Friday, April 10, 2009

Expectation Management 101

One of the quickest way to lose a customer (or a friend for that matter) is to fail to meet their expectations. The customer calls you, finds you on the web (either through an organic search or pay per click), or walks in your store and you might get the sale this time. However, if you fail to meet their expectations in the product itself or in your customer service, they will not be back - ever.

If you're lucky, this customer will tell you why they are / were disappointed - they will tell you that you failed to meet their expectations. The ball will be in your court - you can choose to fix the problem or not (that's a whole different problem).

Unfortunately, disclosing dissatisfaction is rarely the case (especially with new customers) - at least not to the business owner or his staff. Most of the time that unfulfilled customer is going to tell everyone they know (and even some people they don't know) how disappointed they were with you and your business. And in spite of great efforts on your part, these dissatisfied customers will recommend to their friends, family and co-workers to stay clear of you and your establishment.

The cost of lost potential business from poorly managed expectations can be enormous.

However, the truth is, most small business owners don't fail to meet their customers expectations because they don't care. They don't meet expectations because the have no idea what their customers even expect.

There are two easy ways to manage customers' expectations. You can either tell them what to expect or you can ask them what they expect.

1. The best form of Expectation Management is to tell the customer what to expect - Make a Promise / Guarantee and do it boldly. As simple as this option is, most business owners are deathly afraid of making promises or guaranteeing anything. They are scared, because they know they won't be able to deliver. They know that their "in-place"systems aren't strong enough to deliver on the promise and their staff isn't good enough (on a consistent basis) to cover for the absence of properly implemented systems.

So if you want to make sure that your clients know what to expect - tell them. And tell them every chance you get. But don't make promises you can't keep!!! Instead make ones you can.

Start small. Start with what you know you can do right now, every time. And then work to improve your promise every chance you get.

2. Find out what they want - Conduct a Survey. The second, and considerably less desirable option, with regard to customer expectation management, is to simply ask. The reason this option is less desirable is that you aren't necessarily managing expectations as much as you are reacting to them.

Not surprisingly, most small business owners would rather chase the apparent needs of a few customers than define their own path forward. That's not to say you shouldn't ask - and get a feel for what the customer is looking for - but it can be a very dangerous slope to go down if this is ALL do.

In any case, when it comes to customers expectation surveys, you are going to get a lot of feedback. Some will be good! And some will be fodder. The trick is figuring out which is which.

Believe it or not, not all your customers are worth listening to. In fact, the only ones that can truly give you insight into where you focus your attention are your cheerleaders - the ones that believe in you and your business. These are the loyal clients that not only come to you regularly, but recommend you to their friend and family.

It's not that the others don't provide great feedback, it's just that their feedback might take you down a rabbit hole.

So you need to ask yourself. . .

What do my customers expect? Do I really know?

Have I told them what they should expect? Should I tell them?

What should I be 'putting out' to my perspective clients that will separate me from my competition?

What do I want my clients to expect and how do I manage those expectations?

Just remember. The the answers to all of these questions and the ability to manage the expectations of your customers is within your power. They are your choice. You just need to take control and manage your customer expectations in a proactive way.

1 comment:

  1. I always joke that the secret to a happy life is setting low expectations- but I kid.

    I think setting expectations and delivering on them is very important. I will never forget experiences where I was "over sold" and the product didn't meet the promise.

    In the modern world we need to worry more about the meeting expectations and less about the "selling." It's a big part of having integrity in the way we do business.

    Thanks for the thoughts JJ!