Why you have to meet and exceed customer expectations


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It is important to communicate and set expectations correctly to avoid disappointment

Cheryl Hanna wrote an interesting post titled “The Art of Meeting Customer Expectations” in which stresses the need to clearly communicate and agree upon expectations between the organisation and the customer. She goes on to tell us how her non-tech savvy mother ended up buying a Blackberry because the sales person assured her that it was easy to use. It turns out that her mother does not find it easy to use and she is frustrated and unhappy.

I am in agreement with Cheryl on the need to set the right expectations up front. I have written about how the folks in Marketing and Sales are the source of most poor customer experiences: both of these functions tend to promise what the rest of the organisation is unable or unwilling to deliver. I have been the delivery person who has had to sit down with the customer and explain that despite what the sales person said it is simply not possible for me to provide the Sun and the Moon overnight and at that price.

Research suggests that customers have 4 distinct expectations

Where the story gets interesting is that Francis Buttle wrote the following in response to Cheryl’s post:

“I agree that it’s critical to understand expectations. The trouble is there are different levels of expectation. I published some research on this back in the early1990?s. The fieldwork showed that customers can think of expectation at 4 levels of abstraction, as follows.

1. Expectations of performance : “I expect to have my car serviced within 2 days of calling the workshop”
2. Desires: “I want my car serviced the day I call the workshop”
3. Experience-based norms: “Most people normally have to wait 3 days to have their car serviced”
4. Ideal standards: “My car should be serviced overnight and delivered to my home the next morning”

Competitive advantage is enjoyed by meeting ‘ideal standards’, but this can be extremely costly to deliver.”

Should we meet or exceed expectations?

Reading Francis’ comments I was reminded by the incessant conversation around whether one should meet or exceed customer expectations. On the one hand you have folks who are absolutely convinced that you have to exceed customer expectations and delight customers. On the other hand, there are folks who are adamant that exceeding customer expectations is simply flushing money down the toilet as it does not necessarily lead to customer loyalty and a return on investment.

In the real world only one expectation really matters

My personal experience suggests that the real world is a lot simpler than many of us make it out to be. Allow me to explain. Whilst Francis’ research may show 4 different types of expectations, I believe that the one that matters is the one that we are conditioned to expect – what Francis Buttle refers to as ‘experience based norms’. That is to say what I have been used to (personally) and what my social circle tells me that they are used to. That is the expectation that I am expecting you, the supplier, to meet. If you fail to meet this then I will be disappointed. If you exceed that expectation then I will be pleased.

In the real world you need to both meet and exceed customer expectations

The world is full of suppliers that are competing for my business. If you want to end up on my radar then you have to both meet and exceed my expectations. If you meet my expectations then I am likely to do business with you. If you exceed my expectations from time to time then you will stand out and thus help yourself to a bigger share of my spend on your category of product or service. Allow me to illustrate this through an example.

How Diet and Fitness Resources has put itself firmly on my radar for fitness supplies

Recently, I wanted to buy a Swiss ball and so I searched for it on the Internet and found plenty of suppliers. So why did I end up buying it from Diet and Fitness Resources ? Quite simply because their website was the one that I found the easiest to read / make sense of, their price was competitive and I liked the fact that the delivery charges were clearly spelled out on the home page and were reasonable. Other suppliers made it hard for me to get hold of this information; one supplier had made me go through the purchasing process only to hit me with a delivery charge of £10 right at the end – a charge I was not willing to pay.

So I chose to do business with Diet and Fitness Resources because they were the first supplier that I came across which met my expectations around the website, the price and the delivery charge.

Once I had placed the order I got an email confirmation about my order. The email confirmation itself met my expectations as I am used to getting these confirmations when I buy stuff on the Internet. What exceeded my expectations – because I remember noticing this and being surprised – was the fact that the email came from a human being (Zoe Harris) rather than a faceless autoresponder.

The next surprise that I got was the second email which arrived within half an hour of the first email. This email was once again from Zoe and simply stated that the order had been dispatched. This took me by surprise because many suppliers do not send this kind of email and the ones that do tend to take between 1 – 3 days to dispatch the goods and send the email. Whilst I was surprised, I did not actually pay any attention because the Diet and Fitness Resources had set the expectation that I was likely to get the goods 2-3 days after placing the order. And that is exactly what I have been used to with other suppliers.

When the Swiss Ball arrived the next day, Diet and Fitness Resources were firmly established on my buying radar. Why? Because they had under-promised and over delivered. Put differently they had exceeded my expectations. And they have done so on the very first occasion that I have done business with them.

Two lessons around customer expectations

  1. If you the supplier meet my expectations then I will do business with you. However, if you want more than your fair share of my spend on your category of product then it really helps if you exceed my expectations occasionally. And a great moment to exceed my expectations is on the first order I place with you. Why? Because it is critical moment, it is where I am trusting you, and if you over deliver then you will stand out. That is simply how it is to be human.
  2. Whilst you the supplier can take action to shape my expectation the reality is that I already have my own expectations. They have probably been set by your competitors. And if you are selling goods over the Internet then it is likely that those expectations have been set by Amazon. So you have to match those expectations or hope that Amazon does not supply the products that you are selling. Alternatively, you have to be willing to offer a cheaper price to tempt me to buy from you.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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