• December 1, 2003
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

Creating Realistic Customer Expectations

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Dissatisfaction is often derived from failed customer expectations, whether those customers are clients, employees, partners, or suppliers. It's not surprising. Much of our individual behavior is based on how well managed our personal expectations are. The results and responses vary, but in all cases response to performance is based on what you expected in the first place. In the CRM world, for example, the failure of CRM initiatives can sometimes be not poor results, but not what was expected. However, because people are generally forward-thinking they can stand a lot if they can justify their expectations to themselves. A study by the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, for instance, found that customers were willing to hang around even with lower actual satisfaction if their expectations were of high future use. According to Tiffany Barnett White, a UI marketing professor, customers "experience inertia, and they'll hang around," based on that expectation of future use. The converse was also found to be true. They tended not to hang around even with high ratings of customer satisfaction if the product didn't seem to be that useful to them in the future. In other words, customers are willing to stay if they can expect a significant value of some kind from the product or service they are using. I can't say that I agree with the conclusion of the UI marketing professors, but I can say that what they found goes to the core of managing customer expectations, which is mission-critical in the world of CRM. Customers operate from self-interest. If what you provide is valuable to them in the present and future, and has been valuable to them, they will give you value in return. That is a fair relationship in the business world. In fact, it is the primary meaningful relationship in business. What does this mean? It means that managing expectations is one of the most important steps that you can take throughout the life of a CRM initiative. There are some very simple steps to take. 1. Don't overpromise. This sounds easy, but it is a common problem with sales teams: They promise more than they can deliver. 2. Identify the value of the customer to you as a company and act accordingly.
In other words, know your customers as they know you. There are multiple ways of measuring this value through such approaches as Customer Lifetime Value. This allows you to understand what you can give to the customer and what you can't. 3. The customer isn't always right. Simply because they want something, doesn't make it valuable to them. They hired you to help them figure out what works. Work with them to do that; don't kneel to their every want. 4. Make sure everything you are planning to do is documented and that clear procedures for changing that statement of work are documented. That way, there is no waffling on who promised what. Make sure that all the documents are signed and countersigned and signed again. These are a few of the possible steps toward managing the expectations of the customer. They may not be easy and the customer may not be happy all the time. But when all is said and done, your customer will get value from the results that they expected, and you will retain them. That's what business is all about, isn't it? Paul Greenberg is president of The 56 Group LLC, an enterprise applications consultancy specializing in CRM, and author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Capturing and Keeping Customers in Internet Real Time. Contact him at paul-greenberg3@comcast.net
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