All business owners rely on happy customers. Replacing customers is expensive, and it's even harder when there are disgruntled people out there using the internet to wreck a company's reputation. Thus, most of us spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how we can improve customer satisfaction and retention.

However, many business owners miss a key element lurking behind typical customer frustrations. The element is ignorance.

Not stupidity, but ignorance--a lack of understanding or knowledge. Customers don't always understand the goods and services they buy. Whipping out a checkbook or a credit card is a sign that the customer has been convinced that you might be able to solve his problem. It is not a sign that he grasps all that will go into solving that problem.

As a result, customers develop unrealistic expectations about how your relationship with them, and how their relationship with your product, should ultimately proceed.

My industry is online reputation management, and few people really understand how it works. That's not really surprising. Reputation management requires us to be experts in a lot of fields that are arcane to the average business owner. We have to make use of national SEO, local SEO, traditional public relations strategies, content marketing, webmaster outreach and social media marketing to solve our customer's problems. Any one of these fields is complex in its own right. People devote whole blogs to any one of these topics, let alone all of them.

Thus, a customer might not readily understand why we "can't just" get Yelp to remove that nasty review, or why we "don't just" write up a bunch of good reviews to balance out the bad one.

Obviously, we don't want to give out refunds or gift cards every time a customer develops an unrealistic expectation about what we can accomplish. As a result, we've learned to make customer education a big part of our strategy. This education process happens at three key customer touch points.

Content Marketing

Customer education should be the backbone of your content marketing strategy. After all, content marketing is all about providing customers with information. Shouldn't most of that information be focused on the things that make them happier and more comfortable doing business with you?

During the Sales Process

Sales representatives create stronger relationships and build trust when they take the time to fully explain services to customers. This means reducing chargebacks caused by buyer's remorse.

On Customer Service Calls

Preventative medicine doesn't always work. Sometimes customers will call in with issues or concerns in spite of your best efforts. When they do, customer education can be a powerful tool for solving their issues and calming their fears.

Every industry requires some level of customer education!

Don't assume your industry is too basic to require customer education, and never assume customers "just know" what you mean.

Misunderstandings can crop up over phrases that are as simple as, "The installation professional will be at your home between 8 and 12." You should take the time to explain that this means the professional could show up at 8:00 on the dot or at 11:59 AM. You should also take the time to explain that it will take 2-4 hours to complete the work, and the homeowner is expected to be at home the entire time.

If you don't, I guarantee that the customer is going to put in an angry call at 8:15 because the installer is "late," and he needs to be somewhere at 9.

Creating a customer education strategy that works

Start by identifying the most common misunderstandings that arise between you and your customers. If you're not sure what those are, talk to your front line sales and customer service people. They'll know!

Once you've armed yourself with this information you can start creating the materials that will help you launch your new customer education initiative. When you're done implementing this initiative you should see a nice reward: fewer cancellations, fewer refunds, and more customers who stick around for the long haul.