The Moving Target of Customer Expectations
There is a significant disruption happening in organizations. Rapid digital innovation has launched a dramatic shift in customer expectations, and it is no longer enough to offer a great product or service. Customers are demanding simple, seamless experiences from the companies with which they engage. The corporations that are winning in this new landscape are the ones taking a close look at every component of their business and then shifting their focus from the needs and wants of the organization to the needs and wants of the customer.
Often when people think about the customer experience, they think of it in “internal” terms. They ask themselves how their organization wants to be seen, how they can deliver their product or service, and in what ways the organization needs to be revised to effectively influence the customer. But doing so boils down the customer experience in a relatively predictable and linear way. In reality, customer expectations are always shifting as a result of their ongoing experiences in the world around them. This means looking from an “external” perspective.
Consider this; you are set to stay at a five-star hotel that you have paid top dollar for, so you expect to be wowed and pampered. The lobby is spectacular, your check-in process is smooth, and the attendant who helps you take your luggage to your room is courteous. So far, you are impressed, until you reach your room and find a lukewarm bottle of water. Your expectation of this five-star hotel was that the water provided would be chilled. Therefore, in an instant, you are disappointed and less happy with your overall experience because your expectations were not met.
In this scenario, the customer experience is driven by their expectations, which play a significant role in how they ultimately evaluate your organization. Customers today expect organizations to know them and their preferences, and no matter the interaction — online or in person — they want to be communicated with in such a way that reflects this intimate dynamic.
To make matters more complex, customer expectations are not always predictable. For instance, if there was a snowstorm raging at the time of your arrival to the five-star hotel, you may have expected them to provide you with a hot beverage of choice, rather than cold water.
The fact is, how a customer rates or judges their experience is not always aligned with what the organization has assumed about that customer experience. It is also heavily shaped by forces outside of industry, marketplace, geography and brand, but which are nonetheless influencing how the customer experience is judged. Case in point, 73 percent of B2B buyers say that they want the customer experience to resemble that of a B2C company.
Navigating Moving Customer Expectations: 4 Things You Can Do
In light of the fact that the world is shifting and evolving faster than many organizations can keep up with, there are tangible action steps that will help you navigate customer expectations. Here are four to start with:
- Stay in touch with how and why expectations are evolving, both within and outside your industry. Anything changing customer expectations will affect you.
- Track the identified expectations that are evolving within your industry and determine how your customers rate you against them.
- Communicate clearly to all employees, no matter if they are customer-facing or not, what a great customer experience looks like and the expectations that are emerging. This will be something to address with employees regularly as the company succeeds, but also as new areas for improvement are identified.
- Equip employees with the mindset, tools and empowering environment necessary for them to be able to contribute meaningfully as they work to ensure that customer expectations are consistently met. This often requires some form of training, either to help leaders create an empowered culture or for employees who have never thought of how they can help the customer-facing staff meet the customer’s expectations.
Customer Expectations Require a Personalized Approach
Customer expectations are an accumulation of their previous experiences, goals for the product or service and the information they have consumed, making those expectations far more personal than ever before. For this reason, personalization is top of mind for organizations and is something they are striving to master. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, those that successfully master the art of personalization for their customers can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, lift revenues by up to 15 percent and increase marketing-spend efficiency by as much as 30 percent. And it is a perpetual cycle. As companies keep innovating and pushing preconceived boundaries, customers have better and better experiences, which then inform the new experiences they demand no matter what or where they are buying. Bottomline, a personalized customer experience is the new standard, not the exception, and is key to achieving customer expectations.
All things considered, satisfying customer expectations, providing a superior experience and becoming truly customer-centric is no small task. While this may be true, the reward is truly worth the effort. If you are committed to making it a reality, consider the activities and decisions surrounding your entire organization, including brand positioning, pricing models, employee conduct, frontline workers (i.e. their uniforms, training and work environment) and so on. Every facet of your organization has a contribution it can make to meet your customer’s evolving expectations. Your goal must be to unlock those contributions for the customer’s benefit.