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How to Exceed Customer Expectations

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Are you in the running for a profitable year or could decreasing numbers be a result of undelivered expectations?

Expectation -- what a loaded word! Defined as "a notion of something: a mental image of something expected, often compared to its reality," expectations are everywhere. As kids, our folks had expectations of us. As consumers, we have expectations of those businesses we patronize. As business owners, success ultimately rests on our ability to meet and even better, exceed, our customer's expectations.

Expectations can be tricky, too. Sometimes they are built on foundations we provide -- advertising, promotion and buzz. Other times they are set for us. Whether the picture painted is accurate or over the top, managing your patron's expectations is critical to your business and its reputation.

Is Mere Satisfaction Good Enough?

Customers and clients chose to do business with you via a number of channels -- word of mouth referrals, online reviews, your website, your social media participation, printed collateral, even the look and feel of your storefront if they happen to be passing by. Regardless of the avenue, a snapshot of their experience at your place of business was instantly created, filed away for comparison at a later date.

I think it's safe to say that most consumers and clients have the same basic expectations -- honesty, a fair price and good value, product or service satisfaction, and a sincere relationship. Consumers in general look to a business -- in many cases the business' representative, the person that answers the telephone, greets them in the lobby, or replies to their online query -- for good advice, reliable information, efficient service and in some cases empathy.

A key business indicator, customer satisfaction has everything to do with customer loyalty -- especially return and referral business. I'd posit that most of us do business with organizations that we are merely satisfied with. This does not make us exceptionally eager to continue the relationship, nor anxious to terminate it. However, if a friend or associate mentioned a better mousetrap, chances are we'd be more than willing to defect. That's the end result of mere satisfaction.

Setting and Managing Expectations

So what does it take to excel in the customer's mind? Take a few moments and review how you present yourself and your business to the world. While everyone understands the value of sizzle, in the end, a tough steak is difficult to stomach. Be honest with yourself when looking at the expectations you are setting and the buzz you're promoting. Are they realistic? Do they represent who you are and what you'd like to be known for? Does your brand align with the expectations you are setting?

The scenarios -- or expectations -- you've created around your business are like little promises. When managing expectations, be clear about your promises. Work hard to exceed them with not only first-time patrons but with established customers and clients as well. A friend of mine of often says it's easy to make the first sale. Making subsequent sales, deals or agreements is most likely contingent upon how you and your business performed -- and not always so easy. Can you consistently make good on your promises -- every time, every touch point?

Simply deliver and you've merely satisfied, miss the mark on any of the little promises you've made and you may or may not see that customer again, over deliver and you are a hero.

The Little Things Really Do Matter

No doubt you've heard, and maybe even subscribe to, the Tom Peters quote, "Formula for success: under promise and over deliver." Does this mean downplay the highlights of your business so as to pleasantly surprise when they do business with you? Of course not. You perform a delicate dance with your customers or clients, striving to deliver what's been promised while achieving more than mere satisfaction. The basic premise of expectation is simple: if you offer it, deliver it. But the memory-making magic lies in the simple notion of going the extra mile or as motivational speaker Bob Farrell would say, "give 'em the pickle."

The concept is silly in its simplicity, yet extraordinary in its results. In a high energy, well-received training video, Give 'Em the Pickle, Farrell encourages employees to treat their customers like the boss -- because in reality, that's what they are. "Pickles" are the little extras that can be done to make your patron's experience stand out -- hence the mantra "give 'em the pickle."

Are You a Pickle Promoter?

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Santa Barbara, CA. During my stay I was to meet with prospective clients from overseas. Interested in setting the bar high for my business, I went about finding ways to make their trip easy and enjoyable, and that began with where they would park. Not familiar with the area, I called the front desk of my modest but perfectly-located inn and asked the manager for recommendations. To my surprise, he suggested they park in the inn's small lot for the day. The visit was a success, my host kind and helpful, and, in my eyes, the value of my stay was elevated. Pickles all around.

On a separate trip to Los Angeles, CA, I had only an afternoon to explore an unfamiliar area and asked my host about the neighborhood's highlights. He suggested I take a stroll and pointed me in a direction. I appreciated the advice and set out to see the sights. When I had an opportunity to chat with him later that evening, I mentioned a funky little trolley car that I had seen that day. With only that prompting, he rattled off all the highlights of the area that I had missed, including the historic Angels Flight railway, a couple architectural gems, and a historic filming location that was not to be missed, though miss it I did. "Gosh, I'm sorry I forgot to tell you about those," rang hollow. Though the lodging was provided as advertised, sadly I considered the stay to be a pickle-free zone.

These examples demonstrate how critical you and your staff are in representing your business. What "pickle" opportunities are you missing at your business every day -- simple but meaningful actions and words that could potentially turn a merely satisfied customer or client into an evangelist?

There are a myriad of ways to exceed expectations without breaking the bank:

  • when possible start at "yes"
  • ask questions of your customers and clients so you understand their expectations
  • work to develop relationships
  • clearly communicate at every level of your operation
  • deliver exceptional quality
  • be present and prompt
  • always make your deadlines
  • thank customers and clients for their business

Proving Ground

The way you meet expectations makes a lasting impression. From the manner in which you handle a disappointed customer or client to the pickles you and your staff hand out, remember, voting happens with wallets. Setting, managing and exceeding customer and client expectations may very well be the determining factor when purchasing decisions are made. Walk a mile in the customer's shoes -- after all, they truly are your ultimate boss.