Exceeding your customer’s expectations seems so simple, but is extremely difficult to achieve on a consistent, long-term basis. Maintaining and increasing market share is dependent on achieving this critical goal. As Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, once said: “We’re all in the customer service business. Our goal must be to exceed our customers’ expectations every day.”
The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know what those expectations are, and knowledge of customer expectations can only be garnered from the customer. Every customer is unique and will have different views on their expectations, as will different people within the same organization. As always, to have quality communication you must know the customer well. At a minimum, you need to know your contact’s role in decision-making at their company. It is helpful to know their traits such as personal characteristics that include personality and hobbies. In this era of electronic communication, you must know the customer’s communication preferences, e.g. email, text, phone or face-to-face. Based on this knowledge, you can vet the input on expectations.
Proactive customer communication is one of the keys to exceeding customer expectations. The proactive communication can be about both positive and negative news. A primary example is news about delivery information: customers always appreciate advance information on delivery status, particularly if delivery will be delayed for any reason. Advance information on delivery delays allows the customer to adjust their schedules and plans; this minimizes the pain resulting from late deliveries.
A recent personal experience with a service technician exemplified exceeding a customer’s expectations. Our 22-year-old refrigerator required service to fix a problem with the freezer. The service technician showed up on time, was dressed professionally and fixed the problem quickly and for less than the estimated cost. He exceeded expectations by making a non-required follow-up phone call the next day to confirm that the problem had been fixed to our satisfaction. This was an unusual follow-up call as this was a one-time service call.
You must ask your customers about their expectations and your performance. Too often, companies only ask for input from their most satisfied customers. Remember what Bill Gates said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” It is very important to receive regular feedback from as many customers as possible. Equally critical is the documentation of customer feedback, as time can cloud recollection.
The following quote from Kerry Bodine, author and customer experience consultant, summarizes the topic quite well: “Exceptional customer experiences are the only sustainable platform for competitive differentiation.”