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Keystone Management Services PO BOX 554 Sanctuary Cove Queensland 4212 Australia

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Profiting from Reduced Customers Expectations

Many business people are confused about customer service. Some think that customer service is the sole responsibility of front line staff, others think it means giving the customer whatever they want. 

I think the concept can be thought of in relatively simple terms - Customer service is managing expectations.

This is best explained by considering the following:

  • When a customer’s expectations are more than their perception of the service – look out, we have an unhappy customer.
  • When a customer’s expectations are less than their perception of the service – their response is ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that!’

This notion of ‘managing expectations’ is a very powerful one. There is a WA organisation that manages their customers’ expectations brilliantly. When you read their catchcry in a moment, you will automatically be able to recognise which organisation I am referring to. This organisation proclaims:

‘We’re not fancy but we’re cheap’ 

When customers do business with WA Salvage, they are not disappointed!

If you doubt the power of ‘managing expectations’, simply consider another retail store laying out its stock in the same way as WA Salvage. It is likely there would be an overwhelming customer revolt. 

Because WA Salvage manage customer expectations, they are not disappointed.

If you still doubt the power of ‘managing expectations’, consider a training session or conference you have attended. Consider Scenario 1 - You are told the session ends at 4.30 pm and the facilitator is still speaking at 4.40 pm. Under this scenario, it probably doesn’t matter about the quality of the speaker - by 4.40 pm the audience has departed either figuratively or literally! 

Now consider Scenario 2 - You attend another training session or conference, and you are informed the finishing time is 5.00 pm. What are you doing at 4.40? All things being equal, the audience is still ‘with’ the speaker. 

This is a remarkable event, as in our two scenarios the time is the same, yet our expectations are not. Under Scenario 2 our expectations have been better managed!

Many customers become unhappy after their expectations have been raised, only to find that the service or product falls short. These expectations can be set via numerous ways:

  • Advertising and marketing pitches
  • Telephone contact with sales or other staff
  • Promotional material including brochures
  • ‘Shallow promises’ from staff and management

In an endeavour to capture as many customers as possible, organisations can fall into the trap of promising the world and delivering marginally less. The consequence will always be the same – unhappy customers.

The managing of expectations can occur at an individual level as well. When I speak to a sales person who tells me that they will ring tomorrow, I expect to be contacted tomorrow. If a tradesman tells me he will be at my house at 3pm, I make sure I am ready to meet him at that time. When I am told by a telephone answering machine that the business will return my call, I expect a return call.

Incredibly, the vast majority of organisations are very poor when it comes to individual staff following through on their promises. We have all lost count of the number of people who promised that they would ring, and didn’t, who promised to fax and didn’t – who failed to do what they said they would do.

There is a saying that is used by some smart businesses to manage their customers’ expectations. This saying is ‘Under-promise, over-deliver’.

When I purchased a second hand vehicle around three years ago, I was informed that panel repair work on the car would be completed and the car would be ready to pick up by Friday. Having heard nothing from the dealership, I rang on that Friday to be told there was a ‘hold-up’ at the panel shop, and the car would be ready the following Tuesday. Having pictured myself in my ‘new’ car over the weekend, I was a very unhappy customer!

Now, if that dealership had applied the simple rule of ‘under-promise, over-deliver’, they would have managed my expectations very differently. They would have told me the vehicle would be ready on the Wednesday (following the Friday). When the car was unavailable from the panel shop on Friday, it would have been a problem for the dealership, but not for me as a customer. When the car became available on the Tuesday, the dealership could have rung me to inform me that the car was ready to pick up a day earlier than promised. I would have been a delighted customer!

The concept of managing expectations is a simple yet powerful one. It presents many organisations with an opportunity to ensure that they have many more happy customers, who in turn will spread the word. Managing expectations is an inexpensive strategy with the potential for dramatic results.


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