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Research shows a massive shift in how customers connect with brands.

This week Salesforce published the fourth edition of its State of the Connected Customer research report, This report reflects the research the company conducts every year to assess how customer expectations and behaviours are changing as businesses, technology and society at large evolve.

This year’s survey resulted in over 15,000 responses from 27 countries and six continents. 

The report shows how customer engagement is changing radically and quickly amid the global crises in public health as well as the economy, the environment and governmental leadership.

Digital engagement reaches a milestone

The pandemic has accelerated a long-term trend towards truly digital-first lifestyles. Digital engagement hit a tipping point this year, overtaking in-person interactions as the dominant way customers do business. Additionally, customers expect their shopping, meetings and customer service interactions to lean digital in 2021.

Similar: Learn from other entrepreneurs how you can innovate during COVID-19

Customer experience remains key

Customer experience remains a key differentiator. However, what constitutes a great experience is being redefined as lifestyles change radically under COVID.

Data from the report also shows that creating a unified experience across different departments, like sales, marketing and service, can help a company adapt and cater to a customer’s individual needs and goes a long way in fostering a superior experience. Yet, according to customers, most companies are falling short of these expectations.

Related: The future of customer service and experience

Convenience rises as a priority

In a time of social distancing and restrictions on public life, convenience is even more of a priority. Nearly 7 in 10 customers prioritize convenience over brand, and 83 percent say they have come to expect flexible shipping and fulfillment options such as curbside pickup or buy-online-pick-up-in-store.

Trust becomes even more important

Earning customer trust has long been a critical engagement goal. This is particularly true in the context of personal data. Customers continue to manifest a trust gap, however. Only 27 percent of consumers completely understand how companies are using their personal information.

Data in the State of the Connected Customer report is from a double-blind study of 12,000 consumers and 3,600 business buyers across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia Pacific. Data was collected between July 16 and August 18, 2020. All respondents are third-party panelists.

The full report can be found here.