Salesforce released the third edition of its “State of the Connected Customer” report, incorporating responses to surveys from over 8,000 consumers and business buyers worldwide. In the 2019 report, the goal was to gauge customers’ expectations in four areas: engagement, emerging technologies, trust and companies’ values.

The resulting data comes from a double-blind survey that took place in April 2019, from individuals in 16 countries and territories spanning the globe. Respondents were required to be 18 or older and separated by customer type (consumer or business buyer), as well as generation (baby boomer, Gen X, millennial/Gen Z, etc.).

Customer Expectations for Engagement: Extraordinary

The survey makes it plain. Customers today expect to be treated like individuals, with 73% anticipating companies should understand their needs and expectations, but more than half (52%) report companies to be essentially impersonal.

The generalized, one-size-fits-all approach of yesteryear is no longer the benchmark for engagement.

In today’s market, for example, a customer may see an ad for a product on social media, but then visit the company’s website on their laptop later to purchase. This kind of fragmented engagement is commonplace, with 64% of customers having used multiple devices to complete single transactions. What’s more, customers have high expectations for seamless engagement based on context (i.e. device or platform).

A full 40% of customers will take their business elsewhere if their preferred channel for engagement isn’t available.

Customers also value expedience in finding what they need and whom they need, with over half (56%) expecting to discover what they were looking for in three clicks or less. In customer service, more than 70% expect to communicate with companies in real time — but nearly as many (68%) prefer self-service channels for addressing simple questions.

“Executives are going to have one of two reactions to this report,” says Tiffani Bova, Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. “They’ll either nod their heads, having recognized these expectations from their own customers and knowing they’re adjusting their engagement strategies accordingly, or they’ll feel a little uncomfortable. To the first group, I say bravo. To the second, I say the backbone of corporate growth is personal growth, get used to being uncomfortable.”

Disruptive business models like those of Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club, which cut out intermediaries and take their products directly to consumers, have raised the bar even further, but what’s clear is that even in a market of short attention spans and fragmentation, customers sit up and take note when companies deliver. Of those surveyed, 73% said an extraordinary experience at one company raises their expectations of others.

“It’s no longer enough to keep an eye on what your direct competitors are doing,” notes Bova. “If your customer has a standout experience in a completely different industry, they’re going to wonder why all companies can’t match it, including yours.”

Companies Must Innovate to Engage

Not only do customers expect companies to deliver great experiences, they also expect innovation. At 67%, most look to companies to evolve frequently to fit their needs or with advancements in technology, whether it’s new products or new ways of engaging — and a lack thereof signals a company’s disinterest.

Business buyers are particularly willing to pay more for products that are differentiated or first to market, as this can affect their image to customers in turn. (Seventy-five percent of customers expect businesses to utilize new technologies for the purposes of making better experiences.)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is facilitating advances in customer experience, and it’s well accepted among business buyers, but fewer than half of consumers trust companies to use AI in a manner that’s beneficial. The majority (62%) are open to using AI to improve their everyday lives, but most aren’t aware of ways this is already happening (e.g. suggested songs on Spotify or suggested routes on Waze).

Less than one-third of customers believe companies are transparent in how they use AI.

“We’ve reached a point where customers’ trust shouldn’t be presumed. It’s only after earning a customer’s trust that they will save a credit card, subscribe to a mailing list, or do any of the other activities that ultimately earn purchases and loyalty.”

— Tiffani Bova, Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce

One reason consumers’ expectations for cross-channel engagement is on the rise may be the increasing influence of the Internet of Things (IoT) — that is, connected devices like smart speakers, smart thermostats, fitness trackers, and many others. Seventy-seven percent agreed IoT makes their lives easier, and Gen X, millennial, and Gen Z respondents in particular are ready for more.

The Role of Trust Continues to Grow

In last year’s “State of the Connected Consumer,” Salesforce put trust under the microscope, investigating the ramifications of questionable business practices and headline-making scandals among consumers.

The relevance of trust to consumers has only grown in the year since: 73% of customers reported that trust in companies mattered more to them than it did one year ago. Not only that, 89% do more business with companies they trust, and 65% have abandoned those that did something they found distrustful.

“We’ve reached a point where customers’ trust shouldn’t be presumed,” warns Bova. “Companies have to demonstrate that they’re trustworthy. It’s only after they’ve earned a customer’s trust that he or she will save a credit card, subscribe to a mailing list, or do any of the other activities that ultimately earn purchases and loyalty.”

As much as customers crave engagement and connectivity, a great many are just as aware of the risks. Forty-six percent believe they’ve lost control over their own data, and a healthy majority (84%) base their loyalties on whether a company has strong security controls in place.

Corporate Values Take On New Importance

Privacy is just the beginning of customers’ concerns when it comes to corporate principles. This year, Salesforce reports 73% of consumers surveyed said they were more attuned to companies’ ethics than they were a year ago. As with trust, 80% are loyal to businesses whose ethics they find agreeable.

Moreover, customers strongly believe new technologies can make the world a better place (71%), and that companies should be held accountable for making access to that tech be available to everyone (77%).

Customers also believe companies should look beyond the interest of shareholders in making decisions. Fifty-six percent actively seek to do business with companies with philanthropic interests, and 65% from those they see as environmentally sustainable — 74% reported that companies’ sustainability practices mattered more to them than they did a year ago. A solid majority of 78% believe companies are responsible for taking steps to reduce climate change.

RELATED: The Power of Empathy in Creating Personalized Customer Experiences

A Growing Need to Reimagine Customer Relationships

The internet became commonplace 25 years ago; 12 years ago, the iPhone was introduced. In the advent of breakthroughs like these, customers’ expectations that companies keep pace only continues to grow, even as the rules have changed — the role of trust has grown in tandem, as has customers’ awareness of corporate ethics and values.

The core challenge for companies today, according to the report, isn’t just that they must rethink individual customer experience, but that they must reimagine how they approach customer engagement entirely.

Salesforce is a YPO global strategic partner.