Four Tips to Manage Customer Expectations

Managing Customer ExpectationsManaging customer expectations is a challenge. More so if you are a service provider.Products tend to be tangible and you are working against a drawing,specifications and a contract that is clear. Services in contrast, are intangible, and its all about the customer’s perception that the expectations were met or exceeded. If expectations are met or exceeded, the marketer can assume that the customer is happy and a long term relationship is assured. Many service providers are shocked to realize that the customer is not happy because their expectations were different.

Here are some tips to manage customer expectations:

  1. At the pre-sales and “pitch” stage: In the eagerness to get that contract, marketers tend to promise stuff,without thinking. It’s important to be honest about what exactly you can do and what you cannot do. This caution is particularly applicable to industries that employ brokers and sales agents that promise the world because they are paid a commission only. An example is from the moving and re-location industry where the sales person is just an agent who works on commission. The “commission and out” salesperson promises many things that the vendor is not able to deliver leading to backlash on social media.
  2. Communication matters a lot-once the contract is under way: Excluding your newsletter,regular scheduled frequent  communication is a must. You must let the customer know about progress,deliveries and updates specific to the work you are doing. Face-to-face meetings are preferred compared to email,phone call or video meetings. For at personal meetings the marketer is able to pick up cues about underlying concerns and address them much sooner. Remember, that before a customer sends out a long angry email, things have been simmering for a while. If you are able to “nip an issue in the bud” things stay positive and productive.
  3. Understanding Expectations: Great marketers know about upcoming customer concerns even before the customer realizes. There is a lot of research on the “service gap” i.e. expectations are at one level while the perception of service received is lower. Highly cited research by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1985, explains the implications of perceived service quality.
  4. Dealing with Customer Expectations: When it comes to dealing with customers expectations, we like the suggestions offered by Jukka Ojasalo.The research is in the context of professional services that would apply somewhat to other service contexts as well. According to Ojasalo:
    • People have three types of expectations- fuzzy (they are not clear of what they want), implicit (they assume that the service provider knows what they want) and unrealistic (they make their service expectations clear to the service provider).
      • Fuzzy: When the customer does not know what he/she wants (fuzzy) the service provider should try and help the customer define requirements. For example, system analysts in technology services help do this and develop a Statement of Work with the customer.
      • Implicit: When the customer assumes certain service levels (implicit) then it can be dangerous. Many of us have ordered food at a restaurant and have been annoyed at the delay. If the waiter had indicated the time upfront, our dis-satisfaction would be lower. Sometimes an explicit service level becomes implicit over time and customers assume as “given”. Also people change,forget at the delivery end and this can be dangerous for customer satisfaction.
      • Unrealistic: Unrealistic expectations start getting revealed after the work has started. This is also called “scope creep” in project management.It has much to do with the knowledge structure of our minds. We start realizing that some feature in the service would  help after we start using the service. But this could involves months of work for the vendor (e.g. in software). It is really important here to sit down with the customer and honestly explain the situation.

If your customer has unrealistic expectations, after the well defined work has started, it is good news. The customer has started appreciating the value of your services and is engaged with it. If you communicate well, good customers tend to understand your constraints and are willing to go full length with your basic core service.

Finally, is always better to offer a core service instead of many bells and whistles that only a small fraction of customers are able to really use. About StratoServe Digital Marketing Services.