We expect to hear a dial tone when we pick up the telephone
when no one else is using it.
We expect our cars to start in the morning when we get ready
to leave for work. It’s implied that a restaurant will prepare
our food properly and follow satisfactory sanitary guidelines.
If we pay our electric bill on time, we expect the lights to
work when we flip the switch. Same goes for the water bill—we
expect water when the faucet or shower is “started.” T
hese are expectations set, in part, by the industries
providing the service, but they are also engrained in our
culture as things to gripe about quickly should there be any
form of disruption.
When is the last time you weren’t alarmed by a power outage even
if it occurred after a major storm? You likely called the
utility company immediately to tell them all the while
understanding you probably weren’t the first person calling.
If your telephone didn’t have dial tone, you likely sought
out a cell phone to track down the utility and phone companies
to alert them of the disruptions, right? Y
our common sense told you that a pole must be down or a set
of lines got cut somehow, but you went ahead and called anyway.
We all do this even though we understand the companies we’re
alerting have a good chance of knowing about the outage anyway.
If you were to think of your company in the same light, what
would be some things your customers have come to expect that are
deal breakers if you don’t live up to the industry’s established
and implied expectations?
For my company, a consulting firm, I believe all bets are off
if we don’t put the customer’s interests first throughout the
relationship. We can come up with a bad idea that definitely
won’t please the client, but it may not cost us current and
future business if the idea had their best interest at heart.
With that kind of thinking (hopefully) taking place, let’s walk
through some things you can consider in making sure your
business is meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
Evaluate Your Landscape
Look around at your competitors and determine what areas cannot
be compromised within the current competitive landscape. What
areas are viewed by customers as implied expectations because of
Which areas can you capitalize to differentiate yourself from
your competitors and raise the bar? I’m a big proponent of
establishing differentiation in an area your competitors are
weak as it pushes them into reactionary mode.
Organizations which aren’t capable of adapting quickly are
severely threatened when the competition changes the rules of
the game, and it ultimately forces them to either spend a lot of
money to catch up when this happens or concede defeat by going
in a different direction. Wouldn’t you rather be the one
creating change versus reacting to it?
Issue an Ultimatum to Your Organization
If you’ve figured out what expectations cannot be compromised,
take the next step by issuing an ultimatum to your organization.
For example, Domino’s changed the pizza delivery game with their
“30 minutes or less or it’s free” guarantee when they entered
There are no guarantees like that around now thanks to
lawsuits and whatnot, but that set an industry expectation that
it is realistic to expect a pizza to be delivered to your door
in 30 minutes or less. What do most people do if they place a
pizza order today and the delivery is estimated to take 45
They take their business elsewhere so this has become an
implied industry expectation that customers are hesitant to let
go. By issuing that ultimatum to their franchisees and
employees, Dominos sent a message that they were serious about
being timely and efficient. Other chains had to follow suit or
risk being left out. What are some things in your industry which
could be used as ultimatums to your organization in addition to
being bar raisers?
Openly Accept Feedback
If you are going to give an ultimatum to your company and the
industry it competes, it makes no sense to hide from criticism
and feedback. Take the responsibility to welcome feedback of any
sort, and respond to it quickly. If someone takes the time to
compliment your organization, thank them immediately.
That’s all you have to do. If they complain, allow them to
express themselves openly, but don’t send them back a canned
response. Take the appropriate time to acknowledge the
complaint, and outline some definitive actions you intend to
take to alleviate the problem. If someone is motivated enough to
complain to you, you can bet they are motivated enough to
express their displeasure to family, friends, and colleagues.
Be Involved and Accessible
There are a metric ton of blogs and websites out there that are
engaging your customers in conversations about everything under
the sun. It is highly likely they may have had a conversation or
two about your company. Some of it may be kind and some unkind.
You’ll never know unless you get involved in the online
community and do a little “ego” surfing which means visiting
sites like Technorati or BlogPulse to search for your company’s
name, your name, products or services you sell, and to find
information about your competitors.
When you come across conversations and postings that apply to
your given situation, jump in, comment, and join the
conversation regardless of whether the discussion is flattering
or condemning. Don’t hide behind some false identity pretending
to be someone unassociated with your company either—fully
disclose who you are, what you represent, why you’re joining the
conversation and how to contact you if anyone is interested. In
other words, be accessible and accountable.
One word of caution—if you can’t keep up with this on a
regular basis, or you don’t wish to reveal your true identity,
it may be best to appoint someone else to tackle this task.
Being un-accessible or concealing who you are may be
misinterpreted as being aloof or disingenuous which will counter
anything positive you may have accomplished by getting involved
in the first place. The online community is very adept at
figuring out things rather quickly so don’t try to fool them.
If you receive constructive criticism in any form, act quickly
to resolve any issues stemming from that criticism. If someone
simply writes or phones you to say “your company sucks,” there’s
not much you can do with that because it isn’t specific to any
problems that person experienced.
However if someone takes the time to walk through an
unpleasant circumstance inflicted upon them by your company,
take that opportunity to right the wrong as much as possible.
Mistakes are bound to happen, but preventing those mistakes
from happening again and immediately addressing problems that
impact others will minimize the damage and may also present an
opportunity for an upset customer to become a happy one again.
Every industry has an imaginary “bar” set for it either by an
established leader or by the collective efforts of that industry
over time. If your company can somehow raise that bar to new
heights, you can take over control of the industry. Following
the five steps above can help improve your chances of
discovering a game changing nuance to accomplishing just that.
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