When it comes to customer expectations, are you crushing it or getting crushed? Make no mistake, if you are a trusted advisor or small business owner, you are being judged and there will be a reckoning.
“Remember the old saying that if you never expect anything then you’ll never be disappointed?” asks author Tra Williams. “Well that might work on blind dates and birthday presents, but in business, expectations are impossible to avoid.”
Williams, an authority on customer expectations, is a professional speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership and entrepreneurship around the topic of customer experience.
“For every action that a customer takes, there was an expectation that preceded it,” says Williams. “Obviously, customers take action because they believe that action will yield a specific result.”
According to Williams, over time, that belief—the expectation something will or won’t happen—is solidified. Logically, the expectations discourage or encourage future action. Then the resulting momentum, for good or bad, reaffirms their belief. Williams concludes the cycle is then perpetuated and a customer’s loyalty is either lost or gained through this feedback loop.
“This simple psychological loop is perpetuated by whether your business failed to meet, met or exceeded a customer’s preconceived notions,” says Williams. “In short, customer expectations define the customer experience.”
Fortunately, says Williams, if you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide.
He contends there are four foundational elements that define your customers’ expectations. These are what he calls the four Cs of customer experience:
Culture. Who you are is the key to what you should do and how you should do it. “Every potential customer begins to build a mental profile of your business the moment he or she becomes aware that it exists,” says Williams. “The story begins with your logo and your branding; they tell their own story. But your messaging and the medium through which it travels also reveal hidden truths about the culture of your business. More often than not, your culture defines your service level but not your messaging. And if the reality of your service falls short of the expectations defined by your messaging, the customer feels duped and is less likely to return.”
Credibility. An impressive depth of knowledge is nothing without parallel performance and vice versa. “Imagine you are interviewing a potential financial advisor who is vying for your business,” poses Williams. “He has degrees on his wall behind his mahogany desk along with various certificates showing him to be well-educated. He answers your questions clearly and succinctly without too much industry jargon, and by all accounts, conveys confidence in his abilities and authority over his domain. However, the prospectus for his recommended investments shows below market performance every year for the past 10 years. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Probably not.”
Capacity. Revenues will not materialize without the infrastructure they require. “Entrepreneurs and business owners are by definition resourceful,” says Williams. “Not only have they recognized and seized opportunity, but they have also navigated a complex process. However, once the business is operational, their minds often transition from a focus on opportunity and innovation to a focus on reduction and optimization. Corners are often cut and resources are limited in the name of costs.”
Command. Your command over the process should eliminate customer effort. “Customers expect results without effort on their part,” says Williams. “After all, why would they pay you if they have to work? But work in this instance isn’t just the service you provide, it is also the effort a customer must exert to yield results. Obviously, if a customer has to call multiple times and talk to multiple people to yield results, your process has failed and you have likely lost that customer’s business. On the contrary, effortless results yields repeat business. If you haven’t mapped your customer flow, you should do so immediately.”
Overall, Williams’ point is this: Clients choose trusted advisors that consistently meet or exceed their expectations and they form their expectations before they ever walk in the door, respond to the website, or pick up the phone.
“Your culture, credibility, capacity and command define whether you exceed their expectations and gain a customer for life or fall short and send them to a competitor,” says Williams.