What Can Your Customers Expect?

By Jim Cross, J. Cross Associates, Inc., www.jcrossinc.com

Last summer, my wife and I hired a house sitter while we transitioned from our previous home to our new one. In exchange for full use of the house for the summer, the house sitter was to maintain the yard, using our lawn tractor and equipment. Sounds simple, right? As it turns out, the individual had no previous experience caring for a lawn or using lawn and garden equipment, so she had no idea what expectations were associated with caring for a lawn. The resulting bruised egos and blown lawn tractor engine taught us a valuable lesson in managing expectations.

It’s been my experience both in life and in business that many disagreements simply result from misunderstood or poorly communicated expectations. One party expects one set of circumstances to occur, or not occur, as the case may be, and the other party expects a slightly or totally different set of circumstances to occur. How well you manage the expectations created by your brand, and deliver on those expectations can be a distinct competitive advantage for your company.

Let’s take a look at your brand first. Is your brand promise aligned with your organization’s value proposition? I previously worked with a specialty vehicle manufacturer that described itself as a “premium lifestyle brand”. Notice that there is no mention of vehicles in the brand promise despite their being a vehicle manufacturer. Unable to compete feature for feature with mass produced performance/luxury vehicles such as the Chevrolet Corvette, BMW M3, and Dodge Viper, they instead focused on the brand experience. They drew heavily upon their successful road racing history and focused customers’ attention on the performance and racing heritage of the vehicles. The result was to create an expectation of exclusivity and pedigree about the brand. Ongoing support of the brand expectation was facilitated through limited production runs, an owner’s registry, exclusive owner’s club, and regional and national owner’s events that leveraged the celebrity of the company’s founder and President.

Contracts and sales agreements aside, your brand has several less formal opportunities to create and manage your customers’ expectations.

1.  How did the customer hear about you? Expectations are already being formed by the manner in which a customer comes to you. A customer originating from social media marketing may expect their brand experience to be more communal and personal, while a customer who finds you through more traditional marketing channels may expect more of a customer/vendor experience. A close alignment between the customers’ expectations and their actual experience may even shorten the sales cycle.

2.  How well does your organization understand your value proposition? When a customer comes to your door, literally or figuratively, what do they see? In the case of the vehicle manufacturer mentioned earlier, they supported dealers with exclusive merchandising to separate their vehicles from the balance of the vehicles on display. Interested customers were directed to “specialists” who were trained in the sales process for their high end performance vehicles.  From the beginning, customers knew that the brand experience was different from any they’ve experienced before.  Make sure that all of your customer touch points are clearly communicating what the customer can expect and what is expected from them.

Countless articles have been written about customer service, and all of us have experienced the best and worst of it at times. By thinking farther upstream and managing your customers’ expectations, your organization can mitigate the misunderstandings that can destroy customer relationships and ruin lawn tractor engines.

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