Remember when a cup of coffee was just…a cup of coffee? When getting our morning caffeine buzz wasn’t an elaborate exercise in personal expression? Back before Starbucks turned us into a nation of extra-hot-no-foam-skinny-vanilla-latte drinkers? Today, coffee arrives with our name on it, flatteringly crafted to our exact specifications.

Regular coffee now seems as quaint as answering machines.

One experience to rule them all

As it turns out, we’ve gotten kind of hooked on the attention. As consumers, we expect the best and won’t stay loyal for long if we don’t get it. Combined with powerful new technologies, our appetite for personalized attention has wrought a business landscape that looks nothing like it did five years ago.

Influenced by social trends and empowered by technology, customers are better informed, less patient, and more demanding than ever before. The amazing customer experience we have with one company—regardless of size or industry–means we expect it from everyone. After all, if Starbucks can do it, why can’t my dry cleaner? Whether we experience exceptional customer service ourselves–or see it trending on Twitter–the result is the same: we expect every brand we interact with to deliver a high-quality, seamless experience. Welcome to the expectation economy.

Whether we experience exceptional customer service ourselves–or see it trending on Twitter–the result is the same: we expect every brand we interact with to deliver a high-quality, seamless experience.

For obvious reasons, retailers find themselves in the crosshairs of the new status quo. Today’s consumers weigh a host of factors before they make purchasing decisions, Customer experience is paramount, which has serious implications for customer service. But delivering the best possible customer service is just one of the mounting pressures on a retailer.

Their standard becomes your standard

We’re being catered to by savvy retail marketers in unimaginable ways. Free shipping is only the tip of the retail relationship iceberg. We get so many personalized perks these days, we’re practically junkies, searching out online sales, pitting retailers against each other for the most competitive prices. We return goods for the sale price even if we’ve already used them. And, it really doesn’t matter if we’re buying cat food or a Marc Jacobs handbag, our customer service expectations are the same. Next day delivery and forty percent off? A gal could get used to this.

In an article for Recode, Ian McCaig explains today’s landscape and the pressure on brands to perform. “In an expectation economy that is customer-led and data-driven, disruption and innovation have ceased to be a ‘nice-to-have’ or ‘some other company’s job.’ As far as consumers are concerned, the measure of value of any brand is how seriously it takes its responsibility to make their lives better or easier. Constant change for the better is now unconditionally expected.”

Translation? One brand’s gold standard of service becomes the price of admission for everyone, a phenomenon called expectation transfer. For many companies—retailers in particular— How does a mom-and-pop shop keep up with the big guys? Smaller companies must be creative and nimble as they compete against the big retailers that are now setting the bar for customer expectation. And, to make matters even more challenging, they’re competing against any company that’s found clever ways to engage customers, not just direct competitors.

One brand’s gold standard of service becomes the price of admission for everyone, a phenomenon called Expectation Transfer.

Empowered by myriad new tools, retailers keep proactively raising the customer service bar. They know things about us before we know them. While it verges on creepy (I left those items in my shopping card on purpose!) it can also be a huge timesaver. Am I almost out of prescription contact lenses, you ask? Why, yes, I am, thank you for noticing and sending a new supply, without my lifting a finger.

We want it all

David Mattin, head of Trends and Insights at TrendWatching has been observing the expectation transfer phenomenon for a couple of years. In his view, the new economy rests on three pillars: expectations for rising quality (from products, service, and customer support), a desire to work with companies that make a positive impact, and a quest for personal expression—our unique preferences and status. Yep, those crazy Millennials are at it again, determined to forge a very different path than their Gen X and Boomer predecessors and disrupting the customer-retailer relationship in the process.

It begs the question of how long everyone–consumers and companies alike–can maintain this pace. But for now, the imperative for all businesses is clear: if you want to win my love, you’ve got to show up, keep up, and never stop impressing the hell out of me.

Laura Shear is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and consultant. She's addicted to home improvement projects and rescue puppies and firmly believes rosé should be enjoyed year-round. Find her on Twitter: @lmshear.