The New Regular: Prepare for Conflicts of Customer Expectations

Jim Blasingame

This is the 18th edition of my New Regular series that focuses on how the marketplace is changing in front of our eyes and what small businesses can do about it. Recently placed in the placebo group of a Covid-19 vaccine study, it’s not looking good for Normal.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, only wizards and fairies had magic wands and customer expectations were easy to anticipate. Now, come back to the rude reality of post-pandemic 2020 and things here are different. 

Let me tell you a story that plays out across Main Street markets every day. This one takes place in Peoria.

A couple is driving through town when John says, “I’m hungry for pizza.” Sue agrees, “As long as it’s pepperoni.” What happens in the next 60 seconds is a dramatic example of the difference between doing business today compared to not that long ago – especially this year. 

Raising her magic wand, Sue commands, “Pepperoni pizza in Peoria near me,” whereupon her virtual pixie, Siri-Alexa, dutifully delivers a stack of links. 

Since Sue turned on her magic GPS, on top of the stack are links to the websites of handy Peoria pizza purveyors. The first link goes to a company that makes fresh sauce and dough every day and has the best prices. The second link is to a restaurant that ships in all ingredients and is more expensive. 

Touching the first option with her manicured index finger takes Sue to the web address of the homemade ingredients and best prices. But wait. Within five seconds, she clicks out of that site before she discovers their advantages. What happened? 

This business failed what I’ve named “The Moment of Relevance.” Its website wasn’t mobile-ready, and consequently, appeared very small in the small screen in Sue’s small hand. Not cool.

Moving on, Sue selects the next link, which takes her to the pizza company with the shipped-in stuff, and higher prices. But this online experience was more relevant to Sue because their online offerings fit perfectly in her screen and to her eye. 

And then, as if with digital pixie dust, this business pulls off the relevance hat trick by allowing their new customer to order a pepperoni pizza, pay for it, and schedule it for car-side pick-up in 20 minutes, all with the power of Sue’s magic wand. And in another layer of relevance, this transaction suits John because now he doesn’t have to put on a mask and go inside.  

Did you catch that? In addition to their pizza preferences, our story also includes a 21st-century phenomenon I’m calling “expectation conflict.” This is when a prospect is balancing multiple expectations around a purchase decision, including an expectation other than the product. For Sue and John, the expectations of a mobile-ready transaction, plus the health-safety factor, conflicted with the immortal value proposition of “quality + service + price = value.”

By any classic marketplace measure of meeting pepperoni pizza expectations (insert your product/service offering here), the better quality/lower price business has the winning value proposition. But remember, in an increasingly mobile-centric marketplace, in the middle of an unprecedented health/economic shock, things here are different. That value metric, the gold standard for millennia, is being redefined in the 21st century by growing, multi-faceted digital expectations, and just this year, black swan Covid-19 safety expectations. 

In our story, the digital and pandemic expectations of these pizza prospects combined to conflict with and take priority over the classic pizza value proposition. And here’s the scary part of failing the Moment of Relevance: the losing business was ruled out without ever knowing the prospect existed. They never had a shot. 

But a story might as well be a fairy tale unless you have facts to back it up. So, consider what’s contributing to this evolution of expectations. 

Half of the humans on planet Earth – 3.5 billion – use a smartphone every day. In a globally-connected marketplace, with international consumer payment systems becoming increasingly ubiquitous, could you use some of those prospects? Our team has made several international online purchases this year.

In the U.S., 2020 smartphone-users total 276 million, on the way to 290 million in 2023 (Statista). It’s easy math to see that’s essentially all U.S. adult consumers, not counting millions of businesses. How many of these magic wand-waving prospects would it take to drive your growth into double digits? Twenty? Fifty? Do you have a shot with Sue and John?
And this stat puts a finer point on digital/mobile relevance: Over half of all smartphone owners – again, easy math – connect to the Internet exclusively on their smartphones (WARC). Does your website fit Sue’s eye?

BREAKING NEWS – The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to redefining the value proposition by accelerating e-commerce expectations by five years. Meanwhile, the retail sector is off over 70% this year, but e-commerce is up over 90% (IBM U.S. Retail Index). Quick – what’s your web developer’s email?

Today, most prospects shop for what’s on their mind before they make contact with relevant businesses. Admit it – you do, too. So, even if you don’t offer e-commerce capability, you at least must have a mobile-ready website. This is non-negotiable.

If the losing pizza parlor in our story had a mobile site, Sue likely would have lingered long enough to discover their classic value proposition of wholesome products and low price, which might have intervened in the expectation conflict. At least that business would have had a shot.

Write this on a rock … In the post-pandemic, New Regular economy, with magic wands and conflicting expectations, customers and prospects are redefining the value proposition. At that Moment of Relevance, do you have a shot?

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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