What makes things difficult, however, is that different customers have different expectations. While one person’s expectations are based on their previous experiences with your company, someone else’s may be chiefly influenced by what they understand the customer service norms to be in your industry. Or by what they’ve read about your company. Or by something else entirely. Without the ability to read minds it can be hard to know what any particular customers needs or expects.
But the good news is that, despite the variety of factors that influence customer expectations it’s the business itself that’s in the driver’s seat. As the business owner or manager, you are best placed to determine what customers should expect when they engage with your business. The management of expectations is not about dictating to customers but about setting you and your business up for a mutually rewarding long-term relationship with your customers.
At a basic level, you may state on your company website and in other communications that your customers can expect to receive their product orders within 7 to 10 days. So the customer expectation is that a late delivery is one that arrives 11 or more days after their order is placed. But if you have systems in place that ensure that at least 80% of orders arrive within 6 days, you not only meet but exceed customer expectations the vast majority of the time. The result: delighted customers who are only too happy to do business with you again. And the reason you achieved that is that you set the customer expectation in the first place, and then over-delivered on that promise.
How to Manage Customer Expectations
As for that other 20%, particularly those orders where you know that the promise of 10 days or earlier can’t be fulfilled, what do you do? In fact, what do you do in any situation where you have a pretty good idea of the customer expectation and a similarly strong sense of your inability to meet it? In those scenarios – and, let’s face it, they happen more often than we’d like – communication and transparency are key. As quickly as possible, the customer should be informed that there’s been a snag (and what that snag is) and that steps are being taken to address it so that the customer is minimally inconvenienced. And whether the problem is your company’s fault or not, an apology should be offered for the simple reason that your business will not be able to deliver on its promise.
This raises another question: How should the customer be informed of a problem? People like to be treated like the human beings they are, rather than as an entry in a business’s customer database. The more personalised the communication is, the less likely it is that the customer will view your business poorly. So pick up the phone rather than send an email. Be transparent about the problem and empathetic of the customer’s unfortunate predicament.
In fact, transparency and honesty should be a feature of all your communications with actual and prospective customers, whether there’s a problem or not. There should also be consistency across all communication channels, from your website to social media through to email and whatever gets said over phone or in person. Conflicting messages can create confusion and sow the seeds for customer dissatisfaction.
What else might be useful to know when it comes to managing customer expectations? Here are some other tips.