Managing Customer Expectations

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Managing Customer Expectations

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Expectations can be tricky things and particularly when they are not realized. Not only are we dealing with our own expectations (of ourselves and of others), as salespeople we are constantly concerned with managing the expectations of others including, most importantly, those of our clients. If you are in management, you will also be charged with clearly communicating your expectations to your subordinates.

The end result of any expectation can be summed up in only one of three ways:

  1. Expectations were not met
  2. Expectations were met
  3. Expectations were exceeded

Not meeting expectations requires no explanation other than, you lose. Everybody loses. Meeting expectations is a neutral experience at best (they got what they expected). In my mind, doing whatever is necessary in order to exceed customer expectations has always been the only acceptable outcome. What works in your personal life applies equally in business.

Your expectations

I have always found controlling my own expectations to be challenging. This includes expectations that I have for myself as well as expectations that I tend to have of others. In both cases, they have been generally unattainable and unrealistic. While I have tempered these with age, constant disappointment will also do that for you.

Your customer’s expectations

Always remember that, when it comes to your customer, you are the one who is setting, and assisting your client with, whatever expectations that are involved. If you are the responsible party for this, and these expectations are not met, start by looking in the mirror. At least then both you and your customer will be looking at the same person for answers.

Low expectations

Back in February of 2008, 60 Minutes did a piece entitled … “And The Happiest Place On Earth Is…Morley Safer On Why The Danes Are Considered The Happiest People On Earth”. The reason for this was quite surprising …

“After careful study, Christensen thinks he isolated the key to Danish anti-depression. “What we basically figured out that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest,” he says.

By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed.

Christensen’s study was called “Why Danes Are Smug,” and essentially his answer was it’s because they’re so glum and get happy when things turn out not quite as badly as they expected. “And I was thinking about, What if it was opposite? That Denmark made the worst, number 20, and another country was number one. I’m pretty sure the Danish television would have said, ‘Well, number 20’s not too bad. You know it’s still in the top 25, that’s not so bad,'” he says.

History may also play a role in the country’s culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own Web site, it proudly proclaims “the present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders and lost battles.”

Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants, or a large dose of humiliation?”

While if your expectations are low, you will rarely be disappointed, you will also probably not be going anywhere and you certainly won’t be going up!

High expectations

Setting expectations that are too high may be the most dangerous scenario of all. If you were to set goals for yourself that were so high that you have little to no chance of achieving them, you will suffer with the results. If you set your client’s expectations too high, you will end up with a lost customer and one who you will likely never get back.

It’s perfectly alright to set high expectations providing you can be assured of realistically meeting them. In fact, if you can provide your customer with this consistently very high level of service, and one that they will come to expect as being available from you and you only, and you deliver, you probably have a customer for life and one that will happily refer you to others! Under promise and over deliver. Promise results in ten days and deliver those in seven.

Realistic expectations

Let’s call this high realistic. Never settle for mediocrity! Have high expectations for yourself and others but, always ensure that they are realistic. In terms of dealing with customers, they may have high expectations for your product or service that will not be realistic. It is your responsibility to work with them to bring their expectations to manageable levels. It is perfectly okay to say “No”. “No, we can’t do that and if I told you we could, you would end up being unhappy and I would end up losing a valued customer. What we can do is … this. Would that be acceptable?”

Being comfortable with saying “no” to a customer may very one of the most powerful and underrated qualities that a salesperson can have. You are clearly demonstrating to the customer that you are honest and will not make promises, ones that you can’t keep, just in order to get the sale.

What’s a clearly defined expectation?

What’s wrong with this statement … “I’ll get back to you on that!”? Get back to me with what and get back to me when? There are going to be four critical elements to any clearly defined expectations:

  1. “This is what you want and expect. Correct?” 
  1. “This is what I am going to do. Agreed?” 
  1. “This is when I am going to do that. Is that acceptable?” 
  1. “If for any reason I can’t do that, I will let you know by the agreed time (if not before). Are we good with that?” 

Please note that each of these steps finishes with a confirmation question. It is incredibly important to verify that your understanding of these points are in concert with that person or persons that you are working with. Finally, after this is all over, you had better ask this person if they feel that you performed as promised. Your perception of success may not match theirs.

Put it in writing!

Setting realistic, and specific, expectations for your customer, and putting those in writing, can turn out to be your best friend. Back in the late 70’s, as a newly minted sales representative, I sold an electronic ledger card accounting system to a customer. Custom programming was involved and the client insisted that we put EVERYTHING in writing. I saw little point to this but, for a $15,000 sale, I was willing to do just about ANYTHING.

Delivery time came and the first question out of his mouth was “Where’s my payroll system?” My heart sunk as we pulled out the agreement. Payroll was not listed and … I was a believer! When you put things in writing, and in complete detail, and both parties review and approve this, it will be very rare where expectations will not be in sync.

This being said, I still had not done my job as mentally this customer had the expectation of receiving something that we had not agreed to provide. All of us suffer, at least to some degree, from “selective listening”. We hear what we want to hear and conveniently discard the rest. If I had taken the time to review the contract, point by point, with the customer … this would have gone a long way toward ensuring that this system had met their exact expectations. For that matter, adding payroll would have increased this order by several thousand dollars. I had left money on the table. Ouch!

How about you? What are doing to manage expectations of yourself, of others, and of your valued customers?

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Craig M. Jamieson
Craig M. Jamieson is a lifelong B2B salesperson, manager, owner, and a networking enthusiast. Adaptive Business Services provides solutions related to the sales professional including Boise's best B2B leads group, NetWorks! Boise Valley. We are a Nimble SCRM Solution Partner and a Value Added Associate for TTI Performance Systems. Craig also conducts training and workshops primarily in social selling and communication skills. Craig is also the author of "The Small Business' Guide to Social CRM", now available on Amazon!
Craig M. Jamieson


Social Sales Trainer and Author Helping Businesses To Increase Their Revenues - Nimble SCRM Solution Partner, TTI VAA, Own & Operate a B2B Networking Group
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