When I asked my Twitter followers recently about their biggest online marketing pet peeves, one of the most common answers was companies not meeting expectations. People were frustrated at not receiving what they expected, having promises broken, or seeing marketers build up a false idea of what they would deliver.
I’ve felt the pain of not having my expectations met a few times recently. A couple of years ago I lucked into buying a pair of jeans that fit me really well. These jeans were comfy and looked good and I wore them so much that both legs developed holes. Some people might enjoy wearing jeans with holes but I try to avoid it (I like all my skin to be covered if I go to the effort to wear pants).
So the solution was obvious: go back to the same store and purchase the same style of jeans in the same size. I took a new pair home, cut off the tags, and wriggled into them, excited to have a pair of jeans to wear out that wouldn’t embarrass me by giving everyone a peek at my thighs.
But they didn’t fit.
Disbelieving, I took them off and compared them to my old, holey jeans: they didn’t match at all, but the tags said they were exactly the same.
When I shop in a worldwide chain store I expect to be able to purchase the same style of jeans, by the same company, in the same size, and have them fit in the same way. My expectations were dashed and now I feel unsure about shopping in that store anymore—the same place where I previously made an annual trip to replace my favorite shirts and shorts each summer.
When we think about great customer service, we generally think about satisfying our customers’ needs: giving them what they want.
But there’s an important component to this that we too-often overlook: meeting customer expectations.
What expectations are you setting for your customers?
There are two sides to the coin of customer expectations: the expectations your customers already have, and the expectations you create. You can only control one side of the coin (though you can take notice of both).
How are you pitching your services, products, and offers?
What are you telling people to expect if they purchase? And are you delivering?
When your customers buy your product or service, they’re buying into the promise of you meeting their expectations. Your sales pitch, your product pages online, your website copy, your tagline, your product packaging: these are the opportunities you have to set up customer expectations.
This doesn’t mean you need to go out of your way to set expectations high, or to trick your customers into purchasing. You need to be clear about what your customers will receive, because this is your chance to make sure you’re drawing in the right customers, and that you’re not setting them up with false hope about what they’re paying for.
“The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them—preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.”
However, as I saw when discussing online marketing on Twitter, it’s becoming all too common for customers to feel their hopes are built up unfairly, only to be dashed when they see what’s behind the marketing-speak.
So when you’re setting up customer expectations, be upfront about what your product does. Make it clear and concise. Answer any customer questions honestly so they know what they’re getting into. If you have to answer a customer question with ‘no’, they might purchase anyway if you’re honest about what you don’t do and why.
As a customer, knowing ahead of time what you won’t get from a service and the reasons why can make a purchase even more satisfying, because there are no questions about what you’ll receive. You’re in control because you have all the information about exactly what you’re buying.
And what about your marketing services? Do you have an email newsletter or social media accounts for your business? How are you setting expectations for those?
It’s not just products or paid services that carry expectations. When you ask people for their email address, or to follow you on Twitter, you have a chance to set expectations upfront about what they’ll get out of that.
Sean McCabe points this out in his podcast 4 keys to growing an audience when you feel like you’re not getting recognition. According to Sean, the first key is to curate what you share: that is, give your audience what they expect.
If you deliver new emails every Friday, your audience will come to expect it—you set those expectations implicitly through your actions. If you tell your customers when they sign up that you’ll send a new email every Friday, you’ve explicitly set up that expectation. Either way, your customers will be disappointed if you don’t deliver that email on Friday.
This also relates to what you share. If you consistently post content on Facebook related to your product and then suddenly start sharing photos of your dog, you’ll fall short of expectations you set in the first place.
Think carefully about why people sign up for your newsletter or follow you on social networks: what are they expecting to get when they agree to be part of that relationship with you?
Make sure that’s what you’re delivering, or people will get confused, frustrated, and leave.
What expectations do your customers already have?
Although you can’t control your customers’ preconceived notions about your industry, your product, or your company, you can better understand what expectations they have. Part of customer development—getting to know your customers and their problems—should be to understand their expectations.
Say they have the problem that using pen and paper for their accounting reports is too complicated and prone to error. You decide to fix this problem by developing accounting software. But you fail to realize that your customers have existing expectations that software is unreliable or hard to use due to previous bad experiences. You probably won’t sell a lot of software to solve their problem if you don’t first address their expectations.
Apart from talking to prospective customers, you can also gauge existing expectations from your current users—especially the ones who don’t find what they’re looking for in your products or services.
If you run a SaaS business you probably have an exit survey set up already for customers who close their accounts with you or return a purchase.
At Exist our exit interview is pretty simple: when you decide to delete your account, we give you a warning about what this means for your user data (i.e. it’ll be gone forever) and then ask you to choose from a drop-down list of reasons for the one that best describes why you’re leaving. We also have an optional text box where users can leave a comment with more specifics about what was missing from their experience.
Most users will only select a reason from the drop-down, leaving the text box blank, but that’s useful in itself. Knowing that one or two reasons are more common than any others helps you understand what expectations your customers have that you’re not meeting.
Even better are the few users who share free-form comments about what they expected when they signed up as you can use this to improve your sales pitch, landing page copy, and onboarding process to make sure you’re setting the right expectations for your customers before they sign up and as they get to know your product.
Remember, you can’t control your users’ expectations, but you can make an effort to understand them better.
And you can control the way you set expectations for what your customers will get when they purchase your product or sign up for your service.
According to Richard Branson, this is a solid path to success:
If you are seizing on a new business opportunity, deliberately move your customers’ expectations up a few notches and consistently over-deliver on your promises—you will leave your competitors struggling to catch up.
Image credit: Chris Sardegna