One of the things I enjoy most about my position is the chance to get face time with hundreds of our customers around the world. I meet other CEOs and company executives. I meet marketing VPs and customer service pros as well as community managers. Financial services firms, retailers, tech companies, and communications service providers are all on my agenda. Their offerings and products are radically different. But one thing that they all have in common and share candidly with me is that their customers' expectations are higher than ever.
When I ask them why, they frequently say, "They expect me to have easy returns just like Amazon" or "They want to give me instant ratings like Uber does" or "They expect a response on Twitter in less than an hour and are no longer using our call center for help".
Across industries, across geographies, and across all demographics, companies are no longer winning consumer love against category competitors. Today the battle for consumer loyalty is against companies in any category that define excellent service, lightning fast responses, and bespoke experiences. According to a recent Forrester Research report, only 11 percent  of companies deliver outstanding service. Increasingly, those quality service definitions are being established digitally -- online, on mobile devices, and in apps.
At Lithium, I've been talking to the world's best brands about this era of extreme consumer expectations. And I've been working with executives on how their digital practices stack up in this new age. I want to help our brands' consumers find the answers they want and share their experiences (hopefully great ones!) with fellow fans, followers, and customers. And I want my customers in turn to get outsized returns from their consumers.
Here is how I net it out in my private conversations:
- There is no time like now: established businesses with decades of success are losing market share, revenue, and consumers to startups selling similar merchandise -- but in smarter ways and on consumers' terms. Many -- especially in retail -- are shutting stores or going out of business completely. Two-thirds (and more in some countries) of consumers call your support center as the option of last resort. Consumer trust in advertising continues to reach new lows. People increasingly turn to friends and family (yes, "Facebook friends" included) to guide their purchase decisions and seek validation pre- and post-purchase. Your business cannot afford to delay making some fundamental changes that incorporate digital and social more boldly. Whatever need you leave untapped a competitor will find--and fast.
Yes, your consumers have extreme expectations today. And yes, they can be met. You just need to shift your mindset, lead with digital, tap the power of the crowds in your total community to help you along the way, and try some new approaches. Extreme expectations can absolutely become outstanding satisfaction.
 Forrester "Surprise! Customer Service Does Not Have To Be Delightful" (June 12, 2014)
Rob Tarkoff is President and CEO of Lithium Technologies.