Understand and Meet Customer Expectations

Understand and Meet Customer Expectations

Most companies have sales managers, but too few have repeat sales managers. A repeat sales manager would be in charge of making sure the customer who bought the first time buys again. He would make sure the customer's experiences with the company were everything they wanted them to be. Chances are you don't have a repeat sales manager at your company, and the task of managing your customer's experience goes to you.

It's a critical task. Here's why.

A client of mine commissioned an extensive, expensive survey to gauge customer satisfaction. The survey revealed that the biggest area of customer concern was that the product and company that sold it did not meet expectations. Thirty-four percent of the clients polled mentioned that as an issue. And of those 34 percent, 69 percent were unlikely to do business with the company again.

Repeat business is the most profitable business, so losing a large part of your customer base hurts the bottom line, even if you replace the business with a fresh supply of customers.

Delivering the expected product or service should be your minimum standard. Theodore Levitt wrote about the expected product in his classic management book, The Marketing Imagination. For instance, if you attend a seminar and get a nice workbook with an extensive bibliography, checklist, forms and tools, you'll expect to get a similar workbook the next time you go to a seminar. If you don't get a nice workbook at the next seminar, you will be dissatisfied. Even if the speaker is excellent, you will be dissatisfied because you expected a workbook.

Every industry has a generic product and an expected product. Even if you are selling a so-called commodity product, there are certain customer expectations. A salesperson selling long-haul trucking (generic service) can get a higher price per mile if he can document his firm's 98.4 percent delivery record. His customers expect their merchandise to arrive on time, not just to eventually get there.

To provide a higher level of service, you have to know what the expected product is. Many times, customers don't know what to expect. Great salespeople think in terms of opening relationships rather than closing sales. They understand that the big money and job satisfaction come from keeping customers instead of churning customers. Therefore, they discuss customer expectations up front. The expected product may be different for different customers.

The script for managing a customer's expectations might go something like this: "I'm excited about the opportunity do business with you. I want to be clear about your expectations of my product and me. Imagine it's six months from now. What will have to have happened during that period to make you want to continue doing business with me and my company and for you to refer my services to your colleagues?

After you have adapted this script and asked the questions in your own words, listen while the customer details his expectations. Your job is to be clear about what satisfactions the customer is looking for. You will probably have to ask some follow-up questions to be clear.

    • How often do you expect us to meet?
    • What do you consider good service?
    • What return on investment are you looking for?

The way to give your customers a better experience is to ask them what kind of experience they expect and then to deliver those expectations instead of taking the order and running.

Be proactive. Be sure to tell your new customers what other customers have experienced. Put things into perspective. Tell them how long it is going to take to see results or to train their people on the new equipment. You'll build your credibility when that's exactly what happens.

Reading the Customer's Mind

The Gallup Organization has done some revolutionary research about customer expectations and reported it in the book, First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Gallup has identified the four levels of customer expectations.

According to authors Buckingham and Coffman:

"These four expectations, in sequence, show companies what they must do to turn prospects into advocates.

  • Level 1: At the lowest level, customers expect accuracy.
  • Level 2: The next step is availability.
  • Level 3: At this level customers expect partnership.
  • Level 4: The most advanced level of customer expectation is advice. Customers feel the closest bond to organizations that have helped them learn."

The authors point out that you must be accurate and accessible before your customers will want to form partnerships with you and ask you for your advice. Send out an inaccurate invoice or fail to return calls and emails promptly, and they won't want to enter into a consultative partnership with you or attend your company-sponsored seminars.

Download the attached document and make notes in each column about ways you and your company could be more accurate and accessible. Then, move to how you can form partnerships and offer advice. Align your sales behavior with the things that customers want, and you'll retain more customers and gain more referrals.