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Managing customer expectations

Customer service is all about expectation. A business that offers a fast response or a personal service is setting up an expectation. If that company does not fulfil its promise, its customers will be disappointed

This fundamental facet of customer service can be demonstrated in more detail in the diagram below.

The section above the dotted line represents the customer, who is influenced by a number of different things to form an opinion about what they might expect from your organisation.

  • They have word-of-mouth ideas from their friends or colleagues.
  • Through experience of other service providers they have some idea of what the competition might be offering.
  • They may have past experience of your organisation
  • They probably feel that their needs are unique to them.

These differing opinions distil into their customer expectation.

The area below the dotted line represents your organisation as the service provider.

There is the possibility that a number of gaps creep in between the customer service the customer expects to receive from you and the customer service they perceive they get from you.

Service provider image

Taking each gap in turn:

  • Gap 1 - You incorrectly assess what your customer expects. For example, the customer places an order early in the week expecting the delivery the next day, and certainly before the weekend; whereas you think they want it as soon as you can get it there.
  • Gap 2 - You use your assumptions to create a service specification BUT in doing so err from your original thoughts! You specify to your warehouse that delivery is to be 'as soon as possible' which is not the same as 'before the weekend'. (If you did not have a scheduled delivery until next week, 'as soon as possible' would end up becoming next week, whereas the customer expected delivery the next day).
  • Gap 3 - You don't ACTUALLY deliver what you say you will. (The delivery scheduled for next week was cancelled.)
  • Gap 4 - You tell your customers about your service specification. "We are getting it to you 'as soon as possible."
  • Gap 5 - Your customers do not get what they expect. While you may feel that you are doing your best to get the delivery 'as soon as possible', the customer's perception is that you are slow and unhelpful.

So, what are you promising your customers? Go through all the aspects of your communication to customers, your sales and marketing messages. Are your customers' expectations being met or exceeded?

The best way to wow your customers is to 'under-promise' and 'over-deliver'. If you know you can deliver in three days, promise five and your customer will be pleasantly surprised when you call with an early delivery date.

Good customer service comes from a 'can do' attitude. This is about being able to achieve things, being solution orientated, being happy and being prepared to go that extra mile.

'Can't do' people are identified by their blaming, cynical and discouraging attitudes; people that give justifications to customers such as 'it's not my fault' or 'well, it's company policy'. Such attitudes cost companies because customers want to be served by people that can solve their problems, not by those that have a long list of excuses.

For further articles and guidance on managing customer expections, see the Resources box on the right.