Managing expectations isn’t always easy. So what can you do to manage your customers’ expectations?
Have you ever had that experience on your birthday or Christmas when you’re all excited about opening a beautifully presented gift, only to find what’s inside is a real disappointment?
Or you’ve waited patiently for the delivery of that new shirt you’ve ordered, but when you open it up it’s nothing like described on their website; the colour looks different, the fabric feels cheap and it’s a poor fit.
One of the quickest ways to lose trust is when you or your marketing has promised one thing, but what your customers get is different (even if only from their perspective).
And, of course, it’s no wonder people leave unhappy if we’ve failed to meet their expectations.
Understand their expectation
We can help to manage customers’ expectations, but we need to define these first. Start by thinking about who your customers are in general, and what’s important to them. What are their expectations of your target audience, and are you able to meet these? Identify the experience you want your customers to have, and the emotions you’d like them to feel.
Unclear expectations will lead to misunderstanding, disappointment and withdrawals of trust. Managing expectations of individual customers starts with clarifying those expectations with the customer. Many expectations are implicit, make the expectations clear and explicit in the first place. This can take a real investment of time and effort up front, but saves great amounts of time and effort in the long run. When expectations aren’t clear at the outset even simple misunderstandings become a problem, turning into disappointment or even anger.
Be honest with customers; yes, your marketing needs to sell your venue or business, but be clear about what you don’t or can’t deliver, too.
Are there any facilities, products or services that comparable venues or businesses offer and therefore customers might expect, but that you don’t provide? If you are upfront about these in the first instance your customers are less likely to feel let down. Capitalise on what you do offer instead.
A picture paints a thousand words, so is all your imagery representative of what a customer will see when they arrive. If all your images are of your suites and deluxe rooms, but what they booked is the equivalent of a study bedroom in an annex, is it any wonder they end up disappointed?
We’ve run out of chicken
Imagine how you’d feel if you’d travelled for something specific, only to find it’s not available?
Do you remember the KFC incident earlier this year? There may be occasions when circumstances are totally out of our control. Hopefully not quite as extreme as KFC running out of chicken! But we can still learn from how KFC’s responded to this, with a cheeky full-page apology.
If there’s anything which would normally be available, particularly if it’s one of your signature products but due to seasonal factors, breakdown, or the weather, is temporarily unavailable, inform customers in advance of their visit.
When you know you’re going to be exceptionally busy, and there’s a risk of long waits or products being in short supply, let your customers know upfront by whatever means you can. If people have a booking, let them know by email or text, if not, the very least is to let people know via your website.
Just to let you know…
Consider the circumstances which can impact your customers’ experience, even if they’re out of your control. For example, roadworks en route to your venue, or other events happening in your area which might impact customers. Even though this might be nothing to do with you, your customers will always appreciate being kept in the know, so they can make allowances.
Are there any aspects of your product or service which are impacted by ‘user error’?
For example: If you need customers the return choices or confirm numbers by a certain date so you can meet their deadlines or ensure they get what they asked for. Or if there are certain steps they need to follow for something to operate smoothly such as automated systems or electronic keys.
If so make it crystal clear (in a non-threatening way!) to customers why what you’ve asked of them is important – not as a convenience to you, but how it might impact on their experience.
There’s probably no larger withdrawal of trust than to make a promise that’s important to someone and then not keep that promise.
Stick to agreed times for returning calls, meetings, deliveries. If you’ve agreed a time or deadline, stick to it.
If your team have to let customers know of delays, ensure they are realistic about time frames; always better to over-estimate a delay, than underestimate.
It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another not to admit it. A sincere apology and having empathy with the customer when they feel they’ve been let down is the least you can do. Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But only if they’re kept informed.
If something they’ve asked for is no longer available; will it be available later or not at all. What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better?
If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they do / have something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might depend on just how long they have to wait; is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows the customer to make an informed decision.
Explanations, not excuses
Being kept informed is not about making excuses! It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…
However, there may be times when a little explanation helps diffuse the situation. If there’s been an accident, if it would be unsafe, if their preferred option is not up to standard and likely to disappoint. If it’s relevant to help them see why they’re not getting the experience they’d hoped tell them; if not, don’t!
Customers really aren’t interested in your staff shortages or that your suppliers have let you down or that the ‘x’ machine is broken.
Trust is the basis for building loyalty, and the quickest way to build this is to deliver what you’ve promised.
If you only do one thing – review your ‘promise’ to customers with your team and ask what do you say, do or show that could lead to customers having expectations beyond what you deliver. What else can you do towards managing expectations and maintain your customers’ trust?
p.s. If you’d like some help auditing your venue to check it meets your customers’ expectations here are 3 different audit checklists for hospitality and tourism businesses, to give you a head start.