Customer service has always been considered one of the most important aspects of a successful company. This isn't always the most exciting department to perfect for business owners, however, so oftentimes it can get pushed to the backburner. For many, the current strategy is easy: See if someone complains, and if so, have someone respond as best they can.

The truth is that creating a customer service strategy is much more than just answering customer questions. Analyzing customer expectations and then managing those expectations can help you have better customer service because you understand your audience. This will help you cut down on complaints, but there are a few questions to have to ask to get to this point: How do you determine your customers' expectations, and then how can you manage those to create a better customer service experience?

How to Determine Customer Expectations

Before you can actually begin managing customer expectations, you have to actually know what they are, where they're coming from, and how they may evolve over time. You of course have your basic expectations that work for just about any company--you want it to feel like someone cares about your issues, you want someone who is on time and prompt in their responses, and you want to feel that the person helping you is organized and knowledgeable enough that there will be a successful outcome. But is there more to it than just these basics?

If you want to get more advanced, it's going to depend on your industry, company, and your audience. There are a few different questions you can ask yourself to help you create a solid list of expectations:

  • Look at Google and Yelp reviews. Take a look at some of the reviews on sites like Yelp and Google to see what customers are vocalizing for both your company as well as your competition.
  • Look at your competition. It's always a good idea to see what your competition is offering customers to see if there is anything you're missing. Take a look at some of the promises the company is making and some of the testimonials to get a full picture.
  • Gather data. As your company grows you will be able to collect stories and data from customer service reps. Keep a list going and make sure you find trends in this data to see what customers are expecting.
  • Ask! You can do this by creating a survey, sending email marketing messages asking for feedback, creating a contest, simply asking those who pop into your store or your website, etc. This is, of course, the most targeted data around!

Part of understanding expectations is also understanding where these expectations come from in the first place--social media, word of mouth and referrals, other similar experiences, and cultural norms. It's also important to understand what you, as a company owner, may want your customer's expectations to be, and then keep this in mind as you work to improve your customer service approach.

Andy Kroll--VP and General Manager of North American Van Lines was asked about his experience on dealing with managing expectations and he stated that "The expectations of our customer largely define our process from the start--we try to reach out as early as possible to gain an idea of what a customer requires and how to achieve it."

Tips for Managing These Expectations

  1. Be smart when it comes to prioritizing.

In almost every situation, you are going to need to prioritize different tasks. This will help ensure that you are not skipping anything important, which could be a major customer service issue.

  1. Effective communication with the right people handling each issue.

You always want to make sure you have good communication between departments in your company, employees within each department, and then between the customer and your company. This takes good communication so that you can make sure you have all sides of an issue fixed and so you know that you're sending the right (or most knowledgeable) person to talk with the customer.

  1. Always have a quick response time.

This is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a good strategy in place by following the points in this list, you should be able to respond quickly and effectively, which is arguably the most important thing for the customer.

  1. Make realistic promises and be honest.

The worst thing you can do is make a promise based on a customer expectation that you can't meet. You have to be honest when talking with customers. If you know their expectations you should be able to anticipate what they're looking for, so if you can't deliver that, make sure you have a good reason why and an alternate solution to meet that expectation.

  1. Be transparent.

The worst thing you can do for a customer is keep secrets--this is oftentimes an expectation customers have that they don't realize they have until they actually see it at play. Being transparent helps establish trust and confidence.

  1. Always follow-up.

This is an age-old customer expectation and one of the easiest to work with for a company, so don't miss sending that email to make sure everything is okay. This shows you care and will get you far with a customer.

The Takeaway

Understanding customer expectations is going to be an ongoing process and your strategy will continue to grow with each passing year. Once you have a pretty good handle on expectations, you can start to build a solid customer service approach that should help keep your company at the top of your industry year after year.