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Reducing the customer expectation vs the reality gap

Out of all the traps marketers fall into, there’s one which ensnares more than most.

It’s a trap often sprung thanks to creator blindness. When you’ve created a product, it’s difficult to stay impartial and create an objective marketing campaign.

It’s why you see so many claims of the greatest, best or cheapest service online. And sure, it can feel great to boast about what you’ve spent so long creating, but doing so can have a drastic, negative effect on customer service and can be a huge detriment to sales.

Creator blindness and overblown claims often lead to inflated customer expectations. Expectations that you simply can’t meet.

Ask yourself of all the vague claims of a product being the greatest, cheapest or some other superlative term, how many have provided real evidence that what they’re saying is the truth?

Few, if any, right?

Saying your product is the greatest only serves to bloat your ego. If you have nothing to prove your claims, then you’re setting a bar you cannot meet and can expect a very public backlash to your mismanagement of consumer expectations.

Expectation management is important

We’ve said it a thousand times. The importance of social proof is not to be underestimated.

Your potential customers will look to reviews and public opinion to help them form their decision on whether they should purchase. You have no control over the opinions others have of your brand. You can ask them to leave reviews, but you’re going to have to deal with them whether they’re good, bad, average or scathing.

So what can you do to make sure that the reviews users leave are as positive as they can be?

Well, the generic answer is to exceed customer expectation because:

  • Only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations

But simply saying you have to exceed customer expectation is like saying a successful business has to increase sales.

It’s stating the obvious and, honestly, it’s an empty statement.

Of course, you have to provide a great customer service, but great customer service doesn’t begin during or even after a sale. No, great customer service, the type that elicits amazing reviews and dozens of referrals begins when establishing the expectation for your brand.

You can begin by letting your users know exactly what they can expect from you. Do it well, and they’ll never be disappointed. This is our plan for improving your brand’s customer expectation management.

First, understand what your consumers expect from you

You can’t meet customer expectations if you don’t know what it is they want from you.

We’re not talking about the generic wants and needs of customers. Every brand should be striving to provide a great customer service, streamlined purchase journey and an excellent brand experience.

No, you need to get more specific than that. You need to know exactly what it is your audience wants from you. The specific wants, needs and desires they have.

Start by collecting data

Want to know what your users want? Then ask them.

There’s plenty of great survey tools available now that will make finding exactly what your users want from you a breeze. Of course, the basic advice of running surveys applies.

  • Use open-ended questions to get the best answers
  • Link your questions to your objectives
  • Keep your questions short and simple

To get the most out of your surveys you want to take them a step further and use them to find out which areas you’re failing to meet expectations in. For this, we recommend following the advice of convinceandconvert.com’s Jay Baer;

“Customer experience is all about expectation management. Great customer experience occurs when you exceed customer expectations in a palpable way. Poor customer experience occurs when you fail to meet customer expectations.

Thus, the best way to measure customer experience is to mine that expectation gap. Ask every customer (or a random sample) a simple question: ‘On a scale of 1-10 how much better (or worse) was your experience with our company compared to what you expected?’

Rather than only asking about the business as a whole, we recommend using the Jay Baer method and asking how your company compared with expectations in specific areas such as purchase experience, customer service, delivery etc.

Doing so will make the feedback you receive that little bit more targeted and actionable.

Analyse where you’re not meeting expectations

Now you’ve got a good deal of information on your customer’s expectations, it’s time to analyse your business to understand where you’re not meeting them.

If you’ve followed the advice thus far you should already have an indication of which areas of your business aren’t up to the standard your customers expect.

However, at the minute that data is incomplete.

Your explicit data and Jay Baer’s expectation gap will help identify the low hanging fruit, but it’s not a full rundown of what users need from you.

To bolster the information and really ensure that you have the complete information, you’re also going to have to delve into your analytics data.

The implicit data that’s provided through engagement statistics might, on first thought, seem pretty useless for expectation. However, they provide a good indication of which areas of your business are failing to meet customer expectations.

Look through your analytics data to find areas of your site that experience high bounce rates, low time on page, a disproportionate number of exits or any other negative results.

For example, let’s imagine that you see a larger than average exit rate on the page that details your shipping fees. Your explicit data also suggests that users are very concerned about price. Below are a few test ideas that could potentially increase conversions:

  • Offer cheaper / free shipping
  • Keep a running total in the corner of the screen throughout the purchase journey (as demonstrated below)
  • Add the shipping fees to the running total in the corner so users aren’t hit with an unexpected cost

Cart abandonment due to shipping costs is a well-documented issue. It also proves the point that implicit data can be the smoking gun to a particular expectation gap.

Find the pages that see low engagement and fail to hit key metrics, examine them, don your detective hat and try to identify the most obvious reason.

Couple your explicit and implicit data and you should have a good idea of what it is your audience wants from you.

Optimise areas where you’re falling short

We know what your users want from you and the areas of your business that are letting you down.

The next job is examining how you can improve the areas that are lagging behind and optimise them to meet customer expectations.

Don’t worry about getting this right first time around. As with any other optimisation effort, this is an iterative process. You’re going to go through many different rounds of testing before you’ve improved to a level where few customers complain.

The most important thing right now is to get started. You know the problem areas and you know what people want to get to work on giving it to them.

For example. Take a look at the below complaint made via Twitter:

Without knowing the full story our guesses at how to narrow the customer expectation gap are just that, guesses. However, Ebuyer could have explored the below options:

  • Clearly, display the deadline for placing orders for Saturday (this assumes the customer missed that deadline yet still thought they were entitled to Saturday delivery)
  • Stop offering Saturday delivery entirely
  • Speak to Yodel about delivering what was contractually agreed and if the service doesn’t improve, hire a more reliable service that will deliver on time

These aren’t huge actions and won’t take a lot of time to implement, but they could have a huge impact on your business.

Once you’ve implemented these changes it’s a case of tracking future engagement and amending further iterations of improvement based on the results.

Honesty is the best policy

Before you start cracking on with optimising your processes to reduce the customer expectation and reality gap, there’s one overriding rule that needs to permeate everything you do.

Be honest.

Most expectations are inflated thanks to over the top claims and grandiose brags. Ensure that what you say you’re offering really is what the user is going to get.

Are you the best service in the city? Who says so and what’s the proof? Can you guarantee delivery in 24 hours or did you just include that after reading it can help increase conversions?

There’s a real temptation to lie simply because such imposing terms make a bigger impact, but they do you no favours when it comes to customer service.

If you’re honest, the number of people who can complain when you don’t provide what you’ve promised will be drastically reduced. You’ll have fewer negative social reviews, a more succinct marketing campaign but most importantly, a happier customer base.