In the world of customer service and technical support, our goal is to meet and exceed customer expectations. So what do customers expect exactly? One major component is “certainty” —customers go where they are certain that a service will meet their expectations.

No wonder that McDonalds and Starbucks have had such success. Not always with high quality products, but usually with consistent service.

Are We Shooting Ourselves in the Foot?

One wonders, without consistency in meeting expectations, are we setting ourselves up for failure? In theory, customers set the expectations. In reality, we in customer service, can and do set customer expectations. And, if we don’t set expectations, by default customers will set their own (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. When we do not consistently manage and meet customer expectations, customer service may be causing to customer dissatisfaction!

Mini Case Study 1: A Hotel

Recently, after conducting a customer service workshop for a technical support team, I was leaving the hotel for dinner. I inquired at the front desk how late they have coffee in the lobby. I was informed:

“Twenty-four/seven – coffee all the time.”

Returning to the hotel, I was looking forward to my desert (a decaf with French Vanilla creamer). Sadly, they were out of coffee. When I inquired at the front desk, the reply was:

“Oh, we stop making coffee at 9 pm.”

What could have prevented me from setting this un-met expectation?

What customer satisfaction rating do you think I gave this hotel?

Mini Case Study 2: A Customer Support Center

Working with clients around the world, we are sometimes asked to listen in to how a customer call is handled. One example:

Agent: “I’ll be sure to keep you updated on resolving your issue.”

(next day)

Customer: “I want to talk to your VP of Customer Service! I was promised an update – never happened!!!”

What could have prevented the customer from setting this expectation?

What satisfaction rating would this transaction earn?

Management Responsibilities

The good news is that as a manger or supervisor, you have an opportunity to prevent the inadvertent customer dissatisfaction. Lifting some ideas from Making It Happen™ , our management coaching program:

  • Collect input from customers, staff and executives on reasonable and valuable expectations. Customer phone surveys and focus groups are a great source of input.
  • Analyze escalated cases and customer complaints – did we cause any due to unrealistic expectations?
  • Devise and publicize quality standards and objectives – internally first.
  • Educate and train all customer service staff. This skill development especially applies to backline and additional staff that the front-line employees rely on.
  • Monitor and measure regularly.
  • Establish “customer expectations” as a standing staff meeting topic.
  • Publicize and recognize progress and success.
  • Follow up! Keep an eye out, measure, observe and see that the standards are being met. If they are not, find out why. Is it training? Capacity? Tools? The value of the standard?

Meeting customer satisfaction is a daily challenge. We need not aggravate this by needlessly driving customer expectations beyond our reach. The key is to set expectations that can be consistently and reasonably met across all customer support locations.