The past two years have been tumultuous, and consumer spending habits have changed with the ups and downs of lockdowns, social distancing and business closings. Slowly, however, we've seen a reemergence into normalcy.

Customer expectations and an increased emphasis on exceptional, consistent digital experiences across all channels have risen. This article will look at how customer expectations have changed and what brands are doing to keep up.

A Frictionless Shopping Experience

According to a recent Verint report, 44% of Gen Z and 43% of Millennial shoppers had to make more effort than expected to complete an interaction, which likely indicates that younger generations have even higher expectations for their digital experiences than other generations.

Because of this, businesses must ensure that the shopping experience is frictionless, seamless and smooth from the beginning of the customer journey to the end.

These high expectations, along with inflation, have contributed to consumers having little tolerance for sub-par experiences, according to Alyssa Trenkamp, VP of Marketing Communications for Uberall, a hybrid customer experience platform. "Thus, businesses need to make the most of every consumer interaction to drive retention and loyalty to compensate for the economic uncertainty."

Bill Staikos, SVP of Industry Solutions at Medallia, a customer feedback management platform, told CMSWire that customers expect brands to deliver consistent experiences that meet their expectations — in the moment and with context.

“Brands need to understand what those expectations are, match them up against their company's purpose and design experiences in a way that there is no daylight between what customers want you to deliver and what is expected of you,” he said.

When it comes to having a clearly defined purpose, the tech giants know what they’re doing, said Staikos.

“They've aligned their strategy to that purpose, they've aligned the experience they deliver to that purpose and they've aligned their customer experience to real business outcomes,” he explained. “So from a customer standpoint, what you get from these large organizations is exactly what you would expect.”

Related Article: How to Optimize CX Strategies for Different Generations

Effortless Buying Decisions

Although most people focus on business-to-consumer (B2C) when they think about customer expectations, it’s just as important in the business-to-business (B2B) sector.

“As a B2B manufacturer or vendor, it’s important to remember buyers are consumers when not at work, and they expect a ‘consumerized’ experience when purchasing online for their jobs,” said Sarah Assous, CMO at Zoovu, an AI-powered content discovery platform.

“There are inevitable nuances to what they need for their job vs. personal life,” she continued, “but at the end of the day: there should be no gap in experience when moving from a consumer experience to a professional experience online.”

Meaning, B2B customers expect the same frictionless, exceptional customer experience that traditional customers want.

“When interacting with brands, customers expect to be able to easily make a purchase — and there are different meanings to that for different customers,” explained Assous.

One thing brands should do, she said, is make product and service information easy to find and understand, leading to easier buying decisions. Customers don’t want to waste their time searching.

“...It’s about operational efficiency without sacrificing accuracy, compliance and finding the best price,” she explained. “As with ease of use, expectations for price transparency, guidance and support are desired by B2B buyers.”

Standing up For Social Causes

With all the social and political hot-button issues today, customers expect brands to speak out and take a stand. However, they also expect authenticity and transparency, according to Michael Forney, VP of customer success at RFPIO, a response management platform.

“In our ‘always-on’ world and a camera in everyone’s pocket, you can't talk the talk without also walking the walk,” said Forney. “Customers expect companies to be authentic with the product and will without a doubt keep them honest."

Recently, a United States Supreme Court ruling overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which affected women’s access to abortion. As a result, many brands spoke out, providing additional health care, travel costs and other considerations for employees who need to travel for medical procedures.

“Consumers want brands to take a stand on the issues facing society today,” Rob Volpe, CEO at Ignite 360, a consumer insights, strategy and training firm, told CMSWire, citing brands’ responses to the above Supreme Court decision as an example.

“Prior to that,” he added, “in 2020, after George Floyd's death, brands had to come forward with their support of disenfranchised or minority communities.”

Related Article: 4 Companies Taking a Stand on Social Issues That Matter

24/7/365 Customer Care

Customers today are vitally interested in two things: convenience and speed.

Research from SOTI revealed that US consumers prefer speed and convenience when shopping, and 73% of those polled favored self-service technologies that improve the shopping experience and reduce interactions with staff.

Customers have increased their digital interactions with brands exponentially over the last few years. As such, they expect customer service to be available to them 24 hours a day, every day, across all channels, allowing them to connect with a brand on their preferred choice of medium.

“Consumers want the option to toggle between channels depending upon what they’re doing at the moment — phone calls, text messages and conversations started on Facebook Messenger, Google Maps and Search, and WhatsApp — and still feel like each of those conversations builds on each other instead of starting at square one,” said Rob LoCascio, founder and CEO of LivePerson, a conversational AI platform.

“In fact,” he continued, “an individual customer’s preferences for these channels shifts throughout the day — 80% of consumers prefer to message when on public transportation, but when in a car, 69% prefer to call. During work hours, 75% prefer to message, but at home, it’s close to an even split between calling and messaging.”

Learning Opportunities

To ensure that customers can use the appropriate channel at the appropriate time, brands must connect the journey across channels seamlessly.

LivePerson’s latest survey of 2,500 consumers around their CX preferences has revealed that the vast majority of consumers want their experiences with brands to be connected across voice and messaging — 87% of consumers worldwide prefer brands that connect interactions across the customer journey,” said LoCascio.

Hyper-Personalization and Relevancy

Customers expect a personalized experience when they interact with a brand, with 80% of customers more likely to make a purchase when it happens, according to Epsilon.

Personalization improves the customer experience, drives sales and increases customer loyalty. Additionally, a survey from Accenture, which looked at 8,000 global consumers, showed that 91% of those polled are more likely to do business with brands that remember, recognize and provide them with relevant recommendations and offers.

Conversely, research from Gartner revealed that brands stand to lose 38% of their customers due to poor personalization practices.

The rise in online shopping due to the pandemic was also a significant contributor to rising customer expectations.

“Big tech companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google, Apple, Zappos, Grubhub, Doordash and others are playing a major role in setting an increasingly high bar for customer expectations,” said Trenkamp, “especially when it comes to digital experiences.

“Since these brands are giants in the field, they can take on more risk and invest more in the latest tools and technology for consumers, including Amazon’s Just Walk Out cashier-less technology, or immersive view coming to Google Maps.”

Staikos added, “The impact of all this is that when they interact with other brands, even though the expectation should be different, consumers project the Amazon experience onto the other brands they buy from.”

Related Article: 4 Methods for Hyper-Personalization That Get Results

Free Shipping and Returns

Amazon debuted Free Super Saver Shipping for orders above $99 in 2002, an amount that dropped to $49 and eventually $25. Super Saver Shipping spurred the transition to free shipping with Amazon Prime, a move that took almost a decade.

eBay is another merchant that introduced customers to free shipping. Today, much like Amazon, most (but not all) eBay buyers see no shipping costs.

As a result, consumers got used to free shipping and tend to expect it on all purchases, no matter the brand. According to a Baymard Institute report, shopping carts are abandoned 69.57% of the time, and 50% of that is due to extra costs, such as too-costly shipping.

"Retail customers have been trained by Amazon to expect the moon: low prices, free and fast shipping and deep 1:1 personalization of the customer experience,” said Nicolas Darveau-Garneau, chief growth and strategy officer at Coveo, an AI-powered enterprise search provider.

“They even give Prime members free TV shows and movies!” he added. “Amazon can create this magical customer experience because it has an army of AI engineers and it can subsidize its zero gross margin retail business with large advertising and cloud businesses."

Companies of any size can offer free shipping by using minimum purchase thresholds, loyalty clubs (aka Prime), special offers and weight limitations. Additionally, brands can often alleviate the anxiety that customers experience when purchasing online by providing detailed information about delivery dates and times.

Free returns are another factor influenced by tech giants such as Amazon and brick-and-mortar retailers such as Walmart and Target. Not only do they offer free returns on most products, but many don’t even require the customer to return the item to receive a refund.

Customer Satisfaction Depends on Meeting Expectations

While customer expectations can vary, most agree they want a seamless, frictionless, exceptional experience across all channels.

Brands can meet those expectations by supporting customer demands and values — from standing up to social causes to offering free and painless shipping and returns.