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Remember the old saying, “If you never expect anything, then you’ll never be disappointed”? Well, that might work for blind dates and birthday gifts, but in business, expectations are impossible to avoid. For every action that a customer takes, there was an expectation that preceded it. Obviously, customers take action because they believe that action will yield a specific result. Over time, that belief – that something will or won’t happen – is solidified. It discourages or encourages future action. The resulting momentum, for good or bad, reaffirms their belief. The cycle is then perpetuated and a customer’s loyalty is either lost or gained.
This simple psychological loop is perpetuated by whether your business failed to meet, met or exceeded a customer’s preconceived notions. In short, customer expectations define the customer experience.
Fortunately, if you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide. There are four foundational elements that define your customers’ expectations. Mastering all four is the key to exceeding your customers’ expectations every time and keeping that customer for life.
Who you are is the key to what you should do and how you should do it.
Every potential customer begins to build a mental profile of your business the moment he becomes aware that it exists. Millions of years of evolution have hardwired us to save mental energy by recognizing patterns that predict the world around us. As a result, your potential customer immediately and unconsciously makes assumptions about what to expect from the culture she observes. Subtle and not-so-subtle clues convey information and frame the expected tone of your interaction even before your initial contact. The cleanliness of your parking lot, the options on your automated answering service, and the wrinkles and stains on your employees’ uniforms all add to the story that you are already telling.
The story begins with your logo and your branding; they tell their own story. But your messaging and the medium through which it travels also reveal hidden truths about the culture of your business. More often than not, your culture defines your service level but not your messaging. And if the reality of your service falls short of the expectations defined by your messaging, the customer feels duped and is less likely to return.
The key to mastering this element is to maintain consistency between your branding and messaging and the reality of the service you provide.
An impressive depth of knowledge is nothing without parallel performance and vice versa. Imagine you are interviewing a potential financial advisor who is vying for your business. On the wall behind his mahogany desk hang degrees and various certificates showing him to be well-educated. He answers your questions clearly and succinctly without too much industry jargon, and by all accounts, conveys confidence in his abilities and authority over his domain. However, the prospectus for his recommended investments shows below-market performance every year for the past decade. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Probably not.
Now, reverse the scenario. Imagine he has consistently outperformed the market for ten years, but during the interview he sounds uneducated and is unable to answer questions about why or how that performance was achieved. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Again, probably not.
The point is that your customer makes assumptions about your credibility because of and sometimes in spite of your performance. Knowledge of your industry isn’t enough. Comparably, past performance isn’t enough.
The key to mastering this element is to know why and how, not just one or the other.
Revenues will not materialize without the infrastructure they require.
Entrepreneurs and business owners are by definition resourceful. Not only have they recognized and seized opportunity, but they have also navigated a complex process. However, once the business is operational, their minds often transition from a focus on opportunity and innovation to a focus on reduction and optimization. Corners are often cut and resources are limited in the name of costs.
Imagine you are looking for a restaurant to host your engagement party. Which restaurant would you choose: A) an understaffed eatery where the food is always amazing or B) a place with amazing service where the food is always good? Most would choose restaurant B because the quality of your product has nothing to do with your scalability.
In the minds of customers, how you execute at a smaller level creates the expectations of your ability to execute at a larger level. Would you actually prefer to earn a few extra dollars if doing so limited the growth of your business? Doubtful. In the end, nothing is more costly than playing it safe.
The key to mastering this element is to realize that preparation actually creates opportunity.
Your command over the process should eliminate customer effort – they expect results without effort on their part. After all, why would they pay you if they have to work? But work, in this instance, isn’t just the service you provide, it is also the effort a customer must exert to yield results. Obviously, if she has to call multiple times and talk to multiple people to yield results, your process has failed and you have likely lost her business. On the contrary, effortless results yields repeat business.
If you haven’t mapped your customer flow, you should do so immediately. If you have, take a look at it and note each time the customer is required to act in any way or left wondering what to do next. Paperwork, phone calls, appointments, hold times and commutes are all work for the customer. You must take command of the process and limit the effort she exerts … especially during your very first interaction. Doing so will create the expectation that calling you yields effortless results.
The key to mastering this element is clear communication of a well-defined and effortless process.
The point is, customers choose to frequent businesses that consistently meet or exceed their expectations and they form their expectations before they ever walk in the door or pick up the phone. Your culture, credibility, capacity and command define whether you exceed their expectations and gain a customer for life – or fall short and send them to a competitor.
About the Author:
Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more info, visit: TraWilliams.com.
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