Every prospective and existing customer and client arrives at the premises, on the telephone or on-line with expectations. These can be and are influenced, or indeed often determined in part or in whole, by past experiences, word-of-mouth references, advertising, website designs, literature, premises presentations, image, reputations and the attitudes of staff members.
Achieving and sustaining satisfaction are functions of the consistency and continuity of the service provided. This can involve numerous people, departments and sections which contribute to the experiences encountered and, hopefully, enjoyed by the customers and clients.
Among the consistently best service providing entities are those that embrace the “horizontal organisation” philosophy. In essence, the traditional pyramid organisation structure is turned on its side, and hierarchy or seniority have no consideration with individuals accepting and embracing responsibility and authority for ensuring customer satisfaction by managing their expectations. Everyone is a nominal manager.
No gaps are tolerated in service provision, authority, responsibility or communications. Reception, sales, service, production, logistics, credit and support people recognise, accept, embrace, endorse and celebrate their respective central and integral roles as team members charged with managing customer expectations.
Care is taken to ensure that all relevant people who contribute to managing the expectations are advised in timely and appropriate ways of their roles and of the commitments given to customers.
Those expectations can and do include personal presentation, the standards applied to cleanliness, accuracy, timelines and the attitudes of team members.
It is well to remember that the first person to interact with the expectant customer is seldom the last person in the organisation to do so. The expectations remain the same.
The overriding challenge for team members in pursuit of consistently meeting clients and customers' expectations is to engage, commit and to develop sustainable mutually rewarding relationships. Each is largely founded on attitudes.
FACE THE FACTS
Fundamental to recognising, responding to and fulfilling expectations are the unimpeachable virtues of truth, facts, realism, information sharing and empowering clients and customers with attractive and viable choices.
“Get the deal or contract on any basis” is now a redundant philosophy. It's okay to say no, or to reset unreasonable and unachievable deadlines and benchmarks for delivery, price and service standards.
Above all else it is logical, acceptable and to be applauded for one to make a profit.
Being open, transparent and honest is greatly valued by customers. It meets their expectations. Most expect nothing less.
ANALYSE THE PLAYING FIELD
Many aspects and factors can and do contribute to the fulfilment and to the failure of meeting expectations.
Each service provider, team, section or department needs to recognise that they are, at one time or another, the axis or axle in a dynamic rotating wheel of service delivery.
The spokes of that wheel are:
• Sequential flow
• Authority levels
• Product knowledge
Individually and collectively they need to be strong, consistent and complete. Otherwise the ride can be exceedingly bumpy, costly and involve considerable maintenance and remedial costs.
Not unsurprising is the reality that inadequacies in and among the communication channels, vehicles and communicators cause the greatest and most recurring deficiencies in meeting expectations.
We need to enhance our communication skills, better use all available channels and be forever conscious of the need to avoid presumptions when dealing with customers. A lack of comprehension on the part of either party to a communication exchange creates filters, barriers, impediments and causes confusion, annoyance, frustration, misunderstanding and results in expectations not being understood or satisfied.
The consequences of not fulfilling expectations can be quantified in terms of:
• Productivity losses
• Income sub-optimisation
• Client satisfaction shortfalls
• Relationship fractures
• Lack of loyalty
• Absences of referrals
• Impaired company images
Each can be and often is a heavy burden, whose presence is reflected on the bottom line... You can bank on it.
Here is a sobering reality check. In dealings with external clients and customers one error, delay or fault typically has a cascading impact on between 5 and 7 people associated with or dependent upon that single direct client. Take pause. It is not difficult or very taxing to recognise and visualise that interdependent chain of relationships.
THE NEXT STEP TO FULFILLING EXPECTATIONS
Asking questions of customers, clients and internal associate service providers is empowering, satisfying and reaffirming.
It is the initial step to ensure that everyone knows and cares about what is expected of the company, the product, the service, the team and the individual.
Four simple direct questions provide clarity.
• Do you know what I have committed us to?
• Do you understand what is expected of you?
• Do you comprehend the priorities and timelines?
• Are there any reasons we can't fulfil the expectations?
From there it is simply a matter of confirming the outcomes, following through, following up and celebrating the attainment and fulfilment of the expectations.
Well done. Well managed. Expectations fulfilled.