9 Keys to Managing Customer Expectations

June 17, 2013

Managing customer expectations.

Few phrases sound as common yet betray such a fantastical goal. The concept itself, to some degree, is misleading. So many variables go into creating customer expectations that it seems almost quixotic to attempt to manage them.

Let’s just take a look at some of the inputs that go into creating customer expectations:

  • Social Media
  • Word of Mouth
  • Marketing (more on marketing and customer expectations)
  • Public Relations
  • Similar Experiences
  • Competitive Experiences
  • Previous Experiences with Your Company
  • Individual Psychology
  • Cultural Norms and Expectations
  • Interactions with Staff

The items highlighted in blue are the items customer service reps and service managers have fairly significant control over. Glance back at the list one more time. You will not see much blue.

That leaves a whole lot of managing customer expectations outside of our direct control.

Now, before we throw up our hands and give up, let me tell you why attempting to manage customer expectations is still a worthwhile endeavor.

The good news is that those items that are within our control have some of the most direct influence on what customers expect from us.

If we can work to manage customer expectations through those key drivers, we can help preempt and even override some of the other influences impacting expectations.

Remember, as difficult as it is, managing expectations is hugely important.

In the end…

Performance does not matter, performance relative to customer expectations does!

9 Keys to Managing Customer Expectations

1. Decide What You Would Like Expectations to Be

As in most things, it is helpful to establish a goal. Be realistic about your industry and your product/service, then contemplate what types of expectations you would be able to meet or exceed on a consistent basis.

2. Be Honest

If you sell the sizzle, the steak better live up to the hype. Be honest about what your product does and what your service is. Customers have plenty of influences guiding them towards unrealistic expectations — you need to make sure your team is not one of them.

3. Minimize Fine Print

As we discussed in Fine Print Is Inevitable; Bait and Switch Is Not, fine print, while often necessary, should be minimized and should never be used to alter the basic promise of your offer or brand. Sure, the picture below is technically honest, but really?

Managing Customer Expectations
Image: Consumer Reports Magazine July 2013 Edition.
4. Be Consistent Across Media

To the extent you have control or influence with your marketing department, try to make sure that the messages that are being delivered to your customers are consistent across media. Your television advertising, product brochure, and social media team should all be communicating the same messages and helping to reinforce an optimal set of expectations.

5. Monitor Your Channels

Part of managing customer expectations is trying to understand what they are, both collectively and individually. Monitoring your feedback channels — phone, email, social, etc. — You can begin to get an idea of what sort of expectations are crystallizing overall. Did the new ad using the term “luxury” give the impression that the dashboard was made of mahogany? Are people automatically disappointed when they see the interior of the car?

6. Listen Individually

Of course, expectations are as individual as the people who hold them. We must strive to understand what each client expects of our product and service so that we can successfully manage and meet/exceed their expectations.

7. Recalibrate

If the client’s expectations are not something we can successfully meet, then we need to do our best to reset and recalibrate those expectations. This process probably deserves its own post.

8. Exceed

You don’t just want to meet those expectations, do you? Always strive to exceed.

9. Follow Up

Customer expectations are not static.They evolve and adjust over time. Refer to the list of influences earlier in this post. Those influences never stop influencing customer expectations; they are constantly reshaping your customers views of your product/service. Do not be stagnant. Continue to monitor shifts in expectations on a collective and an individual level.

Managing Customer Expectations is NOT a One-Way Street

The idea of “managing” expectations might make the process seem one-sided — as if you are trying to control what your customer thinks. As you can see from this discussion, the process is at best collaborative — even if the collaboration goes unsaid.

We are blending the push, inserting our concept of what our product or service does, with the pull, finding out what the customer really needs and wants.

Managing expectations is not about controlling customers; it is about setting you, your team, and your customers up for a successful and profitable partnership.

What do you think? Can customer expectations be managed? Should they be?

9 thoughts on “9 Keys to Managing Customer Expectations”

  1. These tips are absolutely very inspiring to me as businesses need to find ways to manage their customer expectations that come from their the customer services. Two things stand out from the rest to me: be consistent across media and monitor your channels.

    Here I have a great example of writing about customer services in a consistent way. I have read blogs that express things in a negative way and I am sure that is something all businesses want to avoid.

    1. Thank you so much Jenny! I’m glad you liked the post.

      I agree with you that consistency across media is one of the most important — and one of the most difficult.

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  4. Laura k baumgras

    As a side hustle I do clothing alterations, and something I really struggle with is clients asking me to do something literally impossible, for example I cannot make a shredded pair of jeans look new again.

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