What Expectations Do Your Customers Hold?

My coursework in Understanding Customer Experience this week discussed aspects of customer expectations, satisfaction, and quality. These lessons are tying in nicely with the Neuromarketing course I’m taking and it’s been eye-opening to discover elements of what I thought was “common business sense” be upturned by researchers.

For example, I think we’ve all heard the phrase “underpromise and overdeliver” as a way to “surprise and delight” our customers. And for a long time in my marketing career, I believed that was the way to go. But in process of learning about expectations, it seems that the higher the customer’s expectations, the higher the satisfaction the customer will report – unless there is such a huge discrepancy between the expectation and actual performance. As Professor Margareta Friman noted, disconfirmation needs to be high to break expectations.

Think about that for a minute…let’s say your customers have fairly low expectations of your product. You actually produce a top-notch, high-quality product with a great, well-trained support staff. But your customer calls your highly trained customer service rep, has a good interaction, receives your product, and works as promised. Unless your product and service completely blows that customer out of the water, there is not enough variance between his or her expectations and the actual performance. So the expectations never move in the customer’s mind.

Compare that to an example one of my classmates highlighted, a certain company that produces smartphones and tablets. For months, the company builds anticipation and sets the customer expectations very high about their next product release. “Leaks” about the features, the design, and other aspects of the product happen, building the expectations of the customers to fever pitch before the actual product launch. Once the product hits the stores, there are lines around the block to purchase the next-generation, even though the next-gen might not have exactly have ground-breaking features. But those expectations were so high that those line-waiters never came back with their shiny new toy and said to others “hmmm, the product is just ehhh”. No, instead those fan-boys and girls (I think I’m one of them) are the best advertisement for that company and are so fiercely loyal that debates with people loyal to the “others” can get pretty heated.

Those expectations were sky high, but the product wasn’t so awful that there was enough disconfirmation (until maybe recently) between the expectation and performance. So those high expectations spilled over into very satisfied and loyal customers. Expectations are exaggerated and specific.

What does this mean for organizations? Maybe the whole concept of “surprising and delighting” your customers – which seems to be like kudzu popping up in nearly every industry – is actually the wrong way to go. Perhaps the reason why that particular smartphone manufacturer seems to be so paradigm breaking is because they broke that whole “underpromise and overdeliver” mantra.

Strategy is most important for an overlooked, but important, reason

Everywhere you look, the word “strategy” is thrown around as a cure for your business ills. Google “develop strategy” and you get close to 450,000,000 results in less than a minute. Most of those results take you to articles that promise you better business results with a better strategy.

But to get a better strategy, you need a handle on the business objectives you want to achieve. It’s all fine and good to want to make a profit; but even with that one sole objective, you still need a strategy to make that profit. And once competitor comes sniffing around your door, you darn well better have a strategy to keep your customers to keep those profits coming in.

However, perhaps retired Hanover Insurance CEO Bill O’Brien said it best: “The problem with most organizations is that they are governed by mediocre ideas.” And when those mediocre ideas become entrenched as “strategy”, then not only does the performance of your organization slips, so does that of your employees. Think about it, the employees who see endless dithering by the leaders of the organization will come to believe that their own future is uncertain. Uncertainty makes people nervous. And if your best performers feel that their own livelihoods and careers are built on a shaky foundation, they’re going to seek opportunities where they are connected to a purpose that is more secure. There’s plenty of research that shows that people need that sense of purpose to feel engaged in their work.

And the people that stay behind? You can guarantee that those are not the A-Team you want helping you to grow your organization.

How can you make a business strategy (and particularly a marketing strategy, since this is, after all, a marketing focused blog) effective for your people? First of all, don’t confuse strategy with tactics. Most of the strategy floating around is really a tactical exercise dressed up in fancy language. Strategy should be the touchstone for your organization, even if the tools and techniques of the tactics have to change.And don’t confuse lofty mission statements for strategy. The strategy should be able to translate into measurable objectives. “To continue to to hold dominance in the market, we need to grow customer share. We intend to grow customer share in the market by 25% over the next 18 months. We will achieve that objective by developing both an awareness campaign and a lead-gen program that targets tech buyers in midrange businesses that have more than $1 million in revenue”. That is a strategic statement that puts a stake in the ground for your people, allows them to come up with the tactics of developing and deploying the campaign and programs, and provides enough structure so people can measure their progress against the result.

How much different would it be to tell your employees this: Our goal is to increase customer share by introducing customer-centric thinking in our organization. Huh? How am I supposed to measure that? How am I supposed to even know if I’m working toward the right end result?

Bottom line, without a good comprehensible strategy, your best people will feel rudderless and unable to measure their own performance to know whether they are doing a good job or not. And those people leave your org to go work for your competition – who may have a much better strategy, now combined with your best asset.