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From crisis to sustenance : It’s not a matter of meeting but exceeding customer expectations

22 July 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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If you are in selling or servicing business, very likely, your organisation would have already implemented one or more customer-focused strategies and some form of customer service system. At some point, you or your organisation has probably been asked the question, “Are you meeting your customers’ expectations?”
The response is anything between “yes” or “no” answer. But to be successful today, organisations must go beyond just meeting customer expectations and work to ‘exceed’ expectations. Organisations that take an approach to exceeding customer expectations focus on defining and executing very specific, proactive customer service strategies. Successful organisations are also likely to use technology to assist them in executing these strategies.

This process is not as easy as it sounds – customer expectations are a dynamic feature that ebbs and flows regularly in accordance with a wide range of factors. You may have the greatest selling and servicing teams but if your customers perceive their needs are not being fully met, your service reputation suffers.

Customer expectations
Understanding the following six customer expectations is critical before you set out to measure customer satisfaction.
  • Explicit expectations - These are formed on the basis of the promises made by the brand at the time of purchase. The brand has complete control over explicit expectations. The customer may have mental targets for product performance, such as well-identified performance standards.
  • Implicit expectations - These are formed on the basis of the customers’ perception of brand image, stature, reputation and the price premium they pay for a brand. These are far more difficult to gauge and manage. An implicit reference might include wording such as “Compared with other companies…” or “Compared to the leading brand…”
(Most often, organisations measure only the explicit commitments. Failure to identify and measure implicit expectations is a big reason for the gap between its understanding of the quality of service rendered and customers’ perception of the service received. Customers’ perception of service will improve only when both these expectations met.)
  • Technological expectations - These focus on the evolving state of the product category. For example, mobile phones are continually evolving, leading to higher expectations of new features. Mobile service providers, in an effort to limit a consumer’s ability to switch to new technology phones, have marketed rate plans with high cancellation penalties for switching providers, but with liberal upgrade plans for the phones they offer.
  • Static performance expectations - These concern how performance and quality for a specific product or service are defined. Although each performance measures are unique, general expectations relate to quality of outcome and include: Accessibility, customization, dependability, timeliness, accuracy, options, cutting-edge technology, flexibility and user-friendly interfaces. Static performance expectations are the visible part of the iceberg; they are the ones we see and -- often erroneously -- assume are all that exist.
  • Dynamic performance expectations - These are about how the product or service is expected to evolve over time. Dynamic expectations may be about the changes in support, product, or service needed to meet future business or use environments. Dynamic performance expectations may help to produce ‘static’ performance expectations as new uses, integrations, or system requirements develop and become more stable.
  • Interpersonal expectations - These reflect the relationship between the customer and the product or service provider. Person-to-person relationships are increasingly important, especially where products require support for proper use and functioning. Interpersonal expectations include interpersonal sharing of technical knowledge, ability to solve a problem, ability to communicate, reduced time to problem resolution, courtesy, patience, enthusiasm, helpfulness, assurance that they understood customer’s problem and customer perceptions regarding professionalism of conduct, often including image and appearance.

Best practices
Good organisations share a few best practices that they incorporate into their efforts to exceed the expectations of their customers.


Best practice #1: Listen to your customers
While the importance of listening to your customers is obvious, many organisations fail to fully listen and understand what customers are trying to tell them. The key to understanding your customer is in providing feedback mechanisms and processes that will enable you to understand more about your customer than they do themselves. Customer satisfaction surveys and focus groups are two popular methods for listening to customers.

Customer satisfaction surveys
Independent customer satisfaction surveys are the first step to measuring your organisation’s ability to meet and exceed customer expectations for service. It is the most common best practice tool that is used by organisations to capture customer feedback.

Focus groups
Focus groups provide an opportunity to strengthen customer ties by forming stronger one-on-one customer relationships. They provide an opportunity to drill down more deeply into specific issues with customers and to capture levels of understanding not available in a survey format.


Best practice #2: Set aggressive goals and metrics
Research shows that organisations must push themselves to set aggressive goals and metrics. You may be surprised to learn that your organisation can exceed expectations and should therefore set aggressive goals in order to push the organisation to peak performance and results for customer satisfaction. Organisations are finding that customers are demanding more customized service and they expect to have a satisfactory experience with your organisation when they need service.


Best practice #3: Innovate with CRM technology solutions
CRM software provides organisations with the technology tools to innovate and improve customer service. Traditional CRM software for customer service was aimed toward the efficient management of customer cases. But as customer service needs have evolved, so too has CRM software.


Best practice #4: Transform business processes
Transforming business processes is not only about streamlining the number of processes you rely on, but it is also about how you execute them. Often times, customer service employees find themselves relying on word of mouth, informal notes, or luck when applying service strategies. By leveraging innovative technology capabilities can automatically drive consistent interactions across all of their communications channels. For example, make certain that customers have a process that allows them to call one place, one number, one person and expect not to be transferred or to have to call multiple numbers.


Best practice #5: Apply lessons learned
As your organisation contemplates new customer-focused strategies, changes business processes, gathers customer data and implements new technologies, consider applying some of the lessons learned.


Ending note
At times, you cannot win them all. You may have to give up on customers that do not perceive you favourably. No matter what you do to please them, their mental baggage will not allow them to appreciate the superior value you bring. Move along and search for other customers, clusters, niches, segments that can and will love what you have to offer.
Trying to be perfect for an imperfect mass market is not pragmatic; looking for customers that can tolerate your imperfections and love what you have to offer is the pivotal strategy for winning.  
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at lionwije@live.com)
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