It’s something we all know is crucial to customer satisfaction. Every client arrives at a transaction with an expectation of what they will receive, and how we manage that expectation makes the difference between them leaving the transaction satisfied or frustrated.
But how much time do we really spend thinking about how to effectively manage those expectations from the outset?
Often the only time we give it serious thought is at the end of the process when we realize the customer is disappointed with the outcome.
Far better to address this issue at the beginning and bring the customer to a place where they know what the outcome will be and how you’re going to get them there.
So, let’s say you know all about a particular subject. There’s absolutely nothing you don’t know about it…
Now, try and explain that subject to someone with no knowledge of it at all.
What is likely to happen is that you’ll leave some parts out because they’re so obvious to you, you feel like they don’t even need saying.
You may be the expert, but you need to accept that, when it comes to your client’s knowledge of the subject matter, you don’t know what they don’t know.
For them to fully grasp the subject, they might have needed to know the parts you missed out.
So what’s happened is that you’ve lost your audience. You’ve put a gap between you and them by highlighting the fact that you’re the expert and they’re not.
Ok, so let’s put this into a real-world situation. Consider two examples:
1. For the first time in your life, you’re in the unfortunate position of needing the services of a funeral director. You don’t know what to expect, what to ask, or what you’re supposed to know and you’re feeling distressed and upset.
The funeral director is the expert here. Too few details from him could lead you to worry later when questions arise you hadn’t thought to ask. You need reassuring that he can handle this situation properly.
The duty of care lies with him to manage your expectations, to make sure that he is offering the right level of information, and to ensure he doesn’t miss things out so that you feel additional stress on top of what you’re already going through.
2. You need to decorate your living room. Previously you’ve always done the work yourself so you’re not too sure how this will go.
Two decorators have been called in to give you an estimate. The first arrives, takes a look around, gives you a price, and leaves.
The second arrives. He takes a look around. But then he sits down with you and explains how he will protect your flooring, describes how he will prepare the surfaces to give you the best finish, and some other general information about his work.
Only then does he give you a price.
Both decorators would likely have done the work in the exact same way, but the one that effectively managed your expectations will get the business. He showed you he warranted his price by explaining his process.
You weren’t sure what to anticipate at the beginning, but he answered questions up front that you hadn’t even thought of.
This gave you confidence in his expertise and you felt like you were getting value for money.
What do these two examples have in common?
In each case, the expert made no assumptions about your level of knowledge and experience and went to great lengths to ensure you understood every detail.
In the first case, you were reassured that everything was under control. In the second case, you felt confidence in the service provider and were happy to become a customer.
Simply put: explaining your processes right at the start leads to a better experience for your customer.
This reminds me of a story I heard about Claude Hopkins, an advertiser who lived in the early 1900’s.
The Schlitz brewing company were in financial trouble, so it enlisted the services of Claude Hopkins to try and help.
At the time, all brewing companies advertised in the same way – “Our beer is pure”. This claim meant nothing to the general public as all breweries said their beer was pure. Nobody ever explained what “pure” actually meant.
Hopkins took a tour of Schlitz’s brewery. He insisted on seeing their brewing process from start to finish. After his tour, it was clear to Hopkins that Schlitz’s methods of brewing were genuinely pure, but he demanded to know why the processes and techniques that made the beer pure had never been told to the people.
The manufacturer’s response was, “Because every beer manufacturer does it the same way”.
“But others have never told this story…”
He used the brewery’s process as the basis for his advertising campaign. He demonstrated what made Schlitz beer pure, highlighting, for example, techniques used for washing their bottles.
It was the same story any brewer could have told, but Hopkins gave meaning to the word “pure”. Essentially, he told the story that every brewery could have… but didn’t.
He implied that the techniques were unique to Schlitz and this is what made them successful.
Explaining your method in basic steps can make you stand out from the crowd because people may not be aware that these steps come as a standard feature.
In other words… treat your customer as naïve.
Naïve in the true sense of the word. Not condescending them, but recognizing that they genuinely don’t know what you know. You MUST recognize their lack of knowledge.
Of course, YOU know how things are going to play out because you do this all the time, but to manage THEIR expectations is to educate them as to what the process will be.
If you’re able to successfully manage expectations from the outset, the whole experience will be satisfying for all parties.
Of course, you want repeat business. Obviously, you want referrals. And if your customer feels that, at the very least, they got what they expected, they will be much more likely to come back.
In practice, this might be something as simple as adding an FAQ page to your website. This will demonstrate that you offer transparency and that you want to be clear about what will happen when the customer uses your service or purchases your product.
This works in a similar way to those confirmation emails you receive when you buy something online. One email might say, “Thanks for your payment, we’ve received the order.” The next tells you when the item has been dispatched.
Now, imagine if you didn’t receive these emails. You may start to worry, wondering about things like…
- Have they actually got my order?
- Has my payment been processed?
- Will my item even arrive?
- Is this a scam website?
All of these fears can be allayed by the simple receipt of the confirmation emails. We now have something tangible that we feel we can rely on. We know where we stand.
It’s a basic process that every Web-based company should follow: receive order, take payment, ship item. But allowing the customer to see those steps are being followed means they know what to expect.
And the customer can’t turn round later and say, “I didn’t know what the process was.” Both parties are on the same page and this leads to customer satisfaction.
Always remember that you’re the expert in your area. You have an expectation of how things will go because that’s your world view. But your world view and your customer’s world view are often completely different.
You need to merge those two views together.
Anything you can do to bridge the gap is going to allow you to effectively manage expectations and greatly increase the likelihood of customer satisfaction. And often it’s as simple as telling your customer WHY your beer is so pure.
Pete Williams is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia. At the young age of 21, he sold the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Australia’s Yankee Stadium) for under $500! He’s made the pages of numerous media publications and been dubbed as “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent.
Pete is the founder of several companies including On Hold Advertising, Infiniti Telecommunications, Simply Headsets, and Preneur Group. He has been named the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of Smart Companies: Top 30 Under 30.
Pete also has a popular blog that you can check out here.
* Published as Issue #218 on September 11, 2013