Your End of the Bargain

Make customers happy and avoid unnecessary conflict by setting clear expectations and then meeting or exceeding them.

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We all have expectations. Whether as the result of past experience or just a sense of fairness, each and every customer has expectations when they are interacting with you or your organization. Effectively managing these expectations can increase your business, make your customers much happier, and avoid unnecessary conflict.

Understand what your customers value

Customers want to be taken seriously. They want you to be competent and efficient. They want you to give them feedback and keep them aware of what is going on. They want the truth, even if it is bad news and they require your respect and attention.

Our company recently surveyed our customers to better understand what they value. One of the biggest concerns was not getting enough feedback when they sent in a piece of equipment for repair. While our service center was completing 90 percent of all repairs within 24 hours, they would occasionally forget to update the customer and let them know what they had diagnosed or when the repair was going to be completed. In this case, it was obvious that the customers were happy with the work we were doing but desired more communication so they could plan effectively. This led to the adoption of a case management system that updates the customer via email or text during each phase of a repair, including tracking information on the return shipment and solicitation of feedback after the equipment is back in use.

An important part of understanding what your customers value is the ability to be open to criticism and create a culture where complaints are welcomed. If a customer is experiencing a problem with your product or service, you must listen to them. As you begin to better manage expectations, you will find that the number of "complaints" decrease, and the quality of the information you get from unsatisfied customers will help you adjust to their needs and improve your overall service level.

Understand what you can provide

Continuous innovation and improvement should be your goal, but you need to have reasonable expectations regarding what your organization can and cannot provide. No organization can do everything. Focus on the core aspects of your company and culture that set you apart from the competition. Taking on a project that is outside your expertise or capabilities can lead to a dissatisfied customer and can serve as a major distraction from more profitable activities.

Spell it out and don't be afraid to say "no"

Work to align your customers' expectations with what you are capable of delivering. Seek to understand customers' expectations and negotiate based on their needs and what you are capable of providing. Be honest and do not be afraid to tell the customer that your solution may not be the best for their particular need. "No" is not a dirty word as long as you make sure the customer understands that you care about their problem and are working with them to find a solution. The relationship you build with the customer during this process will be invaluable. Repeat and clarify expectations at every opportunity. Write them down.

You should also make sure that customers know what your expectations are. Are you going to require payment up front or in 30 days? What is your warranty procedure? Making customers aware of your organizational expectations ensures that you can avoid many unnecessary conflicts down the road.

Rubber hits the road

The final and most important step is keeping your promises. Relationships are built on expectations, and positive relationships only form when both parties do what they say they are going to do. Setting reasonable expectations and meeting them on a continual basis will earn you a loyal customer and a relationship that can weather problems down the road.

If for any reason you cannot meet expectations, make sure you communicate. The argument "it is better to ask forgiveness than permission" is a lie. Good relationships require the communication of bad news as much as good news. On the other hand, if you are capable of exceeding expectations, make sure that your customer is aware of it. The expectations you set at the beginning of the interaction are a benchmark for what is anticipated.

It's the relationship

Do not get caught in the trap of thinking of each customer interaction as a transaction and do not be afraid to break the rules occasionally. However, be aware that the main goal of setting expectations is to reduce stress and improve the customer experience. Uncertainty carries its own costs, and when your customers can trust that you will hold up your end of the bargain, they will appreciate it.


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