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“When Would You Like It?” March 23, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Setting Customer Expectations.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

What’s your service model?  Is it to deliver the best service possible at all times?  Is it to over-promise and over-deliver?  Or under-promise and over-deliver?  Or under-promise and under-deliver? Who does that right?

Whatever the combination of your service model, the key to servicing your customers is setting expectations.  How do you set customer expectations?

While I might not have scientific evidence to present you today, I can say with much certainty that NOT being able to set a customers expectations is a great way to cause more problems than you think.

This is particularly true of service providers.  Service providers in any business live and die on three things: price, quality & timely delivery. What I often see as both a consumer and consultant is businesses who in their zeal to “keep the client happy” can’t for the life of them set expectations for success.

What do I mean?  Let me clarify. Everybody seems comfortable asking the basic expectation question:

When would you like it?

But few and I mean very few in the service business are able to make the next statement – after the customer answers the above question:

Let me check with (our team, production schedule, etc.) to confirm if we can meet that date.  If we can’t, I’ll give you the date we can meet.

You also have to keep in mind this: most customers are not expecting to get your service YESTERDAY.  Most business transactions that I’ve witnesses over the years, customers have reasonable expectations.

However, if you only ask one question: When would you like it? – and then sit there and write it down and nod your head, you’ve just built your own sword that you will fall on.

Why do business owners commit themselves to a (mostly) arbitrary date without even knowing if they can do it?  Without checking back at the office to see what’s already in the production queue? They leave the meeting or call with the customer thinking that there’s no problem.

The reality is that making customer commitments without understanding if you can is, well, crazy in my view.  After the commitment is made, they head back to the office or shop and announce that “the pressures on!” and everyone must drop everything to move heaven and earth to meet this commitment…other customer commitments made before be damned.

That sets into motion a series of events that usually lead to the following:

1.  Other customers being pushed out of the queue for service because of this latest “911”.  That doesn’t help things.

2. The staff is thrown into unproductive disarray.  Employees who operate in a culture of constant chaos because of reckless customer expectations setting are drained of energy.  They burnout. They get cranky.

3. The rush to meet ridiculous expectations in order to “overserve” the customer leads to lower quality.  In the rush to get the service prepared and delivered, mistakes are often made.  What good does it do to make the superman effort to deliver services where the customer finds errors in the product?  You know what happens.  The customer is not happy and all your “heroic” efforts to over-deliver are negated.

4. Customers get used to running the show on service expectations – it’s like a drug. They want it when they want it and they know you’ll keep delivering and jumping as high as they say when they say it.  Like a seal at a circus.

5. The constant barrage of unrealistic customer expectation setting often leads to being unable to meet the real “911’s” that truly need the team to make a superhuman effort to meet.  Those get mixed into all the other artificial 911’s that are of our own making.

Want to get the best mileage from your efforts and still deliver consistently great service? Don’t overpromise.  Don’t abdicate responsibility for setting expectations entirely to your customer.  Don’t complain when you find you and your staff running like mice in cage every day of the week.  Don’t create swords that you can fall on.