Learn how to manage expectations

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Many people wonder what it takes to make customers talk positively about a company, because everyone dreams of obtaining a high ‘Net Promoter Score’ and a stream of positive tweets on Twitter. The most creative and most brilliant campaigns are invented to get there. And sometimes such a campaign is a bull’s-eye, sometimes it’s a total miss. Nonetheless the answer to the question is rather basic: people will talk positively about a company if a company will go slightly beyond what they expect. That’s easy, no?

Determining limits

A company determines its own limits. The art is to do slightly more than what you promise. People tend to do the opposite though and promise a little bit more than what they effectively do. How often does a company promise to ring you back the next morning, yet they only do so in the afternoon? This is not a real drama of course, but it is slightly less than what was promised. Some time back I read a brilliant blog post on that subject, written by Guillaume Van der Stighelen. He described four situations to do with managing expectations.

  1. Your company realises less than what was promised. It does not succeed to meet the promises. The customer is disappointed. These are grounds for a negative conversation.
  2. Your company realises as promised. You did exactly what you promised the customer. This leads to satisfaction, but not to a perfect score. The number of conversations is rather limited.
  3. Your company does slightly more than what was promised and you manage to serve the customer slightly quicker, better and more amiable than expected. If you manage to do so, that is where positive conversations are born. Here are some examples: sending a document earlier than promised, the Apple product packaging, washing a car when it’s in for its service, a small extra dish which is not mentioned in the menu, solving problems with a smile…
  4. Your company does a lot more than promised. This situation might be good, but is not all that clever, actually. First of all the chance of your selling a product are reduced, because you promise too little. Secondly this may leave the customer feeling uncomfortable. Imagine that, with your first purchase, you immediately get to enjoy a private dinner with that company’s big boss, it will feel strange. In order to generate positive conversations, you do not need to exaggerate when dealing with the customer, because this may even lead to negative conversations. There is one exception, which is the once-off surprise. Do something exceptional for a customer and position it as such, and you might just make a customer extremely satisfied. A typical example is an upgrade from economy to business class in an airplane. Customers realise this is an exception, but still consider it to be fantastic.

Managing your expectations should become a rational process

Managing expectations is a science. You can train at doing it and thus obtain a gradual increase in conversations about your company. The most difficult moment takes place when you have to write your promise. We tend to think that many promises will make the customer satisfied, yet it will actually increase the risk of dissatisfaction.

Carglass is a company which is very good at this. It all starts when you make an appointment. After having filled out a form on the site, the customer receives a confirmation e-mail, which says a Carglass collaborator will contact them within the next 4 hours. Nothing special, you say? Yet it is, because most people are called within the hour. The expectations have therefore been exceeded a first time already. Carglass could just as well say that they will ring within the hour. Imagine that they succeed to do so in 95% of all cases, that would leave 5% of dissatisfied customers per hour. Remember: you determine the limits yourself. But it goes further than this. When the mechanic is on his way to go and replace the windscreen, he confirms his appointment 20 minutes beforehand. That way the customer knows exactly when the Carglass collaborator will get there.

In the end the mechanics do not only replace your car windscreen. They also make sure the car is clean. Any possible litter (e.g. an empty Coke can in the footwell) will be removed and if necessary they will rapidly vacuum the car. These are all minor details, but every touch point was well thought out. In every stage the company does that little bit more than what is expected. And customers love it.

Make a touch point score card

Should you be up for the challenge, it is handy to map every touch point with the customer. Check what you promise and how you actually perform. Verify for each point of interaction what could slightly exceed the expectations. Some of the elements you could map are: the reach (how many customers use this touch point), the current conversation value of the touch point, the customers’ satisfaction and also the collaborators’ satisfaction. The latter is not unimportant. The higher your collaborators’ satisfaction is, the higher your customers’ satisfaction will be.