During a recent consulting assignment, it became apparent that the customer service personnel were experiencing an excess amount of stress each morning. When asked to elaborate on the cause, here's the answer I received - "Errol, employees at the various store locations are committing our installation crews to a timeframe without verifying if our appointment schedule allows us to meet that commitment. Now we have to call the customer to reschedule their appointment. Having to do this puts us in an awkward position." Not a great way to start the day! Here are three tips to make sure you're taking the proper steps when setting customer expectations.
1. Create Effective Internal Communications. - In the scenario above, the store employees were making installation commitments, yet they are not responsible for fulfilling the commitment. Their ability to set expectations creates both internal and external issues. Internal friction develops as the customer service personnel eventually develop a level of resentment toward the store employees. Externally, the customer is provided an installation timeframe, yet receives a phone call to reschedule the original given timeframe. The customer's perception of the organization may be somewhat diminished as a result. It's important to make sure that everyone's on the same page when setting expectations. Departments must be aligned in order to provide great customer experiences. Take the time to include those who are responsible for meeting the expectation (and in the above scenario, those responsible for scheduling personnel to meet the expectation) when developing the expectation message.
2. Promote Consistency - When an organization has multiple locations; restaurants, banks, grocery stores, or hotels to name a few; it's a good idea to create standardized policies and procedures. Customers have a way of believing that the experience should be the same at all of an organization's locations. These policies and procedures should be customer - focused of course. While the need for a certain level of autonomy is understandable, it's best to provide a customer focused operations template to those tasked with meeting customer expectations. This template simply provides the framework for ensuring consistency across the organization. Autonomous actions should enhance the customer's experience. Promote communication across locations to allow for sharing of these autonomous actions. This could lead to incorporating some of the autonomous actions into the operations template.
3. Promise What You Can Deliver - As technology has somewhat leveled the playing field in a multitude of industries, companies are feeling the pressures of maintaining a competitive advantage. The tendency to overpromise just to get the customer to make a purchasing decision is sometimes the result of such pressure. Think long-term when setting customer expectations. Your ability to deliver on your promises is key in your quest to create long-term relationships. Future sales and referrals hinge on your customer's perception of what you promised vs what was actually experienced. An expectation can be set either through verbal communication or advertising. Does your advertising set such expectations as "same day service" or "we're always available"? Do your commercials show happy employees servicing the customer? What about the pictures utilized in your print advertising - do they accurately depict your product or your facility? Whatever you promise or promote sets the customer's expectation. Make sure their experience is consistent with the promise.
In today's highly competitive business environment, it's critical that an organization set the proper customer expectation. Create Effective Internal Communications, Promote Consistency and Promise What You Can Deliver as you strive to provide great customer experiences!