It’s no secret buyers are spoiled for choice today.
More than 70% of consumers have recently jumped to another brand at least once – and almost half of those who’ve made a switch say they were lured by better customer service.
And it doesn’t take much to send your customers knock, knock, knockin’ on a competitor’s door: 60% won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere following a single customer service interaction that doesn’t meet their expectations.
If you want to dodge any of these serious missteps and instead have loyal customers, you’ll need to understand what customers expect from businesses today.
Spoiler alert: Their expectations are higher than ever. And years of painful inflation increases have made customers far more discriminating about when, where, and why they’ll open their wallets.
That might sound like a lot to keep up with, but don’t worry: You don’t need Amazon-level resources to win the modern customer service game. Small businesses can meet today’s higher expectations and achieve true customer satisfaction.
It’s all about having a firm grasp of these 12 common customer expectations, a few ideas around how your specific business can meet them, and getting a little help from the right technology along the way.
Customer expectation #1: “Don’t make me contact you if I don’t have to.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a customer who wants to spend an hour of their day troubleshooting with customer support. After all, if they’ve landed on the phone with a representative, they probably couldn’t find the information they were looking for. Or, they have a bone to pick with your business.
For most customers, self-sufficiency is preferable: 70% of them use companies’ self-service channels. However, only 9% report they can completely sort out their problems on those channels alone.
Lighten your customers’ workload, and take a few tasks off your team’s plate in the process. You can stop unnecessary customer support tickets in their tracks by offering a truly exhaustive, easy-to-navigate library of resources. Think:
- A knowledge base detailing how to use your product or make the most of your service
- A list of answers to FAQs
- Demo videos
- A chat bot that can guide customers toward helpful information 24/7
Continually update these resources so you’re not leaving knowledge gaps around new product features or known issues that are in the queue for a fix.
With a robust self-service system in place, if a customer still has to contact your customer service team for support, you’ll know it’s for something worth everyone’s while.
Customer expectation #2: “If I have to reach out, let me contact you however I want to.”
Email, SMS, phone, live chat, snail mail, social media, in-person interactions – the modern menu of customer communication channels can be truly overwhelming for businesses and consumers.
Today’s businesses must rise to the occasion by offering high-quality, breakthrough communication experiences online and offline.
And while digital channels have experienced a social distancing-prompted surge in usage over the past few years, more traditional channels like the phone and in-person connections aren’t to be ignored: 43% of customers would still rather communicate with a business via non-digital channels.
The more complex or urgent a customer’s issue is, the more it demands a phone call. Let’s say you had several erroneous charges on a bill. You’d probably rather connect with a customer service representative over the phone than spend hours exchanging a dozen text messages with them, right?
On the other hand, for a quick question, a short back-and-forth over SMS or live chat – as long as the response time is reasonable – is probably preferable.
In short, when they need to contact a company, customers want options. So, limiting them to one or two channels won’t cut it.
Customer expectation #3: “Don’t make me wait.”
We’ve all been “entertained” by hold music. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tune in the world that can make up for an hour-long wait to speak to a real person – especially when you have a pressing problem you’re trying to solve.
Beyond the pain of waiting for a customer service representative to pop on the line, 76% of customers expect to communicate with someone immediately when they reach out to a company.
That doesn’t mean you have to skip dinner with your family or stay awake all night to make sure you’re available on-the-spot when every customer message comes in. But you need to be thoughtful about your response time, especially on channels that come with the expectation of immediacy.
Technology is your friend here. Lean on your business phone system to collaborate with your colleagues behind the scenes, so you can tag-team on responses to customers. Secure a tech solution that allows you to set up auto-replies and schedule messages. That way, you can up your perceived availability with real-time responses – and set expectations for times when you’re not available.
And, most importantly, be honest and transparent: 74% of customers say infusing these two qualities into your business communication is more important than ever.
If you’re a team of one and can’t respond live 24/7, tell your customers that – and use auto-replies to point inquiring customers to relevant self-service resources in off-hours until you can follow up.
When it’s going to take some time to address a particular problem, let the customer know it won’t be instantaneous. Then, keep them updated along the way so they know what actions you’re taking to get to a solution.
Customer expectation #4: “Be human.”
Would you rather talk to faceless brand, Progressive Insurance, or the company’s beloved mascot, Flo from Progressive?
If you picked the person over the business entity, it’s not a coincidence: Humans want to connect with other humans. It’s in our DNA. We depend on these connections for our health and well-being.
“When trying to build a human, authentic relationship with your customer, you need to treat it like a real-life relationship,” says Ryan Quindlen, head of customer success and experience at Laudable.
“If you made a new friend at a bar, would you give them your email address or would you give them your phone number?… We don’t want [customers] feeling like they need to sign off with a ‘thanks’ and then their name every single time they communicate with us.”
So, give customers what they expect – and need – if they’re going to buy what you’re selling: Evidence there are people they can relate to behind your business.
Consistently exposing your company’s humanity also naturally helps customers form an emotional connection with your brand. That’s a win-win for everyone. After all, more than 60% of customers say it’s emotional ties that keep them coming back to the companies they buy from most frequently.
Customer expectation #5: “Don’t make me repeat anything.”
If you broke your arm and then had to re-explain what happened to you every time a new medical professional walked into the room, you probably wouldn’t be very satisfied with the care you’re getting, right?
And if, down the road, you broke another bone, would you choose to go to the same hospital? Probably not.
Having to continually repeat yourself doesn’t exactly instill confidence things are running smoothly behind the scenes. Plus, it’s just plain exhausting.
Despite 71% of consumers expecting companies to share information internally, two-thirds say they often have to repeat themselves.
To meet this customer expectation, get your ducks in a row on the back end.
If you have the right business communication technology in place, you can use internal threads to coordinate with team members and drive visibility on customer conversations. You can also tap into custom contact properties to capture information and help everyone quickly identify customers by other elements beyond just their name.
Going the extra mile to make sure customers don’t have to explain information again is worth it: A whopping 92% will spend more with a company that can guarantee they won’t have to repeat themselves.
Customer expectation #6: “Don’t leave me hanging – actually solve my problem.”
Customers expect a company to be able to solve their problems quickly and easily. Seems pretty obvious, right? It’s not necessarily a given.
But if a company is able to lighten a customer’s load – to decrease the problem-solving effort they have to put forth – it’s a proven factor in driving customer delight and ultimately, customer loyalty.
One-third of global consumers consider a business’s ability to resolve their issue in just one interaction – even if it’s slow – to be the most important element of good customer service. And an overwhelming majority of customers expect a company to deliver on this type of simple, one-stop-shop resolution.
On the other hand, if the path to a solution is paved with many obstacles – like getting transferred to multiple agents, needing to repeat previously communicated information, or having to switch to other service channels – it’s safe to say many customers will jump ship.
And the consequences stretch well beyond customer churn: 77% of consumers say inefficient customer service negatively impacts their quality of life.
Customer expectation #7: “Be proactive.”
Sitting back and waiting for things to come to you won’t get you too far in most aspects of running a business – customer service, included.
Consumers now expect businesses to know them so well they can anticipate their customers’ needs: 62% have this standard today – up from 56% in 2020.
Consider the moment when you get an Instagram ad for a specific pair of shoes right after you were talking to your friend about wanting that very pair of shoes. It’s a little creepy but, admittedly, pretty convenient at the same time, right?
You can prove to your customers you’re being thoughtful and forward-thinking about what will be helpful and delightful for them – sans the creep factor.
Drill down on practical things like immediately providing new customers with a suite of educational materials and resources detailing how to take full advantage of the product or service they just purchased.
Plus, quickly notify customers about:
- Any issues, such as unexpected delays in service
- New products that could be valuable to them
- Available perks and upgrades
And for your team, create internal documentation that highlights best practices for providing proactive customer service. Include internal and external best-in-class examples. Then, use this documentation during training and point back to it any time you need to coach teammates.
Customer expectation #8: “Make the customer experience personal to me.”
Remember the thrill of finding the mug or keychain with your name on it in the sea of gift shop tchotchkes?
Research shows 75% of consumers are more apt to buy from a business that addresses them using their name, remembers their past purchase decisions, or proactively provides them with recommendations inspired by their preferences.
We do all love a personal touch.
Take Carry, a company that allows ecommerce businesses to provide same-day delivery service. When a business has Carry in place, each of their customers receives a personalized text message about their order.
“I can’t overemphasize enough how important it is that we can automate that first initial message in a personalized way,” says Jason Ovryn, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Carry. “Customers love receiving SMS confirmation the moment they check out.”
Consider that “recommended for you” category on Netflix, too. There’s probably more than one show in that lineup that has roped you in, right?
None of it is accidental. It’s all about tapping into data for insights and ideas.
Fortunately for businesses, consumers are more willing than ever to throw them a bone – to provide them with relevant personal information – in exchange for a tailored customer experience.
For example, Americans were 61% less worried about privacy in 2020 than they were in 2019.
That said, consumers also expect the information they fork over to be treated with care and used responsibly.
Customer expectation #9: “Respect my privacy.”
Customers might be less guarded about giving companies some relevant information if it will improve their experience or grant them free access to a service. They know that’s the price they have to pay today.
But that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable with it being open season on their personal data. Consumers expect businesses to take care of their personal information: 86% believe it’s a company’s responsibility to do so.
That means being mindful of the information you collect from customers, giving them control over what they share, conforming to all relevant regulations, and being transparent about how you’re using any data provided.
Companies that go to great lengths in all these areas will be rewarded with their customers’ trust. But it has to be a genuine effort because that trust isn’t easily won. Sixty percent of consumers assume the companies they buy from will have a data breach at some point.
Plus, respecting customers’ privacy goes beyond just protecting their personal information. It’s also about using that information to actually give them a better customer service experience. For example, if a customer has indicated they’re in a specific time zone, they’ll expect not to get text messages from your company at 3 AM.
If you have a modern business communication platform in place as part of your customer service management stack, you can use scheduled messages to cater to your customers – no matter where they are in the world.
Customer expectation #10: “Listen to me.”
We all have that friend: You make a dinner reservation, tell them what time the reservation is, and then a few hours later they’re asking, “What time’s dinner?”
It’s a small but frustrating exchange that ultimately leaves you feeling unheard and undervalued.
Discounting the simple act of listening will leave your customers feeling the same way – especially today when 73% of consumers expect businesses to fully understand their individual wants and needs.
That requires a lot of, you guessed it, listening.
So, seek to be both reactive and proactive when it comes to taking in what customers are telling you. Proactively gather customer feedback through avenues like surveys, polls, online forums, social media channels, texts, call recordings, and dedicated customer feedback software. And don’t hesitate to spring into action when a customer gives you unsolicited feedback.
Either way, they’ll be naturally waiting for you to do something about it – especially if you asked for the feedback in the first place.
Keep them updated on any progress you’re making and be transparent about any roadblocks you’re encountering. Even if you can’t immediately solve a customer’s problem, communicating with them demonstrates that you’re listening to them and care about their input.
The bonus to being a good listener? You’re more likely to nip complaints in the bud before they spiral into negative reviews.
Customer expectation #11: “Keep up with the times.”
If we’ve learned anything the past few years, it’s that the world – and businesses – are always changing. And customers expect companies to keep pace with those changes.
Whether it’s a tech innovation or a relevant news story, there’s an expectation that any company worth doing business with will have their finger on the pulse of what’s new, next, and valuable to their customers.
Plus, consumers want to know they’re purchasing from a company whose values align with theirs.
Today, 88% of customers expect businesses to publicize their values, and 66% have stopped spending with a company when there was a disconnect between the brand’s values and their personal values.
So, meeting this expectation isn’t just a feel-good play – it’s about customer retention.
By acknowledging and embracing change and innovation, you can show your customers you understand them – and you’re not afraid to evolve when the moment calls for it.
Customer expectation #12: “Surprise me – in a good way.”
Who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise? When the person in front of you at the coffee shop pays for your drink without your knowledge, doesn’t it brighten your whole day?
And sure, consistently great baseline customer service might keep you coming back to a business, but pops of unexpected delight will make you loyal for life.
Plus, companies that dish out good surprises tend to make headlines. Consider the time when Trader Joe’s delivered groceries to a snowed-in grandfather free of charge. Or, when Sainsbury’s renamed their tiger bread because a 3-year-old girl thought it looked more like a giraffe than a tiger.
Today’s consumers aren’t looking for a company to just meet their needs – they want their expectations to be exceeded. Plus, 81% of consumers are more apt to make a second purchase from a business following a positive experience.
So, give the people what they want: Periodic, memorable surprises that break their expectations – in a good way.
Let technology help make your mission of meeting customer expectations easy
Unless you’re working with endless resources, a robust business communication system is your shortcut – your competitive advantage – when it comes to meeting and exceeding today’s sky-high customer service expectations.
Functionality like auto-replies, scheduled messages, call recording, internal threads, and custom contact properties can help keep your response time reasonable, allow you to deliver personalized experiences, and never require a customer to repeat themselves.
OpenPhone offers all these features and more so you can easily provide a next-level experience for all your customers. Sign up for a free trial today.
Melisse is a writer, editor, and content marketing professional who firmly believes in the power of words. She’s spent 17 years in the content space across media, tech, travel, and education. Melisse is now the president and managing director of her agency, Evergreen Media.