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Re-setting expectations to win

Happy new year! This is my first post of 2011. And I have the goal to be consistent this year. Let’s start.

Background

After the industrial age, the information age become popular and it seems that we are entering on the customer service age.

Given that production of goods is now serialized, product quality is comparable between brands. And quality is an already expected component on every product you buy. Bottom line we are in a commoditized world.

Some examples.  Do you want a pizza? There are more than 60,000 different pizza restaurants in the US alone. Do you want to buy a pair of shoes?  Zappos manage 500 brands with more than 60,000 styles. Do you want to buy a car? There are plenty models to choose from. The list goes on.

Companies are looking to differentiate from the competition to get more market share and they are doing it thru customer service.  Who have not heard about Comcast turn around using twitter? or Continental story to become one of the best airlines some years ago?,  Zappos (powered by service) or Netflix and  how they did that? You got it. Through customer service!

There are many books and blogs about theories and methodologies on how to create customer service. But I want to get to one technique that is key: Re-setting you customer expectation. This is specially true when you company is selling intangible, but also apply to products.

First, how customer expectations are built?

Customer expectations are built based on your brand, a comparable market product/service and your customer previous experience with similar product/services.

On your brand is based on what you say you offer. It is included in your company mission, your marketing message, your company logo and the way your employees behave. Everything your brand projects creates an expectation. Just think about Apple. As soon as you heard the word Apple, you are expecting great design, cool environment and great service on Apple stores.

On a comparable market product/service. Your competitors promises/message create an expectation on your potential customer mind. And then they create a standard expectation for the type of product they are going to buy. If you like coffee you probably compare Starbucks with Peets and define what you expect on each based on similar service/product.

On previous experience. Based on their previous experiences customers tend to get down or up their expectations. What car do you drive? A BMW or an old Malibu. As soon as you jump on a Mercedes, you will compare it with your previous car and will move your expectations up or down.

Time to, re-set your customer expectations.

Your customer comes to you with a preconceived idea about what he/she is going to receive from the product/service he/she is buying. Knowing what they are expecting is very important to know to be able to perform to at least meet customer expectations.

Start always with questions. When you customer comes to you with a request, counter with a question about the specifics and then set the expectation. Example: A customer calls asking to review some code and wants you to call as soon as you finish. As soon as they finish talking, ask when they are expecting you to finish. What percentage of coverage they need and perhaps what they are looking for on that review as an output.

Never assume. One common mistake is to assume that your customer already knows what your abilities are and the complexity of what they are asking for or buying is and never clarify about it.

Better underpromise. When your customer comes with big expectations, smoothly under-promise. There is a risk or disappointment at the beginning but it will be worth the effort when you over deliver and end up with a satisfied customer.

When creating customer expectations make sure that your capability to deliver what you promise is enough and beyond your message. There is an adage. “It is better to be than not to appear, than it is to appear and not to be”.

Take every interaction with your customers to measure their expectations and to deliver beyond that and you will have satisfied customers all year long.

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