Bridge the Gap-Customer Expectations and Service

“Service is a promise that cannot be seen, touched, or felt through any of our external senses.”- Jag Randhawa

The face of the customer has changed significantly in the recent past – they have become more demanding and know exactly what they want and expect. Many companies have not been able to keep pace with these changing demands which therefore have led to a gap between customer expectations and service provided by companies. Customers demand and know they can get better quality products and services and expect that companies will match the customer expectations and service. The fact is that irrespective of the size, stature and high quality products, there will always be an irrefutable and undeniable connection between customer expectations and service. From the customer’s standpoint, customer service is part of the whole customer experience – products and all. If there is a gap between customer expectations and service provided by the company, it will create dents in the loyalty and business customers provide and over time the company could lose its credibility and standing in the market.

The main reason for the gap between customer expectations and service is the fact that customer demands and perceptions are not absolutes. Each customer has a different view of what constitutes the fulfilment of their expectations with regard to service and product quality. Customer expectations are determined by many factors like culture, lifestyle, demographics, upbringing and their past experiences with similar companies and products and since these factors differ from customer to customer, perceptions would be completely subjective, widening the gap between customer expectations and service. It is a tough call for companies trying to bridge this gap but with a robust customer focus and customer oriented policies, it would be possible to lessen this gap. We have discussed in the past that companies that extract and continually analyse customer data are better positioned to understand the customer’s needs and therefore able to manage them better.

Without a proper and thorough understanding of customer expectations, companies continue to believe that they are offering the best service and top quality products. However, the customers may differ and this knowledge gap would be the main reason for the disconnection between customer expectations and service. The presence of such a gap would mean that companies, even though giving their best, are actually striving towards meeting a set of expectations different from what is actually required. It stands to reason that if your company is unaware of what the customer expects and what their needs are, you would not be able to even begin to provide for them, let alone meeting or exceeding their expectations. A lot of data, analysis, formal feedback and market study are required to remain updated on the changing customer needs and demands.

Without customer satisfaction, it would be impossible for any company to survive in the current competitive market. Anyone who has run or is running a business knows that it is very difficult and extremely costly to not just to lose a customer but also to attract new ones – almost five times more costly. The ‘costs’ are not just monetary but a lost customer has other implications too – time, reputation and loss of credibility in the market. Satisfied customers instil a sense of confidence for the brand in the market and in the minds of prospective customers too. They come back with more business and also are extremely happy to provide testimonials and referrals. Customer satisfaction is directly linked with customer expectations and service that meets those expectations.

The hard part about customer service is that it is not tangible as a product. The only measure of the quality of customer service is based on what the customers feel about it and we have earlier mentioned that the perception is based on the individual customer. A defective product or item can easily be replaced and can be reoffered to the customer with some benefits and added attractions. However, if there is a flaw in customer service, for example the rudeness of a staff member or the non-delivery of a product despite a deadline, this customer service failure will not be easy to rectify and would adversely affected customer satisfaction levels. As customer satisfaction decreases, profitability and reputation of a company dips and it is therefore crucial for companies to maintain satisfaction levels by ensuring that there are no gaps between customer expectations and service.

Bridging the gaps between customer expectations and service is a process that works from the inside out of any company. First building a culture that focused on providing high quality of service to customers and working relentlessly to maintain the quality, will help to narrow the gap between customer expectations and service. Secondly, investing in CRM software to manage the huge amounts of customer data not just to serve as historic data but also to predict future customer behaviour and buying patterns, is a great way to ensure that there is no gap between customer expectations and service. Companies that work untiringly towards closing this gap are the ones who are able to ensure continued improvement not just in the offerings of their company but also continually enhance the service they provide to their customers.

Every company probably has their own ways to measure and judge the success of their customer satisfaction levels but the common thread is that measuring service quality levels is essential to ensure a constant high level of customer satisfaction. Fixing certain standard procedures and ensuring that each person in the company follows them and work towards the company’s common goals, is also a great way to bridge the gap between customer expectations and service. Companies must base these operating procedures around the kind of customer experiences their customers have had in the past and also on the kind of experiences they would want their customers to have.

Service quality is about the speed of responses, empathy shown by the people who work directly with customers, the overall reputation of the company in terms of reliability and trust and the measurement of these aspects to ensure that the standard does not fall. The brand’s perception is directly connected with the standards of customer satisfaction maintained by the company. A company must be aware of their brand’s reputation by staying in touch with customer comments over social media sites, customer feedback, email communication and their buying patterns related to your company’s brand.

Since customer demands and needs keep changing, some might argue that completely bridging the gap between customer expectations and service is not possible and it is true. However, it is possible to continually strive towards reducing the gap, such that customers are satisfied most of the time and companies can find new ways to ensure that their customers have great experiences each time and at every contact point. It is vital that companies make time and effort to also continually provide relevant and pertinent training to their customer service representatives and other employees such that each person is aligned towards increasing customer satisfaction levels. In addition, each feedback and customer experiences should be carefully analysed and immediate action can be taken to do away with any situations that would contribute towards a fall in service and customer satisfaction.

Effective management of customer satisfaction levels is a complex and cumbersome task but is a must to ensure that there is no gap between customer expectations and service.

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