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Not What I Bargained For: Setting Customer Expectations | #ICMIchat Rundown (August 18, 2020)

Woman drawing on whiteboard.

Expectations are like heartbeats. Everyone has one, and they change depending on the situation. Understanding customer expectations is crucial to effective customer service and customer experience management. While common sense guidelines create a framework for learning what customers expect, what customers demand from your organization is often a unique combination of their broader experiences, commitments you've made, and past experiences working with you.

Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Next week, we explore "Giving Away the Farm: Compensating Angry Customers." A question preview follows this article.

Once we determine what experiences influence our customers' demands, we can be deliberate in how we communicate what we're able and prepared to supply. We should also recognize that expectations are a moving target, influenced by happenings in our customers' lives and our competitors' advancements. Contact centers play a critical role in understanding and fulfilling customer expectations and recovering from service failures when promises are missed.

Expectations From Everywhere

To manage customer expectations, we must understand how they're formed and where they come from. We create some customer expectations ourselves through sales and marketing promises, our published policies, and previous service interactions. However, expectations are also formed by our competitors and industry norms outside of our direct control. Even experiences customers have with completely unrelated businesses can impact how they expect us to perform. Once customers get a taste of excellent service from one provider, they begin to expect similar behaviors by all other service providers regardless of their industry.

As industry leaders, we need to begin by asking ourselves... after all, we are customers, too. What Customer Experience do we expect when we buy? When we need Customer Service? Starting there will take you far.

It's a combination of previous experiences, their own wants/needs, and what we do (or don't ) to set expectations.

Customer preferences, needs & "expectations" are fueled by #wordofmouth, then social content & advertising. There is equal parts algorithmic, paid and advocacy at work to forge what people think before they people believe.

Previous experiences with that brand, other peoples previous experiences with that brand, marketing/ sales/ representatives of the brand, competitors view of a brand, or it seems like these days–anyone with a webcam and some spare time.

Control What You Can

It's not easy keeping up with customer expectations that are set externally. We don't always have the technological resources to go head to head with much larger competitors, and massive contact centers struggle to deliver a small team's personalized service. We can control the commitments we make, though, and this begins with sales and marketing. When other business units don't understand the contact centers capabilities, they're liable to set unreasonable expectations. Working closely to match service commitments with achievable service capabilities is a team effort across the enterprise.

Marketing and sales set the promise. The CCTR sets the delivery. The gap between the two is customer dissatisfaction. Agents should give feedback to campaigns. They know better how customers will respond. Without involvement there is no commtiment.

When sales and marketing are siloed-off from the contact center, they may inadvertently end up setting unrealistic expectations by making promises to the customer that cannot be kept in the end. Only when all three are unified can we build seamless experiences.

Sales and marketing tend to exaggerate... or just straight up lie in many cases. This leaves the operations team in a dubious position and causes tons of interdepartmental friction. Contact centers have to just execute on expectations as well as possible.

Where You Come In

Contact centers and their agents are the embodiment of our brands. For many, this is the only human connection a customer will ever have with the company. Contact centers must have the people, processes, and technologies to fulfill the brand's promises and exceed customer expectations every time we're called on by a customer. We also play a vital role in learning about what customers expect from us, how they use our products, and where they get stuck along their journey. If you're not using your contact center as a resource for customer intelligence, you're missing out on valuable insights.

Contact center = front door, agents = face of brand. The customer experience will never exceed the employee experience so start inside. Ditch the script. Arm ppl with tools, permission to act authentically & with authority to take calculated risks in the name of CX.

Contact centers is the defensive team in a way. They come in (generally) when there is a problem. We have the unique privilege of restoring faith and putting the experience back on track.

Contact centers should use the information it collects in each contact to report back to the org about factors that are distorting customers' expectations: making them want too much or too little. CCTR knows things about customers & #CX that no other dept will ever know.

Contact centers should be an extension of the brand. Think of your favorite companies - and you will almost always remember an experience that is often related to personal engagement. Contact center experiences should be memorable.

Understanding Is Crucial

We must deeply understand what customers want before we can wow, amaze, and delight them. Customer needs change along their lifecycle with an organization, and many of their most essential wishes aren't plainly expressed. Furthermore, taking time out of their day to reach our customer service isn't always high on customers' list. When we design experiences to anticipate customer needs, we can eliminate this burden from their task list while also decreasing our overall service costs.

If we’re striving to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations, we must first seek to understand them. We cannot forget that the customer determines the value of the interaction, not us. They do so by subtracting expectations from their actual experience.

Ensuring a contextually-relevant and empathetic experience is necessary to address customer needs. FAQ's and script-modeling don't go deep enough, and CX & customer service pros know this. Why don't we give as much to them as we do marketing?

We must always remember that in most cases the customer expects NOT to have to contact customer service. We need to innovate and improve in such a way that they don't have to in the future.

Because if you dont do it proactively, you will learn it reactively. With each learning, there is lost reputation --> opportunities -> growth -> market share. Oh, and customer churn!

Let's Be Real

Some customer expectations seem unrealistic or unreasonable at first glance, but most customers aren't out to get us. By digging deeper into where seemingly unreasonable expectations come from may reveal a perfectly logical explanation for them. Too often, customers are written off as difficult or demanding, without first being fully understood. Service providers often play a part in creating these bad expectations. Once we know how they're created, we can avoid them in the future.

Yes but these are few and far between. More often, we label them as unreasonable without taking the time to really understand their point of view.

Oh yes, customers sometimes have unrealistic expectations. Maybe they don't understand the product, its distribution, or the laws of gravity. Maybe they're schemers. Deciding what's reasonable is a mutual thing. Think of that sliver between 2 Venn diagram circles.

We are in the age of convenience. I think it's inevitable that customers are going to have unrealistic expectations. It's up to the company to do it's best to understand and meet in the middle. Unfortunately, there are those customers that just can't be helped.

Filling The Gaps

When expectations are missed and promises are broken, the contact center is often a customer's first stop in the recovery process. Recovering from these experience mishaps requires emotional intelligence, empathy, and a strong willingness to make it right from our contact center agents. Equally important is how well agents, and the organization as a whole, listens and learns from these mistakes.

All businesses should listen closely to feedback the CCTR provides about web content, FAQs, app's functionality, packaging, retail experience - EVERYTHING. Customers' nutty expectations arise when elements of CX don't work or overpromise.

Communication is fundamental to customer experience. So often, better communication on the part of the company can bridge the expectation gap with customers. Better could be clearer, more frequent, simpler, more consistent, etc.

This is where having real-time CLTV (customer lifetime value) insights helps gauge the unique expectations and probable business outcomes from judging reasonability. We can objectively operate most of the time, but need to be on the ready for the subjective at any time.

Setting Our Targets

Where organizations can set expectations in advance, they often face a difficult decision. They can promise to achieve high standards, win business in the short term, and risk falling short of expectations in practice. Alternatively, they might attempt to guarantee very little, adding disclaimers and instilling caution, widely avoiding any risk of broken promises. Still, they may be overlooked as a competitive choice for buyers. When it comes to expectations we can set, we should aim high and ground ourselves in reality.

Depends on if we're setting goals for political reasons (political, either with a lower case p or capital P). I would rather have a low, achievable goal on paper than no goal at all. If that's what it takes to get us started toward setting CX goals, then fine.

At the very least, we must set high expectations (and deliver on them) for our customers’ basic needs they’re trying to fulfill by doing business with us. Everything additionally is icing on the cake, and it may be ok to underpromise and over deliver here.

This is too philosophical for my blood. Set a high standard and consistently achieve it. Own up to it readily on occasions that you miss.

Making Amends

Even the best thought-out experiences will occasionally fall short, sometimes through no fault of our own. When this happens, contact centers need to take responsibility and be accountable to their customers. Customers are usually understanding of occasional missteps; we're all human. How our organizations respond usually dictates how easy it is for customers to forgive and move on.

The only possible way you can save that relationship is through complete humility and transparency. And an action-backed commitment not to make the same mistake again. (It really sucks as a manager when you have to apologize for the same thing more than once)

We should respond in line with our brand promise. If we missed the mark there, we need to apologize and make it right. If we hit the mark but the customer's expectation does not match what we can deliver, we need to express that (in a kind way) as well.

With a plan to reassure the customer it was a one-off. What you're doing about it, what the current status is, what steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again.

Communication and action. Explaining where the miscommunication happened and doing everything you can to make it right. Then actually ensure the issue doesn't happen again.

#ICMIchat August 25, 2020
Giving Away the Farm: Compensating Angry Customers

Giving Away the Farm: Compensating Angry Customers

Q1: Why do customers get angry, and what does it take to satisfy them?

Q2: Are angry customers generally reasonable or unreasonable? Why might some make unreasonable requests?

Q3: When is it appropriate to give customers something of monetary value? Is it ever inappropriate?

Q4: How much should you give away to a dissatisfied customer? How much is too little? Too much?

Q5: If you’re unable to give things away, such as a government service provider, is there anything that can be done instead?

Q6: Should agents be empowered to spend money to make customers happy? Why or why not? How much latitude should they be granted?

Q7: Is it important to track how much is given away by agent or by customer? What should managers measure? Why?

Q8: Does giving things away always solve the problem/make customers happy? Should we consider anything else?

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