Shifting Customer Expectations

Communication: When I attended boarding school in the early 70’s I’d painstakingly write a weekly letter to my parents, typically 3 pages long with my news. I’d fold it carefully, place it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and make sure it reached the mail bag in time for the weekly mail collection. Five days later my letter would be delivered in Cape Town, 1,000 miles away. I could expect a response within 2 weeks, if I was lucky.

In the mid 90’s communication changed forever when we got mobile phones. 2 years later I remember getting my first email. That was exciting. It was also before spam. My 2nd email came about 3 days later, so I gave up checking my inbox every 30 minutes or so. Before long, email volumes increased and with it my expectation of a far quicker response time than my boarding school days.

In between letters and emails there were telex’s and faxes, but both came and went (does anyone still have a fax? If so, what for?). Text messaging arrived in 1998 – you just needed data and your mobile on hand. Remember the letter – and Christmas cards?

Quality: As a boy I recall that a cheap car would give my Dad loads of trouble, whereas an expensive one should not. That’s all changed. You can reasonably expect well over 100,000km from a bottom of the range vehicle before anything falls off, normal wear and tear notwithstanding. Expensive cars just cost more to fix. I also remember that when an appliance for which you’d paid good money broke, you went and got it fixed. Today they’re much cheaper, made to last for only 3 years, and when broken you chuck it away and get a newer model. You used to buy a watch to last you 25 years. The software on digital watches is updated every 4 months now, and you’re told to trade in your old one after just one year for the latest model. Customers now know what should last and what shouldn’t and have adjusted their expectations accordingly.

So in just two key areas, namely communication and quality, life has changed at an accelerated pace. Customer expectations have changed with them – drastically but not unreasonably.

How easy it is for your customer to instantly and easily take action on your offering?

Generational Component: My 25 year old early millennial (Y Generation) daughter can not remember life without mobile phones since she was 3 when they arrived. I showed my 15 year old a long playing record yesterday. She couldn’t get her head around how it worked or how you found the track you want to play. The first Z Generation children become teenagers from 2018. The point is that business is selling to an accelerating change market Customers buying patterns and expectations are constantly adjusting in response to the shifting communication environment.

One thing is for sure: It’s all become a lot quicker. If it takes more than 2 clicks it might not be worth the trouble.

Here’s a reasonable response time guide:

  • Email: 4-5 hours (half a day)
  • SMS:  1-4 hours
  • WhatsApp: 20 seconds to 20 minutes
  • SnapChat: 5-20 seconds
  • Any Phone: 3-5 rings
  • Voice mail message: Who knows? (does anyone still get these?)
  • WhatsApp/Facebook voice memo or Messenger: within 12 hours

The lesson for business is simple: Quality is now a given, but to a certain extent will still determine, together with features the quality of the customers you aim to attract. Outfits that make it quick and easy for their customers to do business with them and resolve problems easily will attract and retain more customers and therefore gain bigger revenues.

So the old smile and deliver is now “quick response time, make the buying experience seamless and be friendly, even if it’s auto response” – in that order. Because, customers now have plenty of options. Is your business one of them? If not, now is the time to streamline your response times, ease of doing business, online seamlessness and overall customer experience.

Paul du Toit, CSP, GSF. SASHoF

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