Combating the ‘Amazon Effect’ to Close the Gap Between Customer Experiences and Expectations


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The age of the ‘expectation economy’ has turned what was once the amazing or unusual, into the expected. Can we remember a time when there was no iPhone, Google or Amazon; how did we get by?

The likes of Amazon and Uber have introduced the consumer — your customer — to a completely different customer experience. Businesses now face the challenge of ever-rising expectations across their customer’s journey. Customers now want the same level of experience, whether in front of their computers, on their smartphone or inside a shopping centre and they want it, now.

This ‘Amazon Effect’ is borne out by statistics that show that Amazon is now the first port of call for over half (55%) of customers in the US.

What’s more, technology is raising customer expectations further, for smoother, quicker, easier on-demand experiences. (Although don’t be mistaken into thinking tech will be the silver bullet to creating and delivering amazing customer experiences – it can often be a red herring.)

We can expect but we don’t always get

According to an Assurant study, 88% of consumers expect their experience with companies they use to keep getting better in the future — bad news for many brands. Furthermore, a recent Salesforce study found 76% of customers now report that it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere — switching from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations.

Who can blame consumers, we have been groomed to think and act this way over the last 10 to 15 years. We are not that forgiving, and we don’t allow many second chances.

In the same Salesforce study, 51% of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences. So not only are customers’ expectations rising, but experiences are not where they need to be. Many brands are continually playing catch up.

Expectation are being ‘transferred’ or ‘exchanged’ from elsewhere

The bar has been set high by the likes of Amazon, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, Tesla, Alibaba along with a raft of smaller disruptive and innovative brands delivering amazing experiences. These brands raise customer expectations and provide a lens for what constitutes a good customer experience for other businesses. It’s a natural expectation for customers that experience something better elsewhere in their everyday lives, to then assume this is possible regardless of the brand or company.

Given the fact that your customers’ expectations are formed and shaped elsewhere, outside of your industry in any of their brand experiences or interactions that they have, your competitors in customer experience (and therefore benchmarks) could be anyone who provides a better experience than you, not only your traditional competitors.

David Mattin, head of Trends and Insights at TrendWatching describes ‘Expectations transfer’ as “when an innovation serves a basic need in a new way, and therefore sets new customer expectations”. He has often been quoted in the press using Uber as his admirable example, “Uber helped to create new expectations and those expectations spread, becoming the now well-established trend known as ‘on-demand’. That’s expectation transfer: the mechanism by which new innovations from around the world shape what your customers will soon expect from you [the business].”

This expectations transfer is reinforced by findings from Assurant’s research that show that 90% of customers think that best in class experiences raises their expectations for similar companies and 83% think best in class experiences raises their expectations for ALL companies. Brands need to benchmark against the best and have deep insights into what will help them succeed in exceeding their customers’ expectations in the future.

Closing the ever-increasing expectation gap

How can brands provide an excellent customer experience given this expectations transfer context?

There are three things to focus efforts on:

1. Understand the expected

According to a study by Salesforce, 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.

There needs to be a refocus on the basics. With these ever-rising expectations, companies need to be able to deliver on the basic experience expectations as a minimum.

Source: Nina Paley via Wikimedia Commons

To do this they need to intimately know, appreciate and be in tune with the customer journey – what’s the customer objective, their needs and their expectations – what’s really important to them. It’s not always, (and often isn’t) what you hear most about in complaints or what is fed back by those deciding to complete feedback surveys. Talk to and listen to a representative group of your customers. If you understand your customers and their journeys better, you can deliver the expected.

2. Deliver on the expected

In work with clients, we often see the biggest pain points being where expectations are set, promises are made, clear timelines are not established, and the customer is left feeling let down.

Companies need to be clear, transparent and honest. They must not allow different departments over promise, for other departments e.g. sales, after sales/care to be set up to fail. This isn’t a way of managing customer expectations.

They also need to know how well they are delivering on the expected. One simply interaction that’s often overlooked is a check in with customers. This isn’t about giving them a survey to complete to see how you did; it’s about seeing how they are doing.

Too many brands are not delivering on basic experience needs – delivery on time and as expected. For a customer, this might represent being recognised every time, any time, any place; never having to repeat themselves or provide context; or an interaction that feels personalised where the customer feels important and valued; or a reliable, consistent, hassle-free and convenient experience every time that a customer engages with a brand.

3. Go beyond the expected

Understand expectations, deliver upon them and then begin to exceed the expected. What was once a raised expectation is likely to become a basic requirement, as customers’ expectations keep rising. So, companies need to stay ahead of the game.

Businesses need to focus not just on fixing and delivering the valuable basic experience requirements, but also on elevating the experience that they deliver to the customer. As Henry Ford is often quoted as saying: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, customer do find it hard to articulate what they might want beyond what they already know.

Speak with customers. Involve them in the process, within a framework based on the insight that you have gathered and the issues that they may have with your experience or the great things that they experience elsewhere. Businesses can work with their customers to share ideas; be creative, begin to innovate in order to establish an experience that is beyond the ‘expected’.

Sticking with Henry Ford: “Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.”

An experience that delights customers must also be relevant. Too many times, new ideas such as app’s have been launched that are more irritating than helpful as they have not taken into account basic customer behaviour or intent. Brands can’t afford to be launching things in this way at a time of over saturation of new things. This is especially true of tech – it must solve a real problem, address a real customer need, then the best solution be found – it may be a tech one, it may be something much more straightforward. Tech for tech’s sake won’t improve the experience and is likely to frustrate customers even more.

Organisations who deeply understand their customers, beyond their own category or market-place and deliver beyond customer expectations, are most likely to succeed in the future.

Align, enable and empower the organisation to do this for ‘Smiling Companies, Happy Customers’.


  1. “expectation transfer” I love it! Was just talking to a colleague about this the other day. People don’t care that your industry is not the same one as Amazon or Zappos or Apple..fact is people interact with these brands and EXPECT OTHERS TO PERFORM AS GOOD. What was once a differentiator habituates to a hygiene factor. Its quite an arms race…I do wonder if smaller orgs should try to compete head on or try to “reframe” what is good or bad in the first place and try to win on that. Good article.


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