The next decade will bring new expectations of marketers, argues Steve Van Belleghem – saving time, answering hopes, and allaying fears – meeting them requires what they are and how to address them.

In the past two decades we have truly seen spectacular changes in customer experience. However the ‘easy’ years are over – I foresee even bigger challenges in the 2020s. You only need to think about how developing a LinkedIn communication strategy is much easier than an AI-driven one in order to offer highly personalised services in near real time.

Higher expectations

New digital and logistic possibilities increase the complexity for businesses, but at the same time, they also create [the potential for?] an unprecedented level of customer service. And this leads to a significant rise in expectations.

We used to only need great location, the lowest price or friendliest service to survive. However, these days consumers expect both a good service and a competitive price.

I like to group these rising customer expectations into three domains:

  1. Time: Time is now a scarce commodity, and customers expect companies to help them save their precious time.
  2. Hopes: Customers all have different and personal dreams and ambitions (paying off student loads, saving for a home etc.) and they expect companies to help them achieve these.
  3. Fears: Global warming, the volatile situation in the Middle East, Brexit, refugees – more and more customers expect businesses to tackle these issues.

Companies face an enormous challenge to answer these expectations. It could be scary, but it’s also exciting, because it could multiply your company’s impact by 10. Simply selling great services, or having an ultra-personal customer experience is now the new minimum. The coming years will be about helping consumers to become who they want to be, on a planet and in a society they want to save and cherish.

Three strategies answer these modern expectations

1. Offer time (by saving time) – fully automate transactions so that they become invisible and frictionless

Time is the customer’s scarcest commodity and the big technological unicorns understand this like no one else. Take Amazon, for instance, freeing up customer time with its ‘one click order’, ‘Dash’ button and the automated ‘Amazon Go stores’. Technology frees up the most time when it’s ‘invisible’, working in the background without customers noticing it, or even having to consciously interact. So I believe that as the years tick by, customer interfaces will slowly disappear and blend into the background.

Every organization should be asking itself these questions:

  • Which customer interactions can we render invisible?
  • Which aspects of the process still require a relatively big effort by the consumer?
  • And how can we use his or her time more efficiently?

2. Answer hopes – become a true partner in the life for your customers

With the rising expectations of customers, we will have to think about being an ‘emotional’ part of consumers’ lives. Consumers are not just commercial creatures, needing us to save them time. We’ll need to address their entire persona to stay successful in the coming years, and their emotional needs, aspirations, worries and dreams are a huge part of them. Organizing yourself – as a company – to help realize those dreams or challenges is, perhaps, the biggest opportunity of the current era. The more you understand their context – data playing a crucial role here – the better you can see things, from their perspective.

And the better you can see things from their perspective, the more you’ll need to become involved in their lives. Amazon is developing its AI-assistant Alexa as an in-home health concierge. Apple is actively turning its consumer products into patient health hubs. All of them are jumping on this evolution as we speak, but the key question will be: how can you become a true partner in the life of consumers?

3. Solve fears – changing the world together 

But just being a true life partner will not suffice. Consumers expect brands to take away their most primal fears (global warming, flooding, water shortages) and (help) solve world problems, too. They are fed up with the trade-off: they don’t want to choose between convenience, privacy, saving time, their dreams or doing what’s good for the planet. They want it all. Many companies have already started projects aimed at making the world a better place. It’s encouraging to see how investments in sustainability and social projects, among others, have risen sharply over the past decade. Their efforts often need more work though: I see that often their projects are not part of the core business, and lack involvement from and collaboration with the customer. That has to change.

Organizations that manage to get consumers to join a movement to save the world (in some small way), will add an extra layer to their customer relationship and make themselves more unforgettable in the process. Time to start thinking about how you can join that movement.