Why you have to meet and exceed customer expectations

It is important to communicate and set expectations correctly to avoid disappointment

Cheryl Hanna wrote an interesting post titled “The Art of Meeting Customer Expectations” in which stresses the need to clearly communicate and agree upon expectations between the organisation and the customer.  She goes  on to tell us how her non-tech savvy mother ended up buying a Blackberry because the sales person assured her that it was easy to use.  It turns out that her mother does not find it easy to use and she is frustrated and unhappy.

I am in agreement with Cheryl on the need to set the right expectations up front.  I have written about how the folks in Marketing and Sales are the source of most poor customer experiences: both of these functions tend to promise what the rest of the organisation is unable or unwilling to deliver.  I have been the delivery person who has had to sit down with the customer and explain that despite what the sales person said it is simply not possible for me to provide the Sun and the Moon overnight and at that price.

Research suggests that customers have 4 distinct expectations

Where the story gets interesting is that Francis Buttle wrote the following in response to Cheryl’s post:

“I agree that it’s critical to understand expectations. The trouble is there are different levels of expectation. I published some research on this back in the early1990’s. The fieldwork showed that customers can think of expectation at 4 levels of abstraction, as follows.

1. Expectations of performance : “I expect to have my car serviced within 2 days of calling the workshop”
2. Desires: “I want my car serviced the day I call the workshop”
3. Experience-based norms: “Most people normally have to wait 3 days to have their car serviced”
4. Ideal standards: “My car should be serviced overnight and delivered to my home the next morning”

Competitive advantage is enjoyed by meeting ‘ideal standards’, but this can be extremely costly to deliver.”

Should we meet or exceed expectations?

Reading Francis’ comments I was reminded by the incessant conversation around whether one should meet or exceed customer expectations.  On the one hand you have folks who are absolutely convinced that you have to exceed customer expectations and delight customers.  On the other hand, there are folks who are adamant that exceeding customer expectations is simply flushing money down the toilet as it does not necessarily lead to customer loyalty and a return on investment.

In the real world only one expectation really matters

My personal experience suggests that the real world is a lot simpler than many of us make it out to be.  Allow me to explain.  Whilst Francis’ research may show 4 different types of expectations, I believe that the one that matters is the one that we are conditioned to expect – what Francis Buttle refers to as ‘experience based norms’.   That is to say what I have been used to (personally) and what my social circle tells me that they are used to.  That is the expectation that I am expecting you, the supplier, to meet.  If you fail to meet this then I will be disappointed.  If you exceed that expectation then I will be pleased.

In the real world you need to both meet and exceed customer expectations

The world is full of suppliers that are competing for my business.  If you want to end up on my radar then you have to both meet and exceed my expectations. If you meet my expectations then I am likely to do business with you.  If you exceed my expectations from time to time then you will stand out and thus help yourself to a bigger share of my spend on your category of product or service.

Allow me to illustrate this through an example.

How Diet and Fitness Resources has put itself firmly on my radar for fitness supplies

Recently, I wanted to buy a Swiss ball and so I searched for it on the Internet and found plenty of suppliers.  So why did I end up buying it from Diet and Fitness Resources ?  Quite simply because their website was the one that I found the easiest to read / make sense of, their price was competitive and I liked the fact that the delivery charges were clearly spelled out on the home page and were reasonable.  Other suppliers made it hard for me to get hold of this information; one supplier had made me go through the purchasing process only to hit me with a delivery charge of £10 right at the end – a charge I was not willing to pay.

So I chose to do business with Diet and Fitness Resources because they were the first supplier that I came across which met my expectations around the website, the price and the delivery charge.

Once I had placed the order I got an email confirmation about my order.  The email confirmation itself met my expectations as I am used to getting these confirmations when I buy stuff on the Internet.  What exceeded my expectations – because I remember noticing this and being surprised – was the fact that the email came from a human being (Zoe Harris) rather than a faceless autoresponder.

The next surprise that I got was the second email which arrived within half an hour of the first email.  This email was once again from Zoe and simply stated that the order had been dispatched.  This took me by surprise because many suppliers do not send this kind of email and the ones that do tend to take between 1 – 3 days to dispatch the goods and send the email.  Whilst I was surprised, I did not actually pay any attention because the Diet and Fitness Resources had set the expectation that I was likely to get the goods 2-3 days after placing the order.  And that is exactly what I have been used to with other suppliers.

When the Swiss Ball arrived the next day, Diet and Fitness Resources were firmly established on my buying radar.  Why?  Because they had under-promised and over delivered.  Put differently they had exceeded my expectations.  And they have done so on the very first occasion that I have done business with them.

Three lessons around customer expectations

  1. If you the supplier meet my expectations then I will do business with you.  However, if you want more than your fair share of my spend on your category of product then it really helps if you exceed my expectations occasionally.  And a great moment to exceed my expectations is on the first order I place with you Why?  Because it is critical moment, it is where I am trusting you, and if you over deliver then you will stand out.  That is simply how it is to be human.
  2. It is especially important that you exceed my expectations when I feel most vulnerable. I  am most likely to feel vulnerable when I place my first order with you; when I have my first significant problem and need your help; when I am stressed; when I need you to be compassionate and bend the rules in order to take my situation into account and help me out.
  3. Whilst you the supplier can take action to shape my expectation the reality is that I already have my own expectations.  They have probably been set by your competitors.  And if you are selling goods over the Internet then it is likely that those expectations have been set by Amazon.  So you have to match those expectations or hope that Amazon does not supply the products that you are selling.  Alternatively, you have to be willing to offer a cheaper price to tempt me to buy from you.

Want me as your customer? Show me love.

Lyn Hunsaker and a particular song got me thinking

I read this opening line – ““How did we make you feel? That’s what really matters.”- from Lyn Hunsaker’s post and a little later the radio played one of my favourite songs.  And that is the genesis of  this post.

Every customer encounter presents you with a choice: ‘I-It’ or ‘I-Thou’

Every time you encounter a customer in business you are faced with a choice.  You can treat that customer as on object that has to be handled/manipulated to fit in with your agenda.  In this case you are treating the customer as an object; in Martin Buber’s terms you are engaged in a ‘I-It’ relationship.  Many companies do that because too many people forget that customers are human beings.

It just so happens that if you want to build enduring relationships with customers you have to be willing to drop the ‘I-It’ relationship and move to the ‘I-Thou’ relationship.  Fundamentally, this means treating your customer as a fellow human being and as such treating the customer as you would like to be treated if you were in her shoes.  Why is this necessary?

Have you noticed how ‘love’ is so much a part of the human landscape?  How many of us strive for it in our personal lives?  How many books and poems have been written about ‘love’?  How many people have decided to end their lives due to the lack of ‘love’?  And then you have the songs – many about love.  So how is it that ‘love’ is missing from the business landscape.  I can only think of one book that deals well with love: “Love is the Killer App”

Now I can write a learned article in the acceptable business narrative and appeal to your left brain.  Or I can share the lyrcis of the following song (“Show Me Love”) and appeal to your right brain.  I prefer the latter as I want to talk to you as a human being rather than an engineer, an accountant or an economist.  Incidentally, listening to the song is even better than reading the lyrics – so if you get a chance listen to the song.

An insight into the human condition through the lyrics of a pop song

“Ahhh… Yeah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

Heartbreaks and promises, I’ve had more than my share
I’m tired of giving my love and getting nowhere, nowhere
What I need is somebody who really cares
I really need a lover, a lover who wants to be there
It’s been so long since I touched a wanting hand
I can’t put my love on the line, that I hope you’ll understand

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

I’m tired of getting caught up in those one night affairs
What I really need is somebody who will always be there
Don’t you promise me the world, all that I’ve already heard
This time around for me baby, actions speak louder than words

So if you’re looking for devotion, talk to me
Come with your heart in your hands
Because me love is guaranteed

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

Show me, show me baby
Show me, show me baby
Show me, show me baby
Show me, show me baby

Heartbreaks and promises, I’ve had more than my share
I’m tired of giving my love and getting nowhere, nowhere
What I really need is somebody who will always be there
This time around for me baby, actions speak louder than words

If you’re looking for devotion, talk to me
Come with your heart in your hands
Because me love is guaranteed

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

There’s nothing that you can tell me
You’ve got to show me love
There’s only one key to my heart
You’ve got to show me love

Show me, show me baby
You’ve got to give it to me, give it to me, give it to me yeah
I don’t want no fakes, don’t want no phoney
I need you love
Show me, show me, show me baby
Give it to me, give it to me
I am not a toy, I’m not a play thang
You’ve got to understand

If you’re looking for devotion, talk to me
Come with your heart in your hands
Because me love is guaranteed
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”

Does this strike you as idealistic?

If showing customers love strikes you as being idealistic then that is because it is idealistic.  That does not mean that it does not work.  I know of a young man who started a car business 8 years ago with £4,000 pounds that I gave him and who, today, continues to expand his business with a loyal customer base whilst many of his competitors have gone out of business.  His secret: he shows his customers love.  The details I will leave for a later post.

PS: I thank each and every one of you for reading the stuff that I write.  Through your reading and commenting you leave me feeling loved!  And that in turn gives me the motivational food I need to continue writing in my voice.

2011: what is likely to stay the same?

Right now there are lots of people putting forward there views on what will be hot /new / different in 2011.  As I do not have a crystal ball and because I believe in the fundamentals, I am going to focus on the key themes that are not going to change in 2011.

Customer will continue using trusted resources to find information and make decisions

Customers live in a world that is full of suppliers, brands, products and services.  Choosing between them is difficult and there is always the concern around making the right choice.  So for low consideration products (the basics of food, drink, utilities, retail banking..) customers will simply continue using the brands that they use today. Some customers will continue to be tempted by ‘specials’ – to try other products, other brands, other suppliers.

For high consideration purchases, customers will turn to trusted sources: the internet, Google search, social network, other customers and independent sources.  Customers will particularly value trusted resources that take out or cut the hassle associated with doing all the research and coming to a decision.

Companies will continue to shoot themselves in the foot as the content and tools are often created by marketing.  And too many marketers are disconnected from the real lives of customers and their real needs.  Too often the need for spin outweighs the need to provide useful, informative, honest content.

Customers will continue to have the same needs around products

Most customers will continue to look for products that are easy to understand, easy to set-up, easy to use and which work as they expect them to work.  Some customers will pay a premium for products that are novel, beautiful and/or well designed.

Many products will fail to live up to customer expectations either because the marketing communications are misleading, or the product has not been well designed or because the customer has unrealistic expectations.  And this will result in calls into the contact centre and negative comments offline and online.

Customers will continue to look for, be attracted to, special offers

Direct marketers are the masters of special offers – they know that the right offers will drive purchases.  Human beings are drawn to all kinds of  special offers.  The offer can be around membership of an exclusive club, or a special edition product or simply one of a price discount.

Businesses will continue to offer attractive ‘specials’ to get new customers.  In the process they will continue to cut loyalty from existing customers and thus encourage them to move to competitors to get their special offers.

Customers will continue to look for and value good service

Customers live in a complex world where they have a lot more to juggle and less time to do it; a world where choosing the right products and solutions can be a tricky and time consuming task; a world where they need help in setting up and using products effectively.  For example, one time you could just go and buy a tv, try doing that now with the latest HD tvs.

As a result customers will continue to cry out for good service in the form of correct and informative marketing material, customer centred sales advice, convenient product delivery, ease of product set-up and use, accurate billing, easy access to the right people in the company to deal with problems and issue and responsive caring customer service.

Many companies will continue to give less than good service because of the internal, silo centred, efficiency oriented metrics, processes and culture.

Companies will continue to focus on the shiny new stuff and neglect the basics

Time and again companies are attracted to the shiny new stuff, the silver bullets, the miracle cures etc.  Social media, mobile, location-based services, group buying (Groupon), customer experience – are examples of the latest shiny objects

In the process, companies will neglect the basics such as making good easy to use products, easy to use websites, improving the delivery process so you don’t have to take a full day off work, sorting out issues that prevent sales and customer service staff delivering the kind of service that customers expect etc. Here is an example of neglecting the basics: Toyota Just Doesn’t Get It

Companies will continue to focus on the sell side of the business at the expense of the service side

The majority of companies will continue to focus their best people and the bulk of their money on the areas of the business that generate or promise to generate revenue. Revenue and market share growth are the top priorities of the C-suite in most companies.

These companies will also continue to spend money on products and services that promise to cut operating costs – thus boosting profits.  That means more investments in technology and less in people – especially those that actually interact with and serve customers.

It also means that companies will continue to focus on getting new customers than on keep existing customers through good service and fair treatment. This is partly because the it is easy to show the return on getting customer and difficult to show the return on retaining customers.

Companies will continue not to embrace and make effective use of social technologies

The philosophy – transparency, openness, interaction, connectivity, sharing, participation, co-creation etc – of social is fundamentally at odds with the command and control philosophy that is at the heart of almost all businesses.  The powerful love to exercise power – this applies to all kinds of institutions including corporations.  And it applies to the C-suite executives.

This clash of idealogies and operating practices will stop the majority of companies from harvesting the true promise of social technologies:  transforming the way that work is done – collaboratively between employees, customers, suppliers, partner etc – within the enterprise.

Instead companies  will continue to dabble in social media treating this as simply another marketing and customer research channel.  Does this remind you how digital marketing and ecommerce operations were treated?  And how some are still treated today?

Companies will continue to talk about innovation and customer experience tranformation and yet fail to deliver

Whilst every company wants to the fruits of innovation very few are willing to go through the birthing process and experience the pains of giving birth to these innovations.

It is no easy matter to make the silo’s work together.  It is no easy matter to change the technology infrastructure – most companies still do not have a single customer view despite the mountains of ink on that subject over the last ten years.  It is no easy matter to change the culture of the company.  It is no easy matter to give up the practices that are resulting in ‘bad profits’ and recapture these profits by creating products and services that customers value.  And there is absolutely no incentive when you are the category leader or the market is dominated by up to four big companies.

The task of category level innovation will continue to fall on companies that specialise in this (e.g. Apple, Virgin) or newcomers that have no investment in the existing way of doing things (e.g. Metro Bank, Groupon).