Buddha said something like, expectation is at the root of all suffering.
Whether you subscribe to that theory or not, you can likely agree that client
or customer expectations can set the stage for a terrible business review. You
see, excellent service doesn’t matter if they expected pizza at your Italian
restaurant and it wasn’t there.
Since most customer expectations can be
managed before they become issues, it’s wise to ensure everyone is focused on
the same thing and the same outcomes. Here’s how you can make that happen.
Be Upfront About Policy or
If you have a stringent return policy or don’t
allow for substitutions, be upfront about that. Don’t hide it in small print.
Make sure if someone is purchasing something that cannot be returned it is
communicated in writing and orally. Also, ensure that your customer-facing
employees understand the policy and why it’s in place. If they don’t, and a
customer complains, they may very well jump on the complaint bandwagon and
that’s bad for everyone.
This applies to inabilities as well. Several
months ago, romaine lettuce was unavailable due to a recall. This severely
impacted restaurants that serve Caesar salads. Unfortunately, many customers
who knew about the recall didn’t think about that favorite salad. If you’re
unable to deliver on something you normally do, don’t wait for someone to ask
for it. Tell them ahead of time so you can manage their expectations before it
becomes a major disappointment.
Implement a Client Onboarding
If you put a program in place that educates
your clients on process and escalation procedures, they’ll feel more of a part
of your company and will likely know what to expect. Communicating these things
keeps your customers from inventing them, which is often far worse.
Provide a Reliable Schedule
Be very specific about when a client or
customer can expect delivery but always build in a buffer on your end. It’s
better to give them a schedule that’s one-day longer than they think it should
take and deliver on time or before than it is to give them a date that sounds
great but isn’t possible. Speaking of…
Under Promise and Over Deliver
This is similar to setting a date above. Don’t
promise something you’re unsure you can deliver on. Many small businesses take
on large projects hoping they can get it done. They plan on building a name for
themselves with the new undertaking. But that fails to happen. If you can’t
deliver on what was promised, you will
make a name for yourself but it won’t be a good one.
Ask How You’re Doing
For the love of business, think twice before
sending out one of those over-done, lengthy surveys. Keep your language fun and
the survey short. Spend time on your subject line (if you’re sending it via
email) so people will open it. Don’t ask every time a customer or client works
with you. My vet sends me one on every visit even if I’m just buying dog food.
That’s too much. I rarely ever answer anymore.
Better yet, use a fun, interactive survey. For
instance, in your waiting room or lobby, use emoji magnets or paper faces to
vote on how well they think you’re doing.
A Final Word About Setting
While setting expectations and communicating
limits and process are good things, know that most people are aware of the
trend of customization that is affecting all industries. This trend is
encouraging people to follow the once popular Burger King motto, “Have it your
way.” With this change, you can expect that many of your customers aren’t going
to like overly stringent return policies and other stipulations. Find the right
mix of expressing policy and procedure with doing right by the customer.
It doesn’t mean you can’t have processes in
place. It just means you have to empower your staff to differentiate between
when the right time to set customer expectations is from the time to blow those
expectations out of the water.
Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers,
and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in
the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org,
AssociationTech, and WritersWeekly. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com
and the Event Manager Blog.
Christina is an introverted
writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.