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Ten Customer Expectations--and How They Are Changing

Customer expectations are evolving rapidly!

Okay ... so you already knew that. And most of us are instinctively aware of the main underlying driver: Innovations and improvements in services shift customer demands. Customers initially appreciate better services; but then they quickly get used to, expect and demand them. And the experiences they have with any organization (not just others in a vertical sector) help shape perceptions.

Here’s the good news: Zeroing in on what customers expect is not the hit-or-miss proposition it may seem. ICMI has followed this issue for many years, and ten expectations continue to emerge from customer feedback and surveys. Service-leading organizations are leveraging them to raise the bar, while avoiding the trap of treating customers like commodities.

10 Customer Expectations

The key—and the tricky part of this—is to anticipate and continually gauge what these expectations mean. That is the moving target. There was a time when being accessible simply meant having a toll-free number and reasonably well-trained agents. Today, there are, of course, many access alternatives and customers expect that they will work well together. Appropriate service level and response time objectives, easy-to-use self-service capabilities, and the ability to reach the right agents through convenient channels (chat, text, call, social, mobile, et al.) are important aspects of accessibility.  (See Elias Parker’s case for including text in the channel mix.)

While courtesy used to refer primarily to the way agents handled calls, the definition today is much more systems- and process-dependent. Don't make customers repeat the same information. Don't transfer them around. And don't make them go over their account history again. Simple steps can go a long way, such as programming IVR menus that are intuitive to use and that allow callers to opt out. Another issue we continue to see in customer surveys: "Put your contact information where I can find it when I need it!"

Definitions of responsiveness and promptness are also evolving. Consider email response times, which have seen significant revisions in recent years — from 24 hours just a few years ago, to no more than a few hours in most service-leading organizations today. In fact, some are staffing for email like calls or chat, handling them as they arrive. Similarly, a growing number of organizations are queuing and handling time-sensitive social interactions as they occur.

Another common expectation is to provide well-trained and informed employees — a major focus in many organizations. With multiple means of contact, the immediacy and brand implications of social channels, and better-informed customers who come from diverse backgrounds and generations, ´┐╝this is as challenging and important as ever. Leading contact centers are making great strides in upgrading recruiting and hiring practices, educating agents and managers, and implementing better knowledge-management tools and processes (see Matt Riley’s recent article on assessing what your customers are asking for.)

Tell me what to expect. Meet your commitments and keep your promises. Do it right the first time. Follow up. These issues are inextricably interrelated. Robust forecasts, schedules, tools and training help ensure contacts reach the right agents at the right times and are handled appropriately. Similarly, commitments that agents make must be backed up by people, processes and technologies across departments to ensure that orders, deliveries, account changes, etc., are handled as promised. Consumers seem to live by the mantra "trust, but verify" — they'll trust your organization (and usually send more business your way) if you hold up your end of the bargain. (See Jeremy Watkin’s very practical advice for acting on voice of the customer.)

Be socially responsible and ethical. Lapses, or even perceived lapses, in ethics or social responsibility quickly make the rounds in feedback and customer communities. Watchdog groups have established numerous websites and blogs, and consumers can monitor activities and quickly sound alarms. Corporate ethics and responsibility concern the entire organization, but the contact center, as a hub of communication internally and externally, is often at the center of these issues, which can develop quickly.

So, what to do with these expectations? Ensure that your management team thoroughly understands them. Post them prominently. Look for them in customer feedback (collected through surveys and otherwise). And work considerations of them into all decisions, large and small. (I know of one Director who had her team managers literally memorize the list.)

Knowing your customers and anticipating their expectations is essential to developing effective customer contact services. And doing so is much easier when you use this framework as a starting point.