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How Do You Exceed Customer Expectations? Part 1: Review, Manage, and Research

7 min read
Mar 23, 2020

It’s a customer’s world these days. Globalization and ecommerce are here to stay, and they’ve made it possible to purchase products from practically every corner of the globe. Think about it: Nearly every purchasing decision you make is necessarily preceded by research. It could be by Googling the product you’re looking for or asking for recommendations from friends on social media. 

Whatever the case, there are, in most cases, an endless amount of products to choose from. Typically, they’re similar in price, features, and availability. As a customer, the world is your oyster. The move to online buying is more and more commonplace in nearly every industry.

So, how do you stand out from the crowd in a congested marketplace? If product and pricing are no longer the be-all and end-all in purchasing decisions, there must be another way to attract and retain customers, right?

Top-notch customer experience is the best way to stand out from the crowd. Our world is more customer-centric than it ever has been before, so it’s no longer enough to just meet customer expectations: You have to exceed them.

By exceeding customer expectations, stellar customer experience is turned into a competitive advantage that can differentiate you from other businesses. Surpassing customer expectations isn’t something that happens in a bubble. It needs to happen during every step of the process; by providing positive experiences before the sale, while they’re using your product, and meaningful followups after the sale is concluded. 

Doing so will lead to more sales, increased loyalty, and additional referrals. The numbers tell us the same:

Despite so many readily available statistics, not to mention common sense, telling us how important the customer’s experience is to a business’s bottom line, most companies know they are not delivering a good customer experience. According to a study by Temkin Group, only 19% of companies rate themselves as good or better in providing a positive customer experience across multiple channels. In most cases, the numbers get better on individual channels, but it actually falls to only 11% in the case of businesses using chatbots.

Take your customer’s experience seriously and put a plan into action. Over time, you’ll be able to get your business to a point where it is actually able to meet expectations and exceed them as well. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some concrete ways to improve your customer’s experience.

It sounds so simple, but you’d be surprised how many companies overlook the crucial first step. In order to exceed expectations, you have to first know what those expectations are. In short, you have to know your customers better than you do now. 

The best way to start is by reviewing your current approach to customer experience and expectations.

Review expectations

Ask questions and listen - Listening is the best way to learn, and the best way to find out what your customer’s expectations are is to ask them. And really listen to what they say. However, don’t expect it to be as easy as it sounds. Often, customers don’t know why they want something. They just know they want it. Correspondingly, their expectations are often not determined until those expectations go unmet, and they’re unhappy. Be willing to probe and ask more and more questions to get the answers you need.

Understand your customers - A good way to identify expectations is to get to know your customers and truly understand them. An easy way to start this process is to collect customer feedback. But you need to think of feedback as more than simply telling you if they like the product and/or what their experience was like on a support call. Know why your customers contact you and how, when, and why they like to be contacted.

Identify expectations - Don’t assume you know what your customer’s expectations are. This can be a struggle because some people (yes, at your company too) will absolutely think they know what your customers want. It’s easy to think you already know what their expectations are. After all, you created a product or service for them. Don’t make that mistake. By asking your customers questions and using those answers to gain a better understanding of them, you’ll be able to identify those expectations. Remember, listen to your customers and trust what they say. 

Review expectations regularly - The expectations of customers will change like the weather. Different generations expect different things. Likewise, the technology available at any given time also goes a long way in predetermining what expectations are even possible. Insitute a plan that establishes a timeline for a review of expectations and be willing to change your approach.

Manage expectations

Know the difference between needs, wants, and expectations - There’s a big gap between what someone needs, what they want, and what their expectations are. They don’t always align with each other. For example, if a person is thirsty, they need something to drink. They might want a Coke to satisfy that need, even if a glass of water would be a better solution than a soft drink. 

However, their expectations are what they expect the experience of satisfying their thirst with a Coke to be like. These expectations are often established with a series of internal questions linked to an answer that they have already predetermined: Was it easy to find a Coke? What was the experience of buying it like? Was it expensive? Were they no longer thirsty after drinking it? Can they complain if they are still thirsty? How did drinking that Coke make them feel? You get the idea.

Know that initial expectations are formed by your product - Those internal questions and predetermined answers are established by your product or service and the marketing around it. Referring back to the example with Coke: Does Coke promise that it’s easy to find, to buy, and that it’s inexpensive? If it does, that’s what customers will rightly expect, and they will be unhappy if the answers are not what they were led to believe. Whatever promises your product or service makes, they need to be kept.

How a customer thinks of a business is determined by how those expectations were met along their journey. Because of this, it’s important to know what a customer’s unasked questions are along with their predetermined answers.

Research

Hire an outsider to test your services - Testing UX internally won’t produce the same results as having someone unfamiliar with the product will. Hiring UX experts can help minimize issues you might have, but they won’t eliminate them. Reach out to current users and ask them for their honest opinion. Seriously consider what they have to say, and implement appropriate fixes.

Understand user error - User error is unpredictable, but it will happen sooner or later. Because of its unpredictable nature, it’s difficult to envision where it will occur during the design process. What is important is to realize is that it will happen and to have the right tools available to help fix it when it occurs. User error will affect your ability to meet or exceed customer expectations. Even if it is the customer’s fault, they will still view it as something your business caused to happen. Plan ahead for this certainty early on. Have users test your UX design, red flag any problems that arise, and consider revising the design to accommodate those glitches. Also, make sure to communicate with your customers any time your website rolls out new features or updates, and have a step-by-step guide available for customers.

Try the customer service at other businesses - What vendors do you use? Do you know what their customer experience looks like? With fresh eyes, take another look. Note what you like, and ask yourself if it’s something your company should be doing. Additionally, it can’t hurt to take a look at your competitors to see what they are providing in terms of customer experience. After this step, develop a list of best practices along with what you can change.

Follow the suggestions above, and you’ll be off to a great start in exceeding customer expectations and providing a stellar experience. But this is just the start. I’ll be back soon with the second part of the article that will focus on UX, support, technology, and the intangibles required.

You’ll know you’ve exceeded customer expectations when your customers truly want to return to your business for their next purchase. Treating them in a memorable way, and doing the little things, will pay off in the long run. 

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