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The Art of Expectation Management

It’s always difficult to know how much is enough for a customer or client when it comes to a product, a service or the maintenance of an ongoing business relationship. It all comes down to that question “What is the customer’s expectation?”

Customers are notoriously individual. Customers pick up the strangest ideas about the surrounding world. If we sell the best product or service out there but customers think it’s shit – sorry, but our product or service is shit with a capital S for Shit. That’s just the nature of the relationship; the customer gets to decide, not us.

I keep coming back to Tommy Wong’s challenge Imagine the customer has your money in their pocket and your job is to convince them to give it back to you? How do you achieve that goal?

A big part of meeting the challenge should involve serious thought about expectation management. Judging just how to slightly exceed customer / client expectations so they walk away with positive impressions that cause them to return for more business. We can provide that slightly better service than expected, features not mentioned in the brochure, early delivery or a small saving in cost. Free shipping. A ride to the hotel. Free Wi-Fi.

But it’s not that simple. It makes little sense to throw all of our resources at exceeding customer expectations if we have no idea of the appropriate amount or the underlying associated business costs. We need to consider individual customers; we need to work out how to achieve that little extra something in the real world at a minimum perceptible level in the customer’s mind where they notice but not so little or much that we use resources inefficiently. If we greatly exceed customer expectations then we may consume our hard-earned profits. If we don’t provide enough of an extra something to be noticed then we barely scrape by their expectations and may have been better off providing slightly less or adequate.

In a sense what we need to be considering is the question of how to differentiate ourselves in a cost-effective and efficient manner in ways that go just beyond what the customer has expected. We want a win-win.

It sounds easy to achieve until you get down to the nuts and bolts of it. Customer expectations fluctuate and are entirely individual. Their expectations walking in the door could change within minutes or be the same over months.

And to top the challenge off we have to realise that if we exceed a customer’s expectations on one occasion they may reset those expectations a little higher and the next time that little extra something is going to be expected… even demanded as their right.

However, if we’re in business then a big part of making it work is delivering a little above the line. We just have to make sure all our ducks fall into place – the people, the quality, the price, the delivery, the artefacts we provide.

All of the elements need to be wrapped up in a cohesive and digestible story that tries to realistically set and address customer expectations. All of it needs to funnel customer expectations into a considered direction. Because without that cohesive story you can’t manage anything. And with that story you might just achieve competitive advantage.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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