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Managing customer expectations is the secret ingredient to outstanding customer service

How to Manage Customer Expectations

How you manage customer expectations is a critical component to delivering outstanding customer experiences. When you can meet or exceed someone’s expectations you trigger trust and the belief that you genuinely care about your customers. Unmet expectations, on the other hand, are the most common trigger for “difficult customers” or difficult situations that lead to the need for service recovery.

I often hear people talk about frustrating customers with “unrealistic expectations.” It is, indeed, frustrating when someone expects something you can’t deliver, but I have found that a good deal of the time, these “unrealistic” expectations are self-inflicted wounds — and easily preventable.  It’s all a matter of  your words and actions.

Wishy-washy words create expectation problems

Imagine, for example, saying something to a customer like, “I’ll get right back to you.”

Sounds pretty innocent, doesn’t it? People say this all the time — and most people say it with the best of intentions. But all too often it leads to unintended negative outcomes. It’s a classic use of wishy-washy words that don’t manage customer expectations.

What does “I’ll get right back to you” mean? Maybe to you, it meant ‘by the end of the day,’ which might be a reasonable expectation for your business. Unfortunately, your customer may not have a clue how your business works, so they could interpret, ‘getting right back to you’ as ‘within the next ten minutes.’

Is this just a customer with unrealistic expectations? Well, no. After all, nobody told them what a realistic expectation should be, and they had been forced to manage their own expectations.

So, when a scenario like this plays out, you’ll feel great if you manage to get back to the customer within just an hour or so, but your customer is going to be ticked because it was longer than ten minutes. The customer’s fault? Hardly.

A similar scenario, for example, could be the loans officer at your bank saying, “Come on in and we’ll get your mortgage set up for you.” But, when you get there, you discover that they need a bunch of additional information that you weren’t expecting.

Frustrating, right? Now you, the customer, may have to wait an extra day or longer to get things processed.

Managing customer expectations through detail

Setting expectations is all about being as detailed and accurate as you can. So instead of saying: “I’ll get right back to you,” say something like this:

“I want to look into a few things to make sure I get this right for you. I’ll try to get back to you by the end of the day.”

Now, when you get back to your customers in two hours, they’ll be thrilled.

Similarly, your loans officer, instead of saying, “Come on in and we’ll get your mortgage set up for you,” could say something like:

“Come on in and we can get things started. There might be a few odds and ends of paperwork that we still might need afterward, but we can get most of it done.”

Now you won’t be surprised if everything isn’t completed during the one visit.

Don't set your customers up for failure

One of the reasons that managing customers’ expectations is so important is the ripple effect that can be created when we don’t. 

Whenever you give someone information, they may start to make other arrangements based on their understanding of the timeline.If you deliver in two hours instead of ten minutes, for example, those arrangements may fail – causing them to look and feel a bit stupid.

Don't set your coworkers up for failure either

Here’s a not uncommon scenario:

Employee #1 has an impatient or demanding customer. The customer is adamant that they need something NOW, but the employee knows it’s probably going to take a week. The employee also knows that this customer is not going to respond well when they hear this news. So the employee decides to avoid the confrontation and pressure with a little white lie, like, “It will be here in a few days.”

Bad move.

This, of course, is going to create an even more difficult situation when the customer calls three days later asking where their stuff is. It’s even worse when it’s  a colleague, Employee #2  who ends up fielding the call and taking the customers wrath. It’s a sure-fire way to create long-lasting ill-will.

Customer loyalty is created when customers like you, trust you, and believe you’ll deliver what you promise. This is true for both external and internal customers. But the moment that you let them down in any one of those areas, it’s a recipe for conflict – and potential for irreparable damage to your reputation.

This article is reprinted with permission from Winning at Work

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