Understanding customer expectations: Types, management tips, and examples
Customer expectations frequently change, so it’s essential to stay informed about their needs. Learn what customers expect from companies and what you can do to earn and keep their business.
By Heather Wintermantel, Head of Global Customer Experience, Success Strategy and Innovation
Last updated August 18, 2023
Your customers’ needs may not always align across the board, but the stakes are getting higher for any business that falls short. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 73 percent of consumers will switch to a competitor if they have multiple bad experiences.
Prevent your customers from running for 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.
- What are customer expectations?
- Why are customer expectations important?
- 5 types of customer expectations
- Common customer expectation examples
- How have customer expectations changed?
- Levels of customer expectations
- 5 customer expectation management tips
- Consumer expectations FAQ
- Meeting increasing customer expectations
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.
Customers expect the very best from your business. Failing to meet their expectations can cause them to seek out a competitor who will. The CX Trends Report revealed that over half of consumers say they’re unlikely to return after just one negative experience. That means you may only get one opportunity to make a positive impression.
Why are customer expectations 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. By understanding and meeting those expectations, businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors 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, which can attract new customers. By prioritizing customer expectations, businesses can stay relevant, adapt to changing needs, and thrive in a competitive market.
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 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 some customer expectation examples illustrating what is important to consumers.
Short wait times and quick resolutions
Our CX Trends Report revealed that 72 percent of customers want to receive service immediately when they need it. If your sales team is understaffed, you might miss opportunities to connect with prospects. And if your customer support team has long wait times, you might unknowingly push customers out the door.
Incorporating staff optimization and automation into your customer experience strategy can help you deliver on the expectation for fast service. When your team is set up for success, they can serve more customers quickly and effectively. Automation aids in this effort by reducing the amount of manual labor involved in administrative tasks, so your staff can focus on helping customers.
Sometimes, customers want to solve issues on their own, so it’s important to provide self-service options like chatbots. According to our CX Trends Report, 72 percent of customers who interact with AI bots regularly have noticed an improvement in the quality of their responses. Satisfaction levels can increase because bots typically respond faster than human agents and direct customers to helpful information. Likewise, a customer help desk and knowledge base lets customers resolve issues independently so they don’t have to wait for an agent.
The prevalence of bots and other forms of customer self-service means consumers expect companies to offer these resources. If your company fails to provide the latest self-service tools, customers can quickly become dissatisfied with your support options.
The CX Trends Report reveals that 59 percent of consumers want businesses to use their data to create personalized experiences. While many people are protective of their personal information, most want businesses to use it to their benefit. This could be as simple as sending customers personalized messages or providing tailored product recommendations.
How have customer expectations changed?
When one company sets new customer standards, it creates a ripple effect, impacting expectations for all brands. David Mattin, the founder of New World Same Humans, refers to this phenomenon as “expectation transfer.” When businesses push the boundaries of innovation, they drive higher expectations among customers.
Although meeting constantly rising expectations may seem daunting, you can satisfy your customers by maintaining a steadfast commitment to improving the customer experience. By staying current on customer expectations, you can effectively navigate the evolving landscape and meet the ever-growing demands of your customers.
Here are key takeaways regarding how customer expectations have changed in recent years so you can keep up with the times.
Customers want seamless experiences
The pandemic pushed consumers to use new channels to communicate with businesses. Our CX Trends Report 2021 noted that social messaging usage increased 110 percent, with SMS/text jumping 75 percent compared to the previous year. Consumers grew accustomed to the convenience of these channels and want businesses to accommodate these messaging trends.
Businesses need to offer omnichannel support so conversations can easily continue from one channel to the next, without any context getting lost. Our CX Trends Report 2023 revealed that customers are upset when they need to repeat themselves during support interactions, and 70 percent of customers expect any agent they speak with to understand the context of the situation.
Customers are warming up to AI
Just three years ago, 41 percent of consumers wanted their customer service issues handled by a human agent, according to a survey by Blue Fountain Media. But our latest CX Trends Report found that 74 percent of customers now believe AI improves customer service efficiency.
While customers are warming up to AI as a cornerstone of their user experience, they’ve also developed higher expectations. Most customers want AI to provide the same level of service as human agents, and they want the experience to become more natural and human-like.
Customers want their data to inform personalization
A 2019 Pew Research Center poll revealed that 79 percent of adults were either very or somewhat concerned with how businesses used the data they collected from them. Four years later, 62 percent of consumers think businesses could be doing more with their data to personalize their experiences, according to our CX Trends Report 2023.
That doesn’t give businesses carte blanche to collect as much data as possible and use it however they’d like. But it does indicate that most consumers prioritize being treated like an individual over being grouped into a broad demographic, and they’re willing to give up some privacy to attain it.
Levels of customer expectations
Your business can’t simply meet one aspect of your customers’ expectations and assume they’ll be satisfied. There are different levels of customer expectations, and if you fail to deliver on all of them, your relationship will be in jeopardy. Here are four fundamental levels of service you need to consistently deliver to win over customers and drive retention.
Customers have a bare minimum they will accept
Today’s prospect has easy access to product information in nearly every industry, which means they come to the table with predefined expectations of your business.
Even at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, customers come with requirements that you must meet. At a minimum, variables such as price, quality customer service, and reliable products need to be achieved to intrigue prospects.
Suppose a customer is looking for a new set of golf clubs. In that case, they will have predetermined expectations based on how expensive the clubs are, the quality and longevity of the product, and after-purchase support. If you don’t meet any of those expectations, the customer will quickly look towards a different brand.
Customers require data privacy
Data leaks and compromised information seem to plague notable corporations every few months—make sure you’re not on that list.
Over the past few decades, a shift toward digitization has exposed personal and corporate information more than ever. With a few scripts and keystrokes, cybercriminals can hack into any poorly guarded or outdated system—leaving many people’s data at risk.
When consumers willingly give personal information, they expect businesses to handle their data securely, be transparent about their data collection, and offer privacy control options. If you can execute all that, you’ll build customer trust and loyalty.
Customers crave convenience
The longer it takes a customer to understand how to navigate your website or contact a representative, the less likely they will make a purchase.
The global marketplace is transforming into something unrecognizable compared to just 20 or 30 years ago. Food, music, shopping, and more are all available at the tap of a finger for today’s consumers, and your operations need to offer the same level of convenience they receive in their everyday life.
Ensure your website, service, and other customer-facing processes are easy to use. Develop instructions and site navigation with the customer in mind—and if you aren’t optimized for mobile devices, make that a top priority. Convenience is turning into a bigger competitive advantage than most businesses realize.
Customers expect your business to grow and evolve
The marketplace is bursting with innovative products and processes. To forge long-term consumer relationships, you need to prioritize growth.
The first time a prospect interacts with your business, they will likely see the best version of your operations. What comes after, however, determines whether they become a loyal customer or a one-time shopper.
Customers expect to see businesses adapt to changing consumer preferences. Continuous improvement, innovation, and expansion of product offerings show a commitment to growth and your customers’ needs. If they don’t see that from your business, they’ll likely look elsewhere.
5 customer expectation management tips
Keep up with rising customer expectations by investing in customer experiences. Here’s what businesses need to know to meet customer expectations moving forward.
1. Research your customer base
Delving into demographic information, psychographic traits, and consumer behavior patterns helps businesses gain valuable insight into what their customers want and need. This information allows businesses to tailor their products, services, and marketing strategies to align with customer preferences and enhance the overall customer experience.
Additionally, customer research enables businesses to identify emerging trends, anticipate changing demands, and accurately measure the customer experience. When a business understands its customer base, it can track the right key performance indicators (KPIs), offer personalized solutions, and continuously improve offerings to exceed customer expectations.
2. Offer omnichannel customer service
Customers become frustrated when they encounter limited options for customer service. Different issues call for different modes of communication, and customers have their personal preferences. Offering various service channels is one thing, but ensuring conversations can continue across channels is equally important to provide a seamless experience.
By integrating everything from social media to live chat into a unified workspace, omnichannel service streamlines the customer support process. As customer expectations continue to soar, customer service teams must leverage available tools and adapt accordingly to meet these heightened demands.
3. Use AI-powered resources
AI-powered tools can analyze customer analytics and provide your business with real-time insights into customer sentiment. This helps your team to know when their performance is meeting expectations and where they need to adjust.
AI can also help your business manage customer feedback. AI analyzes customer survey results and flags noteworthy trends. Some AI can even suggest the next course of action, helping to manage the customer experience.
4. Be proactive
Once you’re aware of common customer problems, it’s important to get ahead of them. Instead of waiting for customers to come to you with questions, you can proactively bring information to them. Guide customers toward quick resolutions by utilizing in-product messaging, creating informative how-to videos, or even sending out an email with 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 the Zendesk customer experience platform to sync customer data across your different systems, allowing agents to stay fully informed on support issues and provide proactive service.
5. Stay open to feedback
Many customers are honest about how they feel they’ve been treated. When they speak up, it’s important to remain open-minded and resist the urge to be defensive. The information they provide can highlight gaps in your data collection process and provide 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, an internal knowledge base can make it easy to categorize and share information throughout the company to keep everyone aligned.
Consumer expectations FAQ
Consumer expectations is a broad concept that affects every industry. Read on for answers to common questions regarding this topic.
How do you identify customer expectations?
Companies have a variety of resources at their disposal to identify customer expectations, including:
- Internal customer data
- Focus groups
- Social media listening
Compare the findings from each one to shape your takeaways and create a strategy for meeting customer expectations.
What are customer service expectations?
Customer service expectations refer to the assumptions customers make regarding interactions with your customer service team, as opposed to their expectations regarding other departments. Customer service expectations center around the speed with which inquiries are dealt with and successfully resolved.
What are elements of customer expectations?
Customer experience expectations are shaped by:
- What they experienced in the past, either from your business or your competitors
- What they learned from your marketing about prices, product performance, or quality of service
- What other people told them, including positive and negative remarks concerning your business
Meeting increasing customer expectations
Understanding and anticipating what your customers need helps you tailor your products, services, and overall experience—even in the face of increasing customer expectations. By using customer feedback software, continuously improving your offerings, and fostering open lines of communication, you can forge strong and long-lasting relationships with your customers.
Meeting customer expectations isn’t just about satisfying their needs—it’s about delighting them and creating loyal brand advocates. If you actively listen to what your customers want, you can consistently meet and surpass their expectations, positioning yourself as an industry leader, driving growth, and establishing a reputation for excellence.
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