I’m writing this sat in a hospital waiting room with a friend. We’ve possibly been sitting here for a fortnight and I’ve read enough leaflets to feel relatively confident about performing heart surgery, should the need arise. Indeed, I’m wondering whether the old woman, sitting opposite me reading a 1987 People’s Friend, actually bought it as a current edition from the hospital shop on her way to her appointment. I’ve also started to question the receptionist’s ability to gauge time; since she clearly stated over an hour ago that “the Doctor will be with you shortly”. My thoughts have therefore wandered to that whole thing about managing customer expectations.
As a customer, having our expectations managed is one of our fundamental needs. However, as service providers, do we assign as much value to this critical aspect of customer service as we should?
When my car failed its MOT a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t the biggest surprise. The mechanic explained he was unable to take it as a job until the following week. Happy to wait, I dropped it off the following Monday… and then entered what can only be described as a fortnight of darkness (cue dramatic music). After 2 weeks of phoning only to receive exasperated and vague responses, the mechanic finally explained that my car would need x, y and z. This was the same x, y and z outlined in the MOT failure document. The same x, y and z that even I, with my limited experience of setting up a Scaletrix in 1985, could have told him. Hell, the same x, y and z that the air freshener in my car could have told him by this point in time. Essentially, it took 10 working days to repeat exactly what was on the MOT paperwork.
Despite the mechanic taking my car almost immediately, clearly his workload was such that he was unable to look at my car for a fortnight. So why didn’t he manage my expectations? Chances are that he thought it would lead to me kicking up a fuss or perhaps even going elsewhere with my car. However, ironically, what he actually managed to accomplish was turning a “chance” of me going elsewhere into a “most definitely”.
As scary as it can be at times, managing a customer’s expectations is critical both to their positive experience and to maintaining the integrity of your business. Let’s look at what’s happened as a result of the mechanic not managing my expectations:
- The garage has lost my trust
- They’ve lost my repeat custom
- Both sides experienced escalating and avoidable frustration
- I left dissatisfied and am telling others about it
- I made a complaint (and chances are, I’m not the only one)
Yet, a simple series of conversations would have avoided this. If the mechanic had a real fear of losing my custom, then he could have actually managed my expectation with this in mind. For example:
- Explained that while he really wanted to fix my car, due to prior commitments he was unfortunately unable to do so for 2 weeks.
- If I was able to wait, he could guarantee that my car would have his undivided attention; he would get it fixed as quickly as possible, as reasonably as possible and to the highest possible standard, at that point.
- He understood if I wanted to take it elsewhere and could recommend another garage if that would help me – although he would be sad to lose my custom, he would hope I’d consider using them again in the future as he considered me a valuable customer.
Job done! And do you know what? If that had happened, I actually would have happily waited 2 weeks until he was ready.
Managing a customer’s expectations is a simple process of honest communication followed by delivery. Let your customer know what they can expect, how they can expect it, when and (if needed) any “whys”. A customer doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of your supplier’s penchant to only distribute on the third Thursday of every month; but they do deserve transparency about the fact the order they’ve just made with you won’t be delivered for 3 weeks. Even if you think that managing expectations could lose you a customer, don’t avoid it – use it as a platform to work for you. Manage expectations well and you can expect to see happy, returning customers who trust you as a service provider and recommend you to others.
Disneyland manages the expectations of queuing customers by having signs showing the approximate time left until the person reaches the ride. Tesco use tickets at the meat counter to clarify a customer’s position in the queue.
How do you manage your customer expectations?