<i>“Every customer that comes to us will have different levels of expectation. Ultimately, our aim is to exceed their expectations much better than what our competitors can provide.” – Byon Ong</i>
We know that no two customers are alike for a number of reasons – customer expectations being amongst the top differences. Even if customers belong to the same industry, they would expect to be treated exclusively and companies that understand this need are able to maintain long standing, rewarding and cordial relationships with each customer individually. Managing and dealing with customer expectations appropriately therefore, we think, comes out on top to build and sustain a profitable business. We have often discussed and pointed out that when customers are managed well and provided personalized levels of service, they will speak well of the company which in turn enhances reputation. In the world of business, reputation built through customer referrals and testimonials is priceless! A robust reputation helps to attract some great talent to work with your company leading to a more productive and happier work place.
Let us take some time to think and go over some points that would help companies understand how to make managing and dealing with customer expectations simpler. Of course, as customer expectations change the manner of handling them will differ too but we think that these will remain at the heart of this crucial activity.
- With so many choices and a host of ‘people’ scrambling for their attention, customers are probably more ‘powerful’ than ever and unfortunately for companies, customers know their position of strength. This has naturally raised the level and number of customer expectations and unless companies have robust and solid plans in place to manage them, it would be almost impossible to. Being unable to manage expectations can often be difference between success and failure. In order for the planning to be successful, companies must ensure that everyone in the organization is aware of what is expected, the aim of the plan and the benefits for each person involved. Employee buy-in is critical to the success of any strategy or policy a company puts together.
- In the words of Roy H Williams – The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations. For companies to be efficacious in dealing with customer expectations it is a given that those expectations must first be clearly known. Once companies have a grip on what customers want it would be imperative to arrange these expectations in order of what should be attended to on priority. Again, a thorough understanding of these expectations and the order of their importance must be suitably conveyed to all staff. Only when everyone understands what needs to be delivered and when, can each person contribute effectively. Ensure that you regularly engage with customers, ask them pertinent questions and convey your understanding of their needs before cementing a list of their expectations. The customer service team plays a crucial role in this task – they would need to build a rapport with the customer and gain a complete understanding of why the customer will buy and what their possible future needs would be.
- Companies must be responsible to make regular and effective training available to their staff members especially the front-line teams. Clear, concise and effective communication is crucial in the managing of customers – unless a company is able to convey their thoughts to customers and be able to understand what customers are saying, dealing with customer expectations would be a frustrating experience. Ensure that you communicate through the same means that the customer uses to get in touch with your company and keep to timelines promised to them. Having clear communication ensures that your customer continues to trust you and the relationship is transparent and honest. Deliver when you promise, own up to errors and oversights and providing speedy and effective solutions are vital aspects of dealing with customer expectations. As companies grow and they reach out to customers across borders, they would need to manage the expectations of these customers too. They would probably need to invest in a 24×7 contact centre, round the clock ‘online chat service’ and any other method that would let customers connect with a company at a time convenient to them. It is all about giving customers what they want and when they want – making your systems and procedures match their demands rather than expecting customers to mould their expectations around what you can offer.
- Be reliable and stable in your service to customers. Customers do not appreciate or understand whimsical changes in levels of service and products. It does not bode well for a company to have varying levels in managing customer communication and relationships – customers tend to lose trust and this raises customer dissatisfaction and complaints. Soon enough competitors are able to swoop in and take these customers away for good. Having transparent and consistent service keeps customers at ease – one of the main expectations of customers, and over time increases their level of trust and faith in a company. When customer relationships are based on trust, they are long lasting and stable leading to customer loyalty.
- Customers also expect that when a company makes promises – either with regard to products or service – they will deliver on them. Also they expect that they are not promised more than what the company is capable of delivering. Managing and dealing with customer expectations entails being able to tell a customer upfront whether something can be done or not and also clearly enlist why a company cannot comply with a customer demand. Customers appreciate the honesty rather than being delivered a rude shock when a promise is not fulfilled which could leave the customer with a problem in their business. This is never taken lightly by customers. It would be better for companies to over-deliver, to let customers feel that they have gone over and above their responsibilities rather than failing by over-promising.
- When getting in to a business arrangement with a new client, remember to always be upfront, honest and transparent. Terms and conditions, payment schedules and other policies must be clearly written down – no hidden clauses or costs. Even though no one can predict how the relationship will go at least the customer will appreciate your honesty and sincerity and will make the effort to behave the same way. There should be no scope of ambiguity since this has the potential to irrecoverably disrupt the relationship. This is true of an on-going customer relationship as well. Each customer interaction must be replete with honesty and respect.
- Every point of contact and communication channel used by customers must provide them with the same level of service. Customers have a right to expect an organized and seamless service. It should be easy for them to get information, have their queries answered and their problems solved irrespective of which channel they use to communicate with the company. Showing the customer an organized and well-structured company lets them remain confident that the company is working right and their business and investments are secure.
There are many other ways of managing and dealing with customer expectations. It’s just about ascertaining your customer’s needs, possibly even before they mention these needs. What differentiates great from good service is anticipating and knowing what customer’s need before they mention it or can know about these needs since they are probably in the future. Surprising and delighting your customers thus, is the superlative method of dealing with customer expectations.