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Customer expectations: 7 types all researchers should understand

All companies want to ‘exceed customer expectations’, but do you really know what that means? Learn the facts below.

What are customer expectations?

Generally, customer expectations are a set of ideas about a product, service or a brand that a customer holds in their mind.

For example, customers that buy an Apple iPhone over another phone brand have a set of expectations about that product. For example, they expect to see that the Apple phone has a sliding lock function, a ‘slate-style’ that has few to no physical buttons, with ‘Face ID’ facial recognition as standard.

Customers want these expectations met in order for them to feel satisfied with the customer service and with their purchase. They’ll also have expectations that aren’t so easy to see.

Let’s explore how companies can deliver against these tangible and intangible expectations.

Free eBook: Global Consumer Trends 2023

Why customers’ expectations are vital to business

Knowing your customer’s expectations is important to all businesses - whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise organization.

This year, 60% of large organizations plan to increase the effort they put into improving their customer experience compared with the previous year. One survey found 65% of SMB respondents said that customer-centric agility has increased in importance as a result of COVID-19.

Customer expectations matter, because - if you can meet them - customers are likely to spend 140% more after a positive experience. To do well now and in the future, companies need to close the gap between customer expectations, and the actual customer experience.

How have customer expectations changed over time?

Customer expectations have been changing over time for a number of reasons:

  • Demand for exceptional customer service is growing, especially among the millennial generation

Microsoft found that 54% of customers have higher expectations for customer service today compared to one year ago.

The demand for better customer experience is particularly strong with the new millennial generation of consumers, who are expecting even higher levels of customer service experiences. In the same study, a larger proportion, 66% for consumers were aged from 18 to 34 years old.

  • The power of the consumer is greater

With more competitors in each industry, the emphasis for companies must be on how to keep your customers happy - because there are plenty of alternatives out there.

Because of this increased power of the consumer and an expanding market, it’s reported that 48% of consumers expect specialized treatment for being a good customer, according to research by Accenture.

  • The digital experience is made possible with cheaper and more available technology

Nowadays, all consumers have a smartphone or access to online services. The marketplace is online and companies are moving to omnichannel routes to sell products and services.

If a company invests in digital technology solutions, they have a competitive advantage over their rivals, as Companies that have embraced digital transformation are 26% more profitable.

  • Changing events and circumstances impact the way customers behave

If the last year with Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that our social, political and economic activities can change rapidly in response to emerging events.

We’ve seen customer behavior change as a result, which has its own knock-on effects: US Census retail sales declined 8.7% from February to March 2020 - the largest month-to-month decrease since records began.

Customer expectations will change and it’s up to brands to get a feel for their customers’ needs and expectations during these uncertain times.

How do customers form expectations?

When are expectations formed? The truth is it happens at all times and across all stages of the customer journey - sometimes even before customers have bought something. Here are some of the more common ways that customers form expectations:

  • Experience a competitor’s service first

If your direct competitor is providing a better customer care experience, the customer will expect you to at least match or exceed that experience. Because of this, 81% of companies view customer experience as a way to gain a competitive advantage.

If you fail to address this, the customer will look favorably on your competitor as they will be the better all-around experience provider in their mind.

  • They have experienced your support service in the past

It’s the same sad story: A customer has a problem and they’re passed around from department to department, waiting endlessly on the phone. By the time they get through to the right person, they’re frustrated. Turns out they “rang the wrong number” and now they’ve found themselves in another call queue…

Customers tell nine people on average about a positive brand experience versus telling 16 people about a negative one. If your customer has an emotionally-negative experience when they need help, this experience will continue with them. The next time they want to use you, they’ll remember the experience and might think twice. On the other hand...

  • They heard bad news about you online or on review sites

As the saying goes, bad news travels fast. The way your company deals with its complaints or reviews is something that customers will review ahead of time - 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions. Make sure your reviews help them form positive assumptions about what they can expect by interacting with you.

What do customers expect from businesses today?

What are the common customer expectations that companies need to work on to provide an excellent customer experience (CX)?


Look to personalize the experience throughout the customer journey, whether it’s pre, during or after purchase. This focuses the service experience around them.

This could happen when a customer service agent uses the customer’s name in conversation, or when the customer receives email discounts, tailored to what they usually, or might like to buy. It can occur as a service, like personalized shopping styling, or be built into the product itself, so it’s just right for them.

Not only does it help to direct customers to products and services that they like, making their customer buying journey easier; but it also improves sales. 80% of customers would be more likely to use an organization if they offer personalized experiences.

Quality customer service

Customers want to see that you care about their wellbeing, lives and what matters to them - and customer experience is the way to do it. By focusing on your customers, your organization can become 60% more profitable.

This expectation can’t be stressed enough: Treat your customers like VIPs. The value of customer services actually influences the prices that customers will pay - Americans will pay 17% more to buy from a company that has a reputation for its great service. Companies have made real money from their reputation for having great customer service alone.

Don’t let your customers feel underappreciated (said to be the top reason why customers switch brands) by making more effort to engage and learn more about your customer’s wants, feelings, desires and beliefs.

Be authentic and genuine in your interactions, and most importantly, be human. Empower your customer service agents to help the customer and make that their sole goal.

Quick resolution-time for complaints

Customers want speed. They expect a company to solve their issues quickly, whether the complaint has been on digital channels - like social media, feedback email and webpage comments - or off-site on third-party and review sites.

In particular, review sites are key examples of places that businesses should be actively monitoring. When issues do arrive, a quick resolution will leave customers with a good impression - 53% of customers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week.

Within social media, fast responses are the norm for a customer. Statista found that 18% of customers expected a response from a company’s social media within one hour. As all information is public facing, action or lack of action can be shared quickly, for better or worse.

Low-effort experiences

Customers don’t have a lot of time to spend figuring out how to purchase something using your system. They’ll say ‘no, thank you’ to the multi-step buying process and ‘hello’ to one-click buying and saving banking details for next time.

How can you make your customers’ lives easier? Give easy-to-understand instructions on how to use the platform, maybe in the form of a ‘start tour’ or a ‘get support’ button. Even after the purchase has been completed, you can give the customer extra support when using the product or service. Lastly, sending payment reminders emails ahead of time close to the customer's service renewal date, or periodic emails to ask for feedback will be appreciated.

Up-to-date knowledge

Customers want to interact with people who can answer their questions quickly and correctly, to give them the information they need to make their buying decision. Microsoft found that almost one in three people (30%) say that speaking with a knowledgeable and friendly agent is the most important part of customer service.

Make sure your employees know what’s hot, what to say and how to handle questions they don’t know about. It’s no good having customer service agents that don’t know about the latest products or information - ‘the blind leading the blind’ is not a winning strategy.

In addition, giving customers knowledge tools to help themselves is highly recommended. Research by Steven Van Belleghem showed that 70% of customers expect a company’s website to include a self-service application. One report showed that 73% of customers wanted to be able to solve their own problems on their own.

Improve your contact center with the Call Center Agent Experience Guide

Omni-channel availability

The customer wants to use the channels that they’re most comfortable with. Forrester found that 31% of customers reach out through Twitter, and almost a third of customers used SMS messaging to request assistance.

Not only that - 9 in 10 consumers want a seamless omnichannel experience. Is your product/service available to your customers across all available channels?

People behave in different ways, so it’s important to cater to these different needs - whether that’s at noon or night, Monday or a weekend. Be prepared for your customer’s channel preferences and dedicate the right resources to make sure they achieve their goals.

Easy-to-use platforms

Customers want an easy experience with your communication platforms. They want to feel smart using them, achieve their goal and leave without feeling stressed.

Complexity is not your friend if you’re trying to gain points with your customers. American Express found that 40% of customers dealt with complicated interactions, such as payment disputes, by preferring to talk to a real person over the phone.

If you want to ensure a smooth journey, or evaluate where your customer pain-points are, try out customer journey mapping.

Products and services that perform well and do what they’re meant to do

This customer expectation is the most basic: knowing that what they buy will perform the actions, and have the features and functions, as advertised.

When customers buy your product or service, they think they’re buying exactly what you sold to them. If that product or service breaks, it follows that they’ll expect you to fix it as part of the transaction you made.

Show integrity by doing what you say you will, and sticking to your word. Your marketing information and communications out to all your channels should say the same thing in a consistent manner.

If there are serious issues with the product or service, let your customers know, think about service responses to the issue and get working on a fix.

How to exceed customer expectations

Based on the core requirements above, here are the three ways to get you the information you need for meeting your customers’ expectations:

1. Know what your customers’ expectations are

It’s important to check in with customers so you can ask what their experience has been like and what their expectations are. This is useful information to help improve products and services, and improve the customer service knowledge about what the customers want. In short, know what your customers expectations are so you can take steps to meet those expectations.

2. Renew the focus on providing excellent customer service

Customer service agents need to be quick to help, easy to talk to and care about the customers that they serve. Help your customer service employees by reading our free Customer Service Playbook to see how you can improve your customer service.

Regular training on latest company news and product/service updates can also help employees remain knowledgeable, and support the customer quicker.

By making customer-centric thinking a part of your work culture, you can re-vitalize what customer service really means and make it central to the success of your teams. Rally up the executives and see how it can be included in the overall company strategy.

3. Measure how you’re doing against your customer expectations

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Change is necessary if you want to improve.

Measure the right metrics to help you understand your service experience and create an action plan. Measurement is not the goal here, improvement is. But by measuring these metrics, we can chart our success.

Free eBook: Global Consumer Trends 2023