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Setting Expectations for Customers? You Better Meet Them.

October 27, 2009

Owning or running a business means setting expectations: within the organization, for yourself, and especially externally. These are not always easy to meet, but they are a critical part of measuring your business’ success.

External expectations are those your customers set for you. You do not set these, your customers do. When you say you’re going to deliver, doing so – or not doing so – can be the difference between gaining a customer for life, and losing ten customers. Word of mouth has, and always will be, a powerful part of what makes people buy from you, and we can’t do much to control it once we’ve put something out into the universe. What we can do is try to make sure that everything we do, we do to satisfy customers, whether it’s public relations or customer service. “Meet your customers’ expectations” may seem like an empty statement, but really think about this: In every aspect of your business, are you doing a good job of it?

I recently lost the swipe card to get into the gate at my parking garage. I’ve had several unfortunate run-ins with the staff who work in the office at my complex, including having my car towed and being screamed at by their answering service. I thought, surely they’re going to hassle me about this.

I told the person on duty what happened, and he smiled and said “No problem.” I was shocked! I walked out with a new card at no cost.

A week later, a valet at a restaurant misplaced the card. I keep it sitting on the dash, and realized it wasn’t there anymore as I was driving home. I was sure it wouldn’t be an issue.

I went to the office, told them what happened, and instantly tensed up when the woman on duty said “That’ll be $30.” Excuse me?

“Yes, $30. That’s how much a new card costs.”

I insisted she call her supervisor. This had to be a mistake. The helpful man the week before told me it was free. Gave me a new card instantly. She called her supervisor. Her supervisor confirmed the $30.

I begrudgingly took out my checkbook and forked over $30 for a little piece of plastic that, as a rent-payer, I have a right to. I was, and am, still mad about it. In fact, my lease is up in a few weeks, and I’m moving because it.

Once you have established expectations in your business, whether it’s free shipping or excellent customer service, you are expected to measure up. It is your job, as a leader, to make sure old and new employees understand and meet those standards. If they don’t, it’s on you. As soon as you take away what customers believe is standard modus operandi for your organization, you’ve disappointed them, and disappointed customers aren’t shopping with you anymore. Keep this in mind when a customer calls your company angry or upset that they’ve been told two different things by two different CSR’s. Remember it when you up that service fee by just $1. These small things can make all the difference between a happy apartment dweller, and, well, me.

Key things to remember:

  1. Once customers have expectations for your brand or organization, you are expected to meet them every time.
  2. Employees must be on the same page about said expectations. They must know what to say in as many possible situations as possible, and be trusted to solve problems swiftly with that information.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2009 4:16 pm

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. October 27, 2009 4:36 pm

    Thanks Dan, appreciate the feedback!

  3. Toby permalink
    October 27, 2009 11:12 pm

    Got your link from blindsCEO tweet. These types of discussions are a bit of a hobby for me, probably because of Seth Godin’s easy to read writing style sucking me in and making it interesting.

    My comment to your article about setting and maintaining expectations would be that there are ways to implement new or even less desirable (but less costly to the company) levels of service, and that is to bridge the gap on the fly with clear and easy to understand explanations about why “that was then, this is now.” Of course, this requires some good customer service training to the front line in terms of tact, skillful deference, and self confidence.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      October 27, 2009 11:38 pm

      Hi Toby, I totally agree with you. Solving the problem “on the fly” is ideal, and is probably done on a daily basis inside well-oiled organizations. Unfortunately a lot of organizations don’t invest in their people as much as they should. Technology is expensive, and most companies seem to be putting a lot (if not all) of their cash into tech solutions instead.

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