Expectation Management: The Secret to Happy Customers and Rapid Growth
Customers are the most important part of any business. It does not matter how good your products are or how revolutionary your business model is, if you cannot attract and retain customers, you are not in business.
Because of this, keeping your customers happy is non-negotiable. As a business owner, you have to do everything you can to delight your customers.
Happy customers will not only keep coming back, they are also your best source of advertisement.
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, happy, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times the value of their first purchase.
Happy customers will also recommend your products and services to their friends and family, which is the best form of advertisement for any business (benefits of word of mouth advertisement).
Unsatisfied customers, on the other hand, will not only take business to one of your competitors, they will also tell their friends about their bad experience with your business.
According to the US Small Business Administration, 68% of customers leave brands because they are not happy with the treatment they have received. A survey by the Harvard Business Review also found that 48% of dissatisfied customers will tell more than 10 people about their negative experience with a brand.
From the above statistics, it is evident that businesses that want to survive and thrive need to place a lot of emphasis on keeping their customers happy.
But what does it take to keep customers happy?
One of the best ways of ensuring happiness, not only in business, but in life, is to manage expectations.
According to the words of neuroscientist and author Robb Rutledge, happiness depends not on how well things are going in reality, but rather on how they are going in relation to a person’s expectation.
Think about a few situations where you were happy or frustrated. In most cases, you will realize that your happiness stemmed from things going as you expected or better than you expected, while your frustration probably mostly likely resulted from things not going as you expected.
For instance, if you did a test expecting to fail but you did just okay, you would be delighted.
On the other hand, if you did the same test expecting an excellent performance and you did just okay, you would be frustrated. In the two situations, the reality did not change. Your feelings were determined by expectations rather than reality.
With this in mind, you can now see why managing customer expectations is an important part of keeping your customers happy and getting numerous referrals.
Unfortunately, managing customer expectations can be a challenging task due to the fact that customers often come to you with wildly different assumptions about how their interaction with your business should work.
Before we look at how to manage customer expectations, it is good to understand where these expectations come from in the first place.
FACTORS THAT SHAPE CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS
Customer expectations are the set of things, actions and behaviors that customers expect will and will not, or should and should not happen during their interaction with your company.
Customer expectations are influenced by a number of factors, which include:
Your Communication to Customers
What you communicate to customers, as well as how you communicate it has a direct influence of what customers will come to expect of your business.
If you tell your customers that your business provides fast service, they will of course expect nothing else but fast service. If you tell them that you offer one month free trials, that is what they will expect.
If you are unable to offer what you promised, it is inevitable that your customers will not be happy with your company.
Because of this, it is important to ensure that all communication that comes from your company is accurate and truthful.
How you talk to your customers and the channels you choose for communication also influence customer expectations.
Through your company’s tone of voice, customer’s will get an idea of your business’ values and identity, which will in turn affect what they come to expect of your business.
The same applies for the channels you choose for communication.
For instance, if most of your communication is done on digital platforms, they might also expect other interactions with your business, such as buying or making payments, to be done on digital platforms.
Past Experience With Your Company
This is another factor that has a huge influence on what customers expect of your business.
If a customer did business with you before and was delighted by the experience, they will expect the same kind of delightful experience.
Any deviation from that will result in a negative experience.
Feedback From Other Customers
Today, there is no shortage of ways through which customers can share about their experience with a brand.
In addition, a lot of shoppers today check a brand’s reviews online before doing business with the brand.
Whatever former customers are saying about their experience with your company will greatly influence what new customers expect of your company.
If previous customers received high-quality service from your business, new customers will expect the same level of service.
Anything less than that will lead to a negative experience, which is why businesses should ensure that their level of service is consistent.
Experience With Your Competitors
Your competitors also have an influence on what customers expect of your company.
If other businesses in the industry have a certain level of performance, customers will expect you to match or exceed this performance.
If you cannot, you will have a hard time winning business over from your competitors.
For instance, if all your competitors are providing free one month trials of their service, customers will expect the same from you.
Customer Needs and Preferences
Customers’ own needs and preferences also influence what they expect of your company.
For instance, millennials are used to doing everything on the internet, and they may prefer shopping online and making their payments online.
When doing business with you, they will expect you to allow them to shop and make payments online, and may abandon your company if it does not allow them to do that.
Customer expectations may also vary based on their geographic location and their culture.
For instance, in some countries and cultures, customers may not be comfortable with customer service reps who are too friendly, and will expect the customer service reps to be business-like at all times.
In other countries, customers may prefer customer service reps who are friendly and cheery and will expect them to behave as such.
If your business has operations across different regions, it is important to figure out what unique expectations customers in each region have.
The above are just some of the reasons that may shape customer expectations.
With such diverse factors, managing customer expectations is not such a straightforward affair. However, there are a number of actions you can take to manage customer expectations and therefore keep them happy and satisfied. These include:
CREATE THE PLAYBOOK
The factors that influence customer expectations are wildly diverse, and some of them are not even within your control.
This often leads to equally diverse customer expectations. When each customer has their own expectations, keeping all customers happy becomes a pipe dream.
To avoid this, your best option is to be proactive and create the playbook – instead of leaving customer expectations to chance, come up with a reasonable set of expectations that you want your customers to have and then determine what your company needs to do at each customer touch point in order to shape these expectations.
To create the customer expectations playbook, you first need to map out your customers’ journey as they interact with your brand.
Once you are aware of every interaction a customer has with your brand, determine what expectations you want the customer to have at each point, and then articulate what your staff need to do in order to make sure these expectations are met.
MAKE SURE ALL YOUR COMMUNICATION IS CLEAR AND HONEST
We mentioned earlier that what you communicate to customers has a great influence on the expectation they have about your company.
To avoid passing the wrong message, make sure that all your communication is clear and honest, and that it leaves no room for misinterpretation.
Go through all your communication channels and check the kind of message they convey, both directly and indirectly.
Make sure the information on your website is correct and up-to-date.
Check your social media profiles and make sure any offers and promotions have clearly defined requirements and expiration dates, and that all these offers are honored.
Regularly review the FAQs section on your website, make sure that the information is accurate and detailed and update any new questions that customers might be asking. Make sure all that your print materials are regularly updated with new information.
The idea here is to make sure that none of your communication leaves room for misinterpretation, which can lead to unrealistic expectations.
MAKE REALISTIC PROMISES
Sales can sometimes be a tough job, and in a bid to appease clients and make the sale, your sales reps might decide to bend the truth a little bit.
For instance, a sales rep might tell the client that their order will be delivered earlier than the standard time, or that some new features will be added to a product/service even when there are no plans for new features.
While bending the truth this way might get them the sale, the problem is that these promises will result in expectations that your company will not be able to meet.
Once you are unable to keep these promises, the result will be a damaged reputation, a lost customer, and probably some negative reviews on your website or social media profiles.
To avoid such scenarios, you should teach your sales and marketing staff to make promises that the company can actually deliver on.
In as much as it is a good thing for your staff to be eager to make your products and services sound appealing to clients, the information they share with clients should be truthful. Any promises they make to the customer should be realistic.
UNDERPROMISE AND OVERDELIVER
This is closely related to the previous point. Instead of making unrealistic promises that you cannot keep, you should make modest promises and then deliver way more than you promised. Exceeding your clients’ expectations makes them delighted because they feel like they are getting even more than they paid for.
For instance, if a client asks you to build a website for them and you know that it will take you about four weeks to have the website ready, tell them that it will take you six weeks.
When you then go ahead and deliver the website in four weeks, the client will be delighted, because they can now launch their business even earlier. Delivering it earlier will make them feel like you put in some extra effort into their project at no extra cost.
Being transparent is another great way of managing customer expectations.
Transparency builds trust and makes it clear what your customers can realistically expect from your company. To maintain transparency, make sure customers are aware of your company’s policies, values, practices, and your way of doing business.
You can do this by sharing the policies, values and practices on your company’s website, print material, social media pages, and so on. When interacting and transacting with employees, your employees should also explain to customers how their requests will be handled and why.
When customers are well aware of what is going on, they know what to expect and are more likely to be satisfied with your way of doing things.
BE CLEAR ON GOALS, STRATEGY, TIMELINES AND BUDGET
When you get into business with a client, even if you don’t discuss it, they will have their own idea of how they think things will be done, what they will get out of the transaction, how long they think the project will take and how much they think it will cost.
Very often, their perception of all these things will be very different from the reality. To avoid disappointment once the project is complete, it is best to discuss these things beforehand and make it clear to the client what they should expect.
Have a detailed discussion with the client and come up with a scope of work document that outlines what the goals of the project are, the deliverables that the client expects, the strategy and methodology you will use to achieve these goals, the project timelines and the budget.
Sometimes, things may go beyond what was detailed in the scope of work document, and that is fine as long as you communicate to the client in time. If you realize that a project is going to take longer than expected, let the client know immediately, and explain the reason behind the delay.
Clients understand that errors and glitches do come up, and they won’t have a problem waiting a few extra days, provided you notify them in time.
Similarly, if you realize that the project will exceed the set budget, let the client know immediately and explain the reason behind extra cost.
Consistency is a very important value in business. If a client has a great experience their first time doing business with your company, they will expect the same kind of experience the second, third, and fourth times they do business with you.
If their experience deviates from what they are used to, it will leave them feeling confused and will break any trust they had in your business. To avoid this, it is important to ensure that your service remains consistent. If you decide to change things, you should only change them for better.
Consistency is not only important for returning customer; it also works for new customers.
Nowadays, before buying from a company, customers will check online to see what previous customers are saying about your company.
If the reviews from previous customers have a level of consistency, the customer will gain some trust in your company and proceed to do business with you.
If, on the other hand, different customers have varying feedback about their experience doing business with you, a customer won’t know what to expect from your company, and there is a high chance they will not do business with you.
Customers will also check whether their own experience is consistent with what others are saying about your company, so do as much as you possibly can to ensure you are delivering a consistent experience.
Finally, you should also make sure that your brand’s tone, voice and message is consistent across all your communication channels and media. The point here is that you need to ensure consistency across all areas of your business.
MONITOR YOUR CHANNELS
In order to manage customer expectations, it is important to first understand what the current expectations are and whether they are realistic or not. Only then can you work on either meeting these expectations or helping customers develop more realistic expectations.
To understand what your customers expect of your business, you need to monitor all your feedback channels – social media, live chat, email, phone, reviews on your website, and so on.
This will give you an idea of what customers think of your company and their major sources of disappointment (remember, disappointment stems from unmet expectations).
For instance, if you sell luxury honeymoon packages, some customers might assume it means they will be picked from the airport in a limo.
If this is not part of their package, they might voice their disappointment on your social media profiles, giving you the clue that they expect a limo to be part of the package.
Once you understand their expectations, you can then either add a limo pick up service to your package or make your message more clear so that customers stop expecting something you don’t offer.
MONITOR YOUR COMPETITION
I also mentioned that customer expectations may be influenced by the customers’ experiences with your competitors.
For instance, a customer might ask you why you don’t offer something that one of your competitors offers.
This is a signal that the customer’s expectation has been influenced by the competitor, even if the customer has never done business with the competitor.
Therefore, it is important to monitor what your competitors are doing and see how their services might be influencing your customers’ expectations.
Go through your competitors’ websites and look at what their customers are saying on their social media pages to get an idea of some of your competitors’ practices/services that might be influencing your own customers’ expectations.
In addition, you should subscribe to industry magazines and blogs to keep yourself abreast on what the best companies in your industry are doing.
This will help you understand what your customers expect from you and make it easier for you to meet these expectations.
LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO WOW CUSTOMERS
Finally, if you want to keep your customers happy and loyal to your company, you should be constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to ‘wow’ you customers, situations where you can go the extra mile for your customers.
Of course, it is not possible to do this every time, but whenever possible, do something that is beyond your scope.
For instance, if a customer comes to you with the aim to purchase a certain product or service from you, but then you realize that the product or service might not be the best for them, instead of selling to them all the same, you can give them advice on which product or service would serve them best, even if it results in a smaller margin for you.
This will show the client that you actually care about them and they will be more satisfied with your service and more likely to turn into a loyal client.
The secret to keeping your customers happy is to properly manage their expectations.
When your customers have realistic expectations of your business, you will be able to meet and exceed these expectations, which will in turn delight your customers.
Customer expectations are shaped by various factors, which can make managing these expectations something of a challenge.
However, the tips shared in this article will help you shape your customers’ expectations and keep them realistic, which will in turn make it easier for you to keep your customers happy.
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