How Well Are You Realistically Managing Customer Expectations?

Copyright: <a href=''>georgerudy / 123RF Stock Photo</a>A frequently quoted “formula” in the field of customer relations tells us: “expectations – reality = disappointment.” While this may seem simplistic, don’t relegate it to the ranks of witty sayings or bumper sticker slogans. There is a great deal of truth in this straightforward equation. Most business owners, managers and customer-facing employees have dealt with unhappy customers. It’s part of the job. But all too often, that customer frustration or disappointment can be avoided by properly managing expectations.

As the formula suggests, the higher a customer’s initial expectations, the greater their potential disappointment/frustration. For example, a sales representative negotiating a potential deal with a  prospective customer says she can probably get her boss to approve an annual fee for the service of $10,000. Unfortunately, it turns out the best she can do is $15,000. The prospective customer is going to be understandably disappointed, if not angry, that his expectations were not met. If, on the other hand, the sales rep had told the prospect the cost would likely range between $15,000 and $17,500 per year, returning with a $15,000 price tag becomes a positive, because it’s at the low end of the prospect’s anticipated range (expectations). Even though the price (reality) is the same in both cases, the customer experience is different. The same concept applies to project timelines, product quality, etc.

Obviously, there’s a balancing act that needs to be struck, especially when there is no business arrangement already in place. Most businesses do not exist in a bubble, and there are likely competitors making promises and offers to prospective customers that you need to be aware of. Setting expectations so low that your potential customer goes to a competitor promising more isn’t the idea here. Adam Heitzman, co-founder of SEO firm HigherVisibility, relates his experience managing customer expectations with clients in a piece for As Heitzman notes, “When a client expects the impossible or initiates the professional relationship with unrealistic goals, it sets everyone up for disappointment.”

The idea of managing expectations is easier when we’re outside of the sales process. For ongoing relationships, we’re not as worried about a customer going over to the competition, and the relationship is more well-established. To maintain a healthy partnership, though, it’s important to not over-promise and to deliver on commitments that are made.

Even when you’re doing something special for a customer, it’s important to keep future expectations in mind. For example, if you are able to give a customer a great deal on price, make sure they know it’s a special case and that they shouldn’t expect the same discount with every transaction.

It can be very hard to show a customer a lengthy project schedule or big price tag, but if that is the reality, they are going to discover it sooner or later. It’s far better to set their expectations accurately up front than to disappoint them when you deliver.

How do you ensure that you’re realistically managing customer expectations?

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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