Katherine_Shipton

Great Expectations – Are service expectations really rising?

In an age of instant online gratification and rapidly changing technology, do people now expect more than ever? Expectations matter: they are often more important than experience itself in how we judge companies.

According to our latest Ipsos MORI data, even a positive experience can damage brand favourability if it does not live up to our expectation – 31% of British consumers who reported having a positive experience that was lower than their expectations of the brand said their favourability towards it went down. Conversely, even an objectively bad experience can improve your brand perception, if you were expecting a truly awful one. You may choose to fly Ryanair again if your experience is slightly less awful than you expected it to be. A fifth (19%) of those who have a negative experience, but one that was better than expected, increase their favourability of the brand. Expectations are critical to any brand story, but they work in subtle ways.

Five critical factors came out strongly as reasons why services exceed or fall short of our expectations. ‘Final outcome’ and ‘personalised the service’ were mentioned often by both happy and unhappy customers, as well as the information provision, accuracy and timeliness. Personalisation (or lack of it) really matters: this is an important emergent area, where digital experiences are driving expectations of wider services. Recognising the notion of increasing expectations may be of particular relevance to the public sector.

While fiscal austerity since 2010 has forced cuts in spending of up to 40%, depending on which services you look at, data from our survey for Deloitte’s State of the State report shows that overall satisfaction has either remained stable or improved. 18% of the public state that public services exceeded their expectations in 2016, compared with just 5% in 1998. Considering 40% in 2016 said public services had got worse over the last five years [up from 33% in 1998], this suggests that public expectations of public services have actually fallen. The last few years of tighter spending and high-profile messages on the lack of resources have provided a live experiment in ‘expectations management’ in the public sector – and it seems to have worked to an extent – the public are now getting tired of austerity.  The proportion who say cuts are necessary to pay off our debts has fallen from 59% in 2010 down to 22% in 2017. Those who are willing to accept less from public services in order to reduce our national debt has fallen from 47% in 2010 to 20% now.

However, attempts to lower expectations in this manner are unlikely to be effective in the private sector, where there is a plethora of choice between airlines, phone companies and so on. Marketers have long accepted that the expected level of service offered by one brand can be influenced by the experiences offered by its direct competitors – my experience in one clothing store will influence my expectations in other clothing stores. However, it appears that we are increasingly influenced by a much wider body of prior experiences across a variety of sectors. In a world where expectations are ‘liquid’, it is possible that the service provided by Amazon One-Click Ordering or Apple’s Genius Bar affects the way consumers expect to deal with their bank, or utility provider.

Liquidity of expectations is important for two reasons. Firstly, this fluidity of expectations between sectors is likely why service expectations are rising. If expectations blur between sectors, then superior performance by a small number of standout organisations has the potential to raise customer expectations universally, and lead to falling satisfaction rates for the ‘same’ service elsewhere.

Secondly, it is no longer good enough to be “best in class” – even leading providers in certain sectors might need to fundamentally restructure the way they offer services in order to survive.

Understanding how expectations are set and are changed remains one of the magic challenges for anyone interested in improving user experience. The liquidity of expectations might prove to be a further piece of the shifting expectations puzzle – particularly as commentators and organisations predict a future in which different technologies and services become increasingly interconnected. If there is truth to the notion that service expectations are transcending traditional market categories, we may see them rising faster in the future than they have done already. Measuring and understanding these new expectations is going to become even more important, and there is a lot more we can learn.

Katherine Shipton

Senior Research Executive, Ipsos MORI

Technical Note

Ipsos Loyalty data from a survey conducted online among 3,001 adults across the United Kingdom.  All interviews took place between 22nd – 30th August 2016. Survey data is weighted to the known population proportions of UK adults by age, gender and home region.

Read the full report at: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/great-expectations-are-service-expectations-really-rising