The insanity of consumer expectations

The insanity of consumer expectations

Every business has them – those customers with exorbitant, unrealistic expectations. The difference today though is that businesses that don’t meet these expectations will be left behind, writes Jason Dooris.

The 29th of June 2017 marked 10 years to the day since the first-generation iPhone was released in the United States. It was a product that unquestionably changed the world, although perhaps one of its most significant contributions was one that a lot of brands would prefer hadn’t come along: smartphones have fuelled the rise of consumer expectation to, frankly, ridiculous levels.

A decade ago, people were stunned at how holding your index finger over a typed word would enlarge one word with a cute little magnifying glass. Now we see people getting annoyed when Siri sends them to a website to find answers, instead of directly answering the question asked.

We can now actually have a discussion with our phone – sure, it’s not going to beat the Turing Test, but your AI assistant of choice largely understands your questions, gives cohesive answers, and in a lot of cases can pre-empt them. But we’re still frustrated when the level of response isn’t up to our exacting standards.

It’s more than just apocryphal as well. According to an IBM Institute for Business Value report, “81 per cent of consumers demand improved response time, 76 per cent expect organisations to understand individual needs and 68 per cent anticipate organisations will harmonise consumer experiences.”

That same report also found brand loyalty is going the way of the dodo, “as consumers have less patience and are more willing to switch interchangeably among brands”.

It may be ridiculous, it may seem unfair, but it’s the world we now live in. You’re either ahead of expectations or you’re in trouble – someone else will be, and your previous customers won’t stick around for you to catch up.

Personalisation is key

While the global population continues its march toward the eight billion mark – a record for most people on the planet that is broken every minute – consumers expect a highly personalised experience. Whether it’s ordering a pair of custom Nikes or going to a sporting event, offering consumers a mass-produced experience is no longer good enough.

One company that saw this coming years ago was the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise. With the city looking to build a new stadium in 2014, the Kings decided they wanted to play out of a venue that would accommodate the fan of the future – by installing over 1,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable and almost 500 kilometres of copper in the Golden 1 Center.

It may seem counter-intuitive to help consumers to stare at their phone during a game – wouldn’t a basketball team want to encourage fans to engage with the live action, rather than the glowing screen in their lap? – but the Kings recognised that what they want doesn’t matter.

The standard basketball fan wants to Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook their experiences, or engage in live discussions about the game on Twitter. Franchises can either facilitate this or fall behind, as their fans decide to watch at home instead.

The Kings also want theirs to be the future of the gameday experience by providing a highly personalised evening at the basketball, as Wired explained in a 2016 feature on the venue:

“You unlock your phone, open up the Kings app, and look for tickets. You buy them (and a parking pass) in the app, which is connected to the team’s loyalty program, so you’re automatically on the list for last-minute ticket upgrades.

“As you approach the stadium, your phone buzzes: a notification from the team telling you which lot’s the easiest to park in right now. You park, walk up to the arena, scan the ticket displayed on your smartwatch and stroll through the turnstile.

“Your app guides you to your seat and asks if you want a hotdog or a foam finger. Attendants can bring either one to your seat in a few minutes. You’re late, but that’s fine; the app has replays and stats.”

It’s also worth pointing out that while guests will have to-the-seat service, the venue also has a “Ball in Play Policy, which requires guests to refrain from accessing their seats until the ball is no longer in play. The policy enables guests to enjoy an unobstructed view of the game.”

What’s more, there is a massive solar panel installation on the venue’s roof, as the California capital gets around 300 days of sunshine each year, and it just makes sense to utilise that.

And while that installation only provides around 15 per cent of the power required to run such a technologically advanced building, the rest of the required energy also comes from solar power.

While the cynic might say this is merely a way of marketing themselves as ‘green’, which is all the rage at the minute, well, so what? If what’s good for the planet is also good for the bottom line, as it makes attendees feel good about their presence in an eco-friendly building, then go for it!

The future is now

While the Golden 1 Center is perhaps the most high-tech venue in the world at the moment, you would have to think that its facilities will be the norm in the coming years, and it won’t take long for the average sports fan to consider all these offerings as bog standard.

That’s just the world we live in now. The key is to be constantly evolving.

Take the Kings. Rather than being content to rest on their laurels, they’re already talking about how they can improve their offering, floating ideas such as installing VR headsets, allowing fans in the nosebleeds to get a far closer experience, all while still being a part of the live action.

Who would have thought, even two years ago, that a sports fan would want to spend their evening at a live event with a VR device strapped to their face? Today though, that seems a reasonable enough proposition.

It’s an age-old saying that it’s no use being where the consumer is, you need to get where they’re going. The problem now is that where they are is so far ahead of some companies, it may seem impossible to please this audience.

The key is a combination of informed insights and the bravery to make risky moves. Because the curve of expectation is heading up at such an exponential rate, that staying ahead requires the conviction to make seriously big calls.

Jason Dooris is the CEO of Atomic 212.

The insanity of consumer expectations
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