The information they provide can highlight gaps in your data collection process and create a more accurate picture of their expectations.

Ensure your team is prepared to collect and implement customer feedback by giving them the right tools. For example, Zendesk quality assurance software can link ticket insights to customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, helping you understand what went wrong and how to rectify it. Additionally, AI can review agent conversations and identify areas for improvement so managers can deliver specific feedback during coaching sessions.

Frequently asked questions

Meet increasing customer expectations with Zendesk

Meeting customer expectations is next to impossible without the right software. Zendesk offers AI-powered customer experience solutions to help you meet customers’ expectations for fast, personalized, and efficient support. Our tools are easy to use and help businesses foster lasting customer loyalty and growth.

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