Great Expectations

Is it time you took a closer look at how well your organisation sets customer expectations?

We all know that customer satisfaction equals performance minus expectation* (S = P-E) but when was the last time you took a detailed look at how well your organisation sets expectations?

We were lucky enough to do that very recently for a Client where staff consistently said that their No. 1 source of dissatisfaction was customer expectations that they couldn’t meet.

Clearly some organisations with few channels and a focused offering find it relatively simple to deliver clear and consistent messages.  However more commonly organisations have complex customer relationships that they manage through myriad contact points controlled by multiple functions.  Our Clients routinely manage complex interactions such as;

  • Advising customers when they should expect a clear diagnosis
  • Trying to describe what an experience will feel like
  • Explaining in a moment of crisis why an urgent need can’t be met faster

When we interview staff the vast majority feel they are very clear and do set realistic expectations.  They conclude that customers wilfully ignore what has been said.  Often our first task is to get an organisation to accept it is their failing and not the customer’s fault.  Only then can they look deeper to develop better practice that successfully aligns expectations.

Just because you said it doesn't mean they heard it.

Examining interactions in detail shows service descriptions can be vague, confusing and contradictory:

  • Organisations and their staff instinctively gloss over less flattering facts preferring to highlight the best case
  • Terms which may have a specific meaning to you can be poorly understood and used interchangeably by your customers
  • Customers aren’t required to pay close attention
  • Customers fill in gaps in their knowledge with assumptions based by what they experience every day from their bank / supermarket / Amazon
  • Customers may have heard what you said will happen but don’t necessarily understand why it is so

When did you last review how your policies and communications are developed?  Do your policy makers, product managers, marketing and customer facing staff work together to develop consistent communications?

In most organisations customer facing staff aren’t familiar with fast changing policy or are given scripts that fail to create empathy.  Very few are coached to find their own words to communicate what can be difficult conversations.

At a most basic level staff in most organisations don’t know how to effectively check that customers have heard or understand what has been said.

And finally very few organisations routinely capture expectations or look for the gaps between expectation and delivery.

So what can you do?

Here are five actions you can take that will help you understand and improve the way customer expectations are set by your organisation.

  1. Customer journey mapping supported by qualitative and quantitative research is a great way to find out if you have an expectation problem and where it exists in the customer journey.  It will also allow you to prioritise which interactions you should address first.
  2. A service design review can help the organisation improve the way policy is created and communicated internally.
  3. A customer contact strategy will help you refresh what you communicate externally, how you communicate it, when and to who.
  4. An effective coaching culture can help customer facing staff deliver complex and difficult messages consistently but with empathy.
  5. And simple training and regular tracking can help individuals, and the wider organisations check that what has been said or written has been understood.

If you’d like to discuss any of these issues or solutions do contact us.  We are always happy to share relevant experiences over a coffee and help you develop a plan that is appropriate for your organisation.

* (2000) EXPECTATION THEORY. In: Swamidass P.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Production and Manufacturing Management. Springer, Boston, MA