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    Setting the Right Expectations

    Posted by Luis Serpa on June 1, 2007 - 9:49 PM

    Traffic Light - Setting ExpectationsI recently vacationed at a beach resort in Mexico. Before leaving, I was stressed, tired and a little bored. I didn’t really plan the trip beforehand, so I just hoped to have a clean place to sleep and relax for a whole week.

    Once in Cancun, I rented a crappy car and stayed in a crappy hotel. The infra-structure in some places was almost non-existent and the food was often too spicy for my taste. Nevertheless, the car was drivable, the room was clean, the water was clear, the weather was sunny and the nights were warm and full of excitement. I enjoyed every minute of it. I would go back in a heartbeat and I definitely recommend the experience to anyone.

    But it’s funny how some people tell me about their really bad experiences in Cancun, under exactly the same conditions. What was different? They had higher expectations! For me, what was just another colorful experience to add to my memoirs was, to those other travelers, a tortured experience to blot from their memory. Because they expected everything about the trip to be great, the actual experience could only disappoint.

    Now imagine your boss assigns you an important task. The task is due in five days, but you know you can do it in two. If you just accept the deadline and surprise her by delivering it three days ahead of time, you are remarkable. On the other hand, if you promise to deliver in two days, you reset her expectations, and when you make the shorter deadline, you become just a reliable resource. Now, what would happen if you finished two days before the original due date, but one day after your promised date? That’s right – you fail to meet her new expectations and may be deemed untrustworthy.

    In short, to have more you should expect less!

    As crazy as it sounds, it is basically true. But let’s rephrase it for the business world: to amaze your customers, you need to set the right expectations. But what is the right expectation? Different people have different expectations in different situations. In some industries, demands and circumstances may lead you to set very high expectations as a baseline (e.g., Target’s motto:“Pay LESS, Expect MORE.”). Even worse, expectations frequently change over time and not everyone will expect the same things from you.

    That’s the challenge companies are facing today: How to set the right Customer Expectations. Why are expectations important?  Because:

    1. You have to provide a great Customer Experience to maximize customer lifetime value, loyalty and retention.
    2. A great Customer Experience is directly dependent on customers’ expectations.
    3. Customers will take your company’s promises for granted and you never retain customers by meeting their minimum expectations.
    4. To provide the best possible Customer Experience, you have to regularly exceed your customers’ expectations.
    5. To exceed customer expectations, you need to set the RIGHT expectations for your product or service.
    6. You must promise less than your full capability, but more than the customers’ minimum expectations.
    7. Your promises (and your capabilities) must be at least on par with the competition in order to acquire new customers.
    8. It’s easier to know you own capabilities (and the competition’s for that matter) than to know your customers’ expectations.
    9. What you do today will not be enough tomorrow. Expectations change over time and according to the situation.
    10. Your buyers and your users have totally different expectations, even when they are the same person!
    11. You can’t afford to not meet your customers’ expectations.
    12. If you don’t run some risks, you become stale and predictable, and will eventually fail to meet your customers’ expectations.
    13. You can please some people for some of the time, but you can’t please everyone all the time.

    So how can you possibly create the right expectations? Here are some guidelines:

    • Identify who is (or should be) your customer.
    • Get to know your customer and understand their expectations.
    • Don’t follow everyone’s expectation! If it’s not your target, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a distraction.
    • Don’t play it safe. Maintaining the status quo is the quickest way to become ordinary and one step away from failing to meet ever-changing expectations.
    • Define your own Customer Experience metrics and track them.
    • Ask for feedback at every opportunity and make it a part of your continuous improvement process.
    • Be careful with customer surveys. Most customers will lie to you (even if they don’t mean to).
    • Put yourself in your customer’s place. View your product/service from his or her perspective and find what you can do to improve your customers’ experience.
    • Apply Usability concepts to all you do. Your buyers will expect to get everything they can – all the bells and whistles, but when they become your users they want simplicity.  Usability will keep your features out of your users’ way.
    • When you fail to meet an expectation, turn around and surprise your customers with something that will certainly exceed their expectations

    In business, as in life, expectations define a good experience. If you exceed expectations often, people will love you. If you repeatedly fail to meet expectations, they will hate you. Above all, if you are simply meeting all expectations all the time, people will be indifferent. When you never stand out, it is just a matter of time before a competitor acquires your customers.

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    3 Responses to “Setting the Right Expectations”

    1. […] simple language: Set the right expectations, and be ready to invest as much in retention as you do in […]

    2. […] She was good at understanding our needs and then setting the right expectations. […]

    3. […] avoid discussions on the actual value of the service provided.  (I wrote about it 2 years ago – click here to see the post) Now, how to set the right expectations? It is a mix of confidence in your own capabilities and […]

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