Why is Exceeding Customer Expectations Important?
It’s common sense that satisfied customers are likely to buy again or continue buying if they are satisfied. We live in such a competitive world, that the only way to retain customers is to promote customer loyalty. Exceeding customer expectations is one of the techniques to ensure loyalty.
A recurring theme I hear is the difficulty of meeting customer expectations when there is a lack of support by the senior management team of an organization. Persistent, recurring problems make it difficult or impossible to meeting expectations. Without management support, no front line organization can overcome systemic failures and go on to achieve customer ‘delight’.
What exactly is ‘Exceeding Customer Expectations’?
Before you can exceed the customer expectations, you first need to know what the customer’s normal expectations are. If you are in the services business, generally some form of statement of work determines the customer’s expectations. For many products the customer expectations are a combination of what you promise in your marketing and sales materials and packaging and what is being offered as standard in the industry. For example, what courier service today would not offer online tracking of packages? It is expected. To move beyond expectations into delighting the customer, you need to think about what you could offer that is beyond what is offered today.
How to Exceed Customer Expectations
This is a real marketing challenge but there are some keys.
1. Market Research
Know your customers well. Do market research about your customers wants, needs, frustrations and desires. Check what your competition is doing. Know your marketplace and emerging trends. Make sure you products and services are in line with competitors and that you are delivering on what you promise.
If you know your customer, and are watching the trends, you should developing improvements to your products and services that go beyond what your current products or services offer. Incremental improvements are great but big leaps are even better. Who could deny that Apple for example has done some major leaps forward with the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad? Look for things the customers never dreamed possible but would fill a need, solve a problem, or would reduce or eliminate a problem or fear the customer has. Innovation is a key to exceeding customer expectations.
3. Management Support
Without management support, customer satisfaction efforts, left to front line customer service employees or front line staff are doomed. The right culture has to be set at the top of the organization. Resources need to be available to investigate recurring quality problems or failures and the root causes needs to be uncovered. Once the root cause is determined, a fix to the problem needs to be implemented, and managed to ensure it actually is put into action. Customer need to notice a difference. Remedies to recurring problems may be implemented successfully but customer take a long time to determine that there has been a change and that the change is consistent over time.
4. Empowerment of the front line
One great technique that can be implemented in most organizations is to allow the front line employees to handle most situations. Empower them to make decisions, within limits. Some banks for example have empowered front line employees to overturn fees or fix little problems within a monthly budget. This reduces bottlenecks seeking to get permission and makes large organization more ‘human’ in the eye of the customer. If a small gesture or fix can be implemented quickly, customers will often appreciate the gesture. Allow front line employees freedom to act quickly.
What to do NOW to Exceed Customer Expectations?
1. Ask front line employees
Most front line employees (the ones that deal with customers on a day to day basis) can tell you what is going on with your customers, what they are happy about (and what they would like to see more of ) and what they are not happy about.
2. Listen to customer feedback.
Surveys and market research were the traditional Now you need to check on line forums, blogs, social media. customers will often tell you what they are happy about, what they are unhappy about and interestingly, they will tell you about their wants, needs, desires and wouldn’t it be nice if?
3. Look for trends and possible innovations
Look for opportunities to go beyond what is being delivered to customers today. Be a trend watcher. Go to industry conferences. Subscribe to thought leaders.
4. Engage customers in conversations
Use the power of the web and social media to engage customers. Create contests or events for them to put their ideas forward. Listen to them all. Create opportunities for customers to engage with you. Get a Facebook Fan Page. Have a blog where customers can respond to questions you put out. Create videos and post them on Youtube inviting customers to express their ideas. Crowdsource your requirements process.
5. Follow through with customer suggestions
You may not be able to provide every suggestion or recommendation from your customers but if you respond to some of them, you will appear to be listening. That will encourage more participation and should generate increased customer loyalty.