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The Value Of Setting Customer Expectations

The old adage is “the customer is always right.” This is true, if as a vendor, you fail to set the proper expectations for the customer. When vendors do not take the steps to set the proper expectations, they take a risk in that their customers then set their own expectations, which may be unrealistic.

Not too long ago I spoke with a potential customer who told me that they wanted a strategy developed and program implemented in 60-days. After some discussion and education on why this was not feasible, the customer had a better understanding of the depth of their problem, understood why it would take longer and was also equipped to educate his peers and set internal expectations for the engagement.

This is not to say we need to push against our customers and what they need, but by educating our customers, we can properly set an expectation, meet the expectation and thus provide an excellent customer experience.

So how does an organization properly set the expectations of their customers and still provide a great customer experience? Here are a few recommendations:

Educate Your Customer

Customers today are more demanding than ever and want an immediate payoff for their investments. Like it or not, we live in an instant gratification culture and this approach is often found in many organizations. While customers have real needs and want to see immediate payoff, the reality is that with many purchases such as software and professional services, it takes time before the return on investment is realized.

With this being the case, it is necessary to educate or as CEB states, “challenge” our customers. Many customers know they have a problem or challenge they must address. However, the truth is (as I state in the story above) they do not fully understand the depth of their needs. If organizations will take the time to educate their customer and infuse knowledge into their marketing, sales, service and support, they will endear themselves to their customers and build a much stronger relationship.

Actively Listen

I was recently on the phone with a customer service agent about an issue I was having with a product I purchased. Over the course of the first few minutes I was interrupted and given solutions to a problem I did not have. As my frustration grew, I finally said, “I need you to listen to me and please let me finish. You are not addressing my problem and I would like to again let you know what I need.”

Too many times in our attempt to help our customers, we rush to try and offer a solution. By actively listening to our customers, telling them what we believe we just heard and then offering practical solutions and defining what those solutions will entail, we will deliver a positive. When we jump the gun and try to be the problem solver with no context we just tell our customers that we are not truly vested in their success.

Embrace The Power of No

Yes, this one goes against the grain a bit, but sometimes we need to be able to tell our customers no. This is not to say we refuse to meet their needs, but sometimes they will ask for things that will not in any way address their issues.

I once had this conversation with a VP of Marketing who was dictating the next level of service his company needed. In our meeting I let him know that I was not comfortable with this approach, as it would go no further to solving the challenges his organization was facing. However, there was an alternative that would address some bigger problems and would also ultimately deliver what he was looking to implement.

Organizations need to be comfortable with the occasional no to their customers. Yes, it goes against the grain of conventional wisdom, but a “no” followed-up with an alternative solution shows our customers we are committed to doing things in a better way and still looking out for their best interests.

Our buyers and customers are continually growing more sophisticated and have a wealth of information. However, as vendors, part of delivering customer experience is helping take that information and turn it into knowledge for our customers with each interaction. Vendors who make this a consistent practice will build stronger customer relationships, be able to better set expectations and deliver better customer experience.


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