The Evolution of the Customer: Today & in the Future

We survived the first decade of the new millennium. Today is a whole new world in comparison to life 20 or 30 years ago. We’ve examined the evolution of the customer from the 1980s, through the 90s, and into the 2000s… but what about today’s customer?

With the new era still in its infancy, it will be another decade or longer before we can even begin to encapsulate it with a name that bears meaning, but if you fall into the Baby Boomer or Gen Xer category, you better hold on to your seat!

Things are about to change pretty significantly and quickly as the Gen Ys (aka Millennials) – the largest age group ever – enter the workplace. They are only a marginally smaller percentage of the workforce than Baby Boomers today, but in 10 years they are projected to make up 50% as Boomers drop to a mere 20%.

There’s no way to know what events will transpire, what we will accomplish or how our needs as customers will change over this period and the in the coming years. But let’s take a look at what we know… and a few predictions (using the term loosely) for the 2010s and beyond!

Technology and Science

The iPad has become the best selling tech gadget in history. By March 2011, more than 2 billion people had used the Internet. Mobile phone apps have exploded in popularity; people in the United States now spend more time using apps than they use the web. Officially past the PC era, Android devices, iPads, and others rule the consumer electronics market. Ross Dawson, in “The top 10 trends for the 2010s: the most exciting decade in human history” puts forth some interesting points of consideration. Dawson highlights information overload, a shift to even deeper globalization of culture, the domestic implementation of robots, and a larger gap between those who embrace technology and those who do not. Peter Norvig of Google, says search engines will continue to advance in technology, resulting a world with even less digital privacy than today’s, offering voice-entry and the capability of reading your brain waves!


The early 2010s have musically been dominated by a variety of styles and artists, as fewer artists become big enough to be internationally famous due to the decline of the music industry. In terms of popular music, the heavy use of Auto-Tune – a device that corrects pitch and disguises off-key inaccuracies and mistakes – has dramatically changed the landscape of the Top 40 charts.

The elephant in the room?

Anybody – talented or not – will be recording and producing their own music by the end of this decade

… and we will find them all over sites like YouTube. Will we even still be buying music in 2020?

Fashion & Style

The early 2010s, so far, have seen recycled fashions including – skinny jeans, leggings, legwarmers, western shirts, ‘nerdy’ glasses, and hi-top sneakers. Neon colors and military-look apparel have also been popular.

Film & Television

In 2010, Avatar became the first film to gross more than $2 billion in box office receipts worldwide, and Toy Story 3 became the first animated film to gross more than $1 billion worldwide. 3D technology is moving into our homes, and 4D is moving right into the theatres in its place!


In 2010, Apple launched its first tablet computer, the iPad, and already multiple competing tablet computers are on the market. Mobile phone apps, introduced in the later 2000s, have exploded in popularity; people in the US now spend more time using apps than they use the web. Environmentalism continues to gain mainstream interest. Baby Boomers are reaching the age of retirement, which has resulted in debate over the Medicare and Social Security programs in the US. ‘Fast casual’ restaurants, such as Five Guys and Chipotle, continue to see an uptick in popularity as Americans stray further from the traditional fast food conglomerates.

Apartment Industry

Research, communication and paperwork related to leasing apartments continue to transition online, and many prospects will want to use a mobile device for all of these by the end of the decade. The first time a client will see a community in person will likely be on their move-in day! Even now, some communities are utilizing iPads when conducting tours. Marketing and customer service backgrounds are becoming increasingly important, as the leasing professional takes on the role of a concierge in many ways. Residents are more accepting of smaller spaces but are seeking out urban properties with access to public transportation and high-end amenities. They are increasingly environmentally conscious. Their time is limited and they expect you to be considerate of that. Ramping up services that are geared to saving time, such as door to door dry cleaning pick-up and valet trash service will prove vital.

Leasing of the future is going to be all about engaging the customer!

Online leasing videos will move from a “sales” video to a “lifestyle” video that is more about the experience and style of living your community affords. Thanks to our industry friends, we took a little look into our crystal ball to see what the apartment resident of the future might be like.

 “I do not want to talk to anyone. I have been conditioned to transact solely online. You will need to create an entire new experience in order to get me to come visit you, including video tours.

I do not want to create user names and passwords or fill out forms just to find out if I am prequalified – frankly, I do not trust you! I like self-service, and I do not want you involved in the transaction until I am ready. I want lots of choices! Oh, and before I forget, please do not ask me to call for pricing when I am viewing your website; I will not call. I may text you or email you at some point – but I will choose when and why! Finally, why is your office only open from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday? This is when I am at work. What if I have a question about your community? Is there someone available after hours for me to connect with – someone who truly understands your community?

 P.S. Please stop asking me to be your friend on Facebook. You are a building, not a person! I might be a fan but not a friend.”

In the future, apartment communities may start their own private social networks which will only be open to those who live there. If a resident wants to locate a babysitter, they can post it out on the social network and locate someone a few doors down. The future resident may bypass traditional apartment advertising sites and go directly to Facebook to see where their friends currently live!  Apartment websites of the future will give up the fluff, reduce clicks, and include a lot of video. In fact, YouTube might be the ideal place to get your leases. Imagine creating a resident contest where they make a video on their iPhone about what they like best about their apartment and community and post it to YouTube. User generated content by your residents is believable and comes at no cost to you!

Customer Service

Now and as we enter the future, it is critical to touch the customer at their most sensitive points and to earn their loyalty. ‘Likelihood to recommend’ is a powerful predictor of customer loyalty and is the basis for calculating the ‘Net Promoter Score’ (NPS). The greater a customer is inclined to recommend a brand – the easier it will be to retain them. Social media has become so important in communication and word-of-mouth recommendations play a vital role in the acquisition of new customers. Keep in mind, there is a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and trust, understanding your performance at specific ‘touch points’ in the relationship is critical.

  • Seek knowledge about your customers, their needs and their wants.
  • Be clear and keep things simple to help build trust and confidence.
  • Provide ease of access to information, to services and to people.
  • Make the most of every interaction and make each customer’s experience MATTER.

Brent Leary, partner at CRM Essentials, noted: “The customer has changed in a lot of different ways. But philosophy hasn’t changed a bit. Customers have always wanted to be valued beyond transaction. They also want to be listened to, and they always wanted you to act upon what they told you.”

Tomorrow’s technically savvy customers will be armed with instant, comprehensive information from the Internet to bolster their decision-making process! Social media will continue to constantly inform and influence their behavior. This new era of “experts” will become a permanent fix. The generations of customers who follow will have even more effective technology and they will be more adept at using it.

By the end of this decade, Gen Ys will be working at and even running your company and will be living in your apartments. Understanding their wants, needs, desires and what makes them “tick” will be critical to success.

Are you ready?