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.

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Can your customers touch your value?

We all know that higher value products somehow seem to feel more luxurious, whether it’s the packaging, the texture of the actual product, or the weight. But did you ever give thought to why that sensation of touch can translate into a higher perception of value?

Research shows that people with a higher “need for touch” will show more confidence in evaluating a product when they can actually touch the product. Hence the reason why some people, despite the ease of online shopping, will resist the allure of e-commerce to make the trek out to a brick-and-mortar. In order to feel more certain they are making the right the purchase decision, they literally have to touch the merchandise.

Interestingly, research also shows that those same people, with a high need for touch, can better separate the aspects of what doesn’t matter to make a decision on the value. Therefore, these consumers will judge a water by its taste, rather than taste plus the physical aspects of the bottle it is packaged in. However, those who are not as touch-oriented will actually use negative or positive attributes of touch that have nothing to do with the actual product itself. In this instance, people with a low need for touch will feel the bottle and make unconscious judgments about the quality and taste of the water.

What does this mean for marketers? If you have a product that you want to give the connotation of quality, you might want to consider the packaging that the product comes in. Does the packaging feel flimsy, less substantial than that of your competitors? If so, you may want to put something on the packaging to denote that it’s “more environmentally friendly” to give those with a lower need for touch a reason to understand why the packaging feels the way it does. Or for those of us that market a non-tangible product like software, consider stepping up the weight of the card stock for your marketing materials and business cards.

While ultimately, those aspects don’t really make a difference in the quality of the product, it sure does make a difference in the perception that your customers are generating about your product and your organization.