By pa360, Jan 30 2015 06:13AM
The extent to which a business achieves the level of success that it hopes for, depends on whether or not that business is able to meet the varied and multi-dimensional expectations of its customers.
Yet, understanding customer expectation is far from straightforward and can actually be quite challenging. On the one hand, there are those fundamental or non-negotiable expectations that derive from the 'promise' between the supplier and the customer (eg: that a product or service 'says what it does and does what it says'). Then there are the implicit expectations that customers have, which reflect their insatiable wants and desires for something better (eg: a phone that doesn't just tell the time, but also reads the pulse, monitors the heart rate and scans the brain).
Just how well a business is able to operate across and between each of the above boundaries will determine whether the needs of customers are being met as well as how quickly and sustainably that business can attract and build a loyal customer base. With all this in mind, set out below are seven ways to meet customer expectations.
1. Cultivate customer appetite
When I think of modern day brands that have mastered the art of cultivating customer appetite, I immediately think of Apple and Star Wars. Whether or not you are an Apple product user or Star Wars aficionado, one has to acknowledge the skill and craft with which both products have been marketed and the aura that has been built around them. So much so in fact that, even the anticipation of new Apple product or a new offering from the Star Wars universe, seems enough to satisfy the hunger (albeit temporarily) of the respective fan bases. However, if like me you are not fanatical about either product, then no amount of hunger will drive you to develop an appetite for them. The point being made here is that even if customers have a hunger for a product they are still much more likely to choose one that they have an appetite for, than one that they do not.
2. Over-sell and over-deliver
Two of the most effective ways to get noticed by your customers is to over-sell and over-deliver. In simple terms, your customers expect you to do what you promise. As part of this, they rightly expect suppliers to return value. However, the commitment to over-sell and over-deliver speaks to a desire to return not just value, but added-value (something that customers often hope for, but cannot reasonably expect). To the extent that a supplier makes the principle and practice of returning added-value part of their product or service offer, then that will become the customer's expectation. The key learning point here is that in some circumstances, suppliers may need to think out of the box in order to incentivise customers to look at them, when they would ordinarily be inclined to look at others.
3. Cultivate a customer entitlement culture
Customers will always expect what they think they are entitled to. To the extent that a supplier has the capacity and capability to realise these entitlement-driven expectations, then considerable influence can be exerted over the market-place. This is not to be sniffed at, especially if it enables a supplier to gain a potential market advantage over their competitors. But there is more; entitlement also creates a different kind of supplier-client relationship, one which is predicated as much on 'culture' (ie: custom, practice and convention) than the quality of the product or service itself. This type of relationship is also much more likely to produce customer loyalty and dependency, where customers do not so much need products because they want them, they want them because they need them.
4. Recognise where the wind of customer sentiment is blowing and adjust your sails
From time to time the weight of customer sentiment clearly and unequivocally points in a particular direction. At such a time, there really is nothing to debate about, the customer has spoken and suppliers either fall into line or fall out of favour. As a case in point, look at the instant messaging app market, which over the years has been saturated with products. During that period, some products have emerged as market-leaders, with 'everyone' seeming to be using them one minute and then migrating en masse to a different product, the next minute. Trying to remain competitive in an environment where customer sentiment has clearly shifted away from you is the market-place equivalent of circling a drain - you can only go in one direction and that's down. Better to redefine your product to capture a 'boutique' market or get out altogether and try something completely new.
5. Be mindful that, often, the customer does not know what they really want
Human wants are insatiable. That insight, shared by my former economics lecturer has forever shaped my understanding of customer expectation. By definition, customers cannot get enough of the things that they want and are often on a perpetual search for something even better. Part science and part art, even the most well funded and experienced marketing teams cannot predict with absolute certainty what products will succeed and which ones will fail. At a fundamental level, of course all customers want products and services that represent excellent value for money. However, beyond that, the lives of customers are so multi-faceted and diverse, the scope for meeting their expectations is incredibly broad. The key learning point here is that once you get the basics right, most customers are ready to be impressed and more than happy to be surprised.
6. Stop thinking that the customer is always right
Every business or supplier has heard of the phrase: ‘the customer is always right’. It is something of a customer service mantra that is hammered into just about anyone engaged in consumer driven transaction. However, in reality, the presumed rightness of the customer is actually a crude, unsophisticated and dare I say patronising way of framing the supplier- client relationship. The fact is that customers are not always right and neither do they expect to be. Rather, customers want to be understood, treated with dignity and not have their rights trampled upon by suppliers looking to engage in sharp and questionable practice for profit. Treat your customers as rational, sensible and reasonable individuals. Put yourself in their shoes, respect their right to their experience. Not only that; give them straight answers, offer them alternatives and don’t keep them waiting whilst you’re at it.
7. Raise expectation
A great way to meet the expectation of your customer is to raise it. That is to say, once you have reached the promised benchmark or delivered on the agreed guarantee, go even further and do something different or prepare to do something more. Raised expectation is also important because, by adopting this is a principle, it becomes difficult to slip into complacency. Instead, a commitment to raise expectation speaks to the continual growth, development and enhancement of a product or service. With continual and consequential growth, the overall experience of the customer is also likely to improve.
In conclusion, a business should never be passive in the face of customer expectation. Not only are there a number of active steps that could and should be taken to meet the needs and wants of customers, there are specific actions that a business can take to influence and create customer expectation as well.