Crucial to Manage Customer Expectations

“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” Roy H. Williams

The power of the customer has increased and unless a company has made customers its priority, survival in the current business environment would be near impossible. With so many choices and options, it is not surprising that what customers want and expect is sometimes inconceivable even for the most seasoned professionals and long standing companies. To balance their interests, it is imperative that companies find innovative ways to manage customer expectations, lest they spiral out of control. Businesses must put together robust plans and strategies in order to manage customer expectations extremely well, such that both sides benefit. Such management can often be the difference between success and failure of a company and its relationship with customers. A poor relationship with even a single customer could have a domino effect and lead to the collapse of other customer relationships as well – potential customers are more likely to believe existing customers and their experiences.

While it is imperative to manage customer expectations, it is in no way an easy task. The challenge is humongous and cumbersome since a customer’s idea of good service is subjective to their business and requirements. The other curious thing about customer expectations is that they hardly ever remain the same – they are constantly in a state of flux, changing faster than companies can keep pace. These shifting demands and the inability of companies to match up, is what makes it so tough to manage customer expectations, leading to customer dissatisfaction and even moving away. A company’s ability to manage customer expectations can be determined by its current performance and its ability to adapt to changing expectations and business scenario.

The other massive challenge for companies in being able to manage customer expectations is the fact that often there is a huge gap between what companies believe their performance to be and how customers actually view it. We have said earlier that the customer’s perception is their reality – so if your company is perceived as being slow and inefficient by them, then that is what the company is for them. If a company does not remain connected with its customers, it would never know about these discrepancies and hence would never do anything to amend it. This is turn would lead to dissatisfaction as customers would perceive the company’s ‘ignorance’ as poor service – a failed attempt on the part of the company to manage customer expectations.

The first step to being able to manage customer expectations is to understand the needs of customers and placing those needs before all else. What the customer wants must be priority for any company and each person in the organization must be aware of the expectations of the customer base versus what the company would be able to provide. As mentioned, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach would fail when trying to manage customer expectations since every customer is different and each would have their own set of needs and demands. A company must understand every customer in order to serve each one well, with customized offerings. It is imperative to ask customers directly – their expectations from the business relationship, questions that will enable the company to know each customer, their current and future needs – in order to put in place strategies to manage customer expectations.

The next step post understanding customer expectations is clear and consistent communication. A company must clearly convey its plans and strategies to serve the customers, let customers know the new business imperatives put in place to ensure that their feedback is implemented and promote all the channels of communication customers can use to get in touch with the company. Communication would involve actively listening to customers and getting back to them in a timely manner with effective responses. Clear communication is crucial to keep ambiguity and unpleasant surprises at bay – everyone would remain aware of situations. In trying to manage customer expectations, it is important that a company is perceived as being honest and transparent – open and two-way communication enables this. The more customers can trust a company, the more likely they are to remain loyal and attract more business for the company. In addition, customers are more likely to stay with a company that owns up to errors and mistakes and makes amends for them in a swift and efficient manner. The communiqués that a company sends out to customers must have lucid and engaging content – another great way to keep customers interested in the company. The interest will ensure that they express their wants clearly, making it easier for the company to manage customer expectations better and more efficiently.

The key word in any relationship / association is consistency. Companies cannot expect to please customers with unthinking reactions and service programs. There must be a robust and structured process to ensure uniformity and consistency in the relationship with the customer. If the company fails at being consistent, they would end up confusing and annoying the customers, who would not know what to expect from the company and hence would lose any trust built for it. Through consistency in service, companies not only manage customer expectations but also allow customers to know what to expect and when – which in turns allows them to be at ease when dealing with the company. Ensuring consistency in every aspect of their relationship with the customers promotes a feeling of security and makes customers more willing to work together with the company to achieve success for both. Such feelings lead to customers becoming loyal, profitable and highly effective brand ambassadors – which for any company could spell big profits and sustainable success.

Very often, sales personnel, in their attempts to make a sale, overpromise and make claims on behalf of the company that are either untrue or only half-truths. Post entering into a business association, customers soon discover these ‘lies’ and this results in a breakdown in the relationship. Not only do customers become angry, they would be highly vocal in letting others know of these inconsistencies, turning other current and prospective customers away from the company as well. If a company is to manage customer expectations efficiently, being honest and upfront on all aspects is the best way to do so. Customers know what to expect right at the start and would be able to make better decisions – even if they decide not to engage in business with a company, they would be happy to recommend others. A company’s honesty and transparency play a huge role in making or breaking it.

When a company is truly focused on the customer, it would be able to understand them well enough to not only respond to their needs but also anticipate their needs much in advance. Ensure that the company makes time to get feedback from the client servicing teams – they are rich sources of crucial information regarding customers and would be instrumental in helping to manage customer expectations. Being proactive and staying a step ahead of customers to satisfy their needs, will enhance your company’s reputation thereby retaining current customers and attracting new ones.

In whatever manner a company decides to manage customer expectations, it must be effective and useful from the customer’s perspective. The relationship between customers and a company is extremely fragile and can be easily marred when there are mismatches and discrepancies in expectations. Both parties must remember the usefulness of the other and work towards enhancing and cementing the relationship for sustained success for both.

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