There is something irresistibly intriguing about consumer trend reports. It’s likely the combination of their novelty factor – the possibility of seeing something completely new – and the opportunity factor – the possible discovery of a new way to commercialize consumer behavior. However, the most significant reason to pay attention is because trends that arise as a result of innovation are likely to set consumer expectations across all industries. Welcome to the expectation economy.

Recently, TrendWatch held their Global Trend Event in Sydney and announced the critical consumer trends for 2019. Not simply a celebration of fads, the event offers an analysis of what is happening in the market, and unpacks the underlying ‘key human needs’ that the current trends are tapping into. Some of the common themes that emerged this year were around the need for authenticity, transparency, and fairness - fundamental values that aren’t always associated with corporate brands.

While it would be easy to look at some of the trends and write them off as nice or industry-specific, the challenge is to see how all kinds of businesses can respond and adapt because the timeframe in which expectations become mainstream is short.

Below are three trends discussed at the event that are transforming customer experience:

1. Lab Rats

‘Test, then optimize’ is the mantra. It’s the lean, agile process by which most technology companies operate these days, and increasingly, it’s how consumers approach their own lives. Rather than making big, long term investments into things, consumers are preferring to experiment with new products and services in a way that’s measurable. We see this with wellness and how we’ve gone from simple calorie counting to tracking our steps walked, our milligrams of caffeine consumed, and our minutes of daily meditation. These metrics help us monitor our self improvement and a number of brands have made it possible for us to experiment with different influences. Cannabis without the THC, drinks with microdoses of caffeine, and DNA tests that tell us how well we’ll respond to drugs for anxiety are a few of examples of how brands are allowing us to test and optimize our way to wellness.

The question for businesses is, how can your brand help customers ‘test and fix’ their way to a better experience? Maybe there is a way to offer the chance for customers to ‘dip their toes’ when it comes to trying a new product or service, whether that be through a free trial or otherwise.

2. Superhuman Resources

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is all around us and most of us have become accustomed to it by now. However, as a number of media stories have alerted us to in the last year, we are not accepting when algorithms show bias or prejudice. Whether that bias is racial, or sexist, when we let machines take over it’s simply not good enough for them to reflect the data going into them – they must actively overcome human biases. Twitter, known to have issues with online bullying, recently made changes to its algorithm to detect harassment in Tweets and lower their visibility. Chatbots raise other questions. They are a great way to connect with more customers, but brands must question whether the suggestions being made are fair and providing equal opportunity to everyone engaged by them.

What steps does your business need to make to ensure that you are providing ethical, unbiased virtual resources?

3. Sentient Spaces

The fact that we are now able to do just about anything online has shaped our expectations for the real world. When we shop online, Google presents us with ads that are relevant to us, and Amazon immediately makes suggestions on what it thinks we might like. To make this kind of personalization possible in a physical space requires us to connect what we know through online data with each living, breathing individual that walks through our doors.

Facial recognition software and AI is one way hotels and retailers are linking the two. In Thailand for example, staff-less 7-Eleven stores will use facial-recognition and behavior-analysis technologies to identify loyalty members, analyze traffic, monitor stock, suggest products to customers, and measure the emotions of customers as they move around the store. These technologies are essentially replicating the actions a staff member would take – if you had a staff member devoted to each customer who walked in and a staff member who remembered every previous visit and purchase of that customer.

Real-time feedback tools are another way to record the offline experiences of customers while giving front-line teams the insights they need to take action and personalize the customer’s experience before they leave.