Understand and Meet Customer Expectations

Repeat business is the most profitable business, so losing a large part of your customer base hurts the bottom line, even if you replace the business with a fresh supply of customers. So how you do that is critical.

I often find interesting articles that are right on by Chris Lytle, Monster Contributing Writer.  Here is another one that I thought you would enjoy, I’ve abbreviated it and added some thoughts so to be more specific to our industry.

Most companies have sales managers, but too few have repeat sales managers. A repeat sales manager would be in charge of making sure the customer who bought the first time buys again. He would make sure the customer’s experiences with the company were everything they wanted them to be. Chances are you don’t have a repeat sales manager at your company, and the task of managing your customer’s experience goes to you.

It’s a critical task. Here’s why.

A client of mine commissioned an extensive, expensive survey to gauge customer satisfaction. The survey revealed that the biggest area of customer concern was that the product and company that sold it did not meet expectations. Thirty-four percent of the clients polled mentioned that as an issue. And of those 34 percent, 69 percent were unlikely to do business with the company again.

Delivering the expected product or service should be your minimum standard. Theodore Levitt wrote about the expected product in his classic management book, The Marketing Imagination. For instance, if you attend a seminar and get a nice workbook with an extensive bibliography, checklist, forms and tools, you’ll expect to get a similar workbook the next time you go to a seminar. If you don’t get a nice workbook at the next seminar, you will be dissatisfied. Even if the speaker is excellent, you will be dissatisfied because you expected a workbook.

Every industry has a generic product and an expected product. Even if you are selling a so-called commodity product, there are certain customer expectations. A salesperson selling long-haul trucking (generic service) can get a higher price per mile if he can document his firm’s 98.4 percent delivery record. His customers expect their merchandise to arrive on time, not just too eventually get there.

To provide a higher level of service, you have to know what the expected product is. Many times, customers don’t know what to expect. Great salespeople think in terms of opening relationships rather than closing sales. They understand that the big money and job satisfaction come from keeping customers instead of churning customers. Therefore, they discuss customer expectations up front. The expected product may be different for different customers.

The script for managing a customer’s expectations might go something like this: "I’m excited about the opportunity to make your upcoming occasion extra special.  My goal is to help you make the best decision possible and for you to have such a good time that you let your friends know they can trust me too.”  “How can I assist you best?”
After you have adapted this script and asked the questions in your own words, listen while the customer details his expectations. Your job is to be clear about what satisfactions the customer is looking for. You will probably have to ask some follow-up questions to be clear.

The way to give your customers a better experience is to ask them what kind of experience they expect and then to deliver those expectations instead of making a sales and forgetting them.

Be proactive. Be sure to tell your new customers what other customers have experienced. Put things into perspective. Tell them how long it is going to take to deliver their item. You’ll build your credibility when that’s exactly what happens.

Reading the Customer’s Mind

The Gallup Organization has done some revolutionary research about customer expectations and reported it in the book, First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Gallup has identified the four levels of customer expectations.

According to authors Buckingham and Coffman:
These four expectations, in sequence, show companies what they must do to turn prospects into advocates.

Level 1: At the lowest level, customers expect accuracy.
Level 2: The next step is availability.
Level 3: At this level customers expect partnership.
Level 4: The most advanced level of customer expectation is advice.

Customers feel the closest bond to organizations that have helped them learn.
The authors point out that you must be accurate and accessible before your customers will want to form partnerships with you and ask you for your advice. Send out an inaccurate invoice or fail to return calls and emails promptly, and they won’t want to enter into a consultative partnership with you or trust you with their big decisions.
Align your sales behaviour with the things that customers want, and you’ll retain more customers and gain more referrals.  The key is being reliable and staying in touch which is the foundation for relationship building and sales.