How to Meet & Exceed Customer Expectations

Looking to exceed customer expectations? We've built a guide for you! Meeting expectations is one thing, but going above and beyond takes true commitment.

You’ve put everything you can into building a great product or service.

At every step of the way, you thought about the customer. What they would want. What they would enjoy. What the customer needs truly are.

Then, when it’s time for the rubber to meet the road, you realize something:

Your customers have absolutely no way of knowing how good that product or service might be.

To them, it’s all about the experience. What is it like to sign up for your product? How easy is it to find answers to their basic questions about your pricing? If they’re interested in your company and they reach out to you, are you responsive?

These days, customer expectations set the stage for everything else that a company does. And as more companies invest in customer service, it can be more and more difficult to meet and exceed those expectations. It’s a veritable arms race of good customer relationships. How can you be sure that you know your customers well enough to surprise them with good service?

Step One: Learn What Customers Already Expect

“Providing excellent customer service” is a vague goal. You can’t measure it. As such, it’s not going to provide you with a lot of insight if you do have ambitions of providing the best customer service in your niche.

We first have to establish a baseline. What kinds of expectations do customers have these days? What is the minimum you’ll need to do if you want to get them to avoid complaints? We’ll start there first, then talk about what we can do to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Here are what the statistics suggest to us, along with our “translation” of what it means.

  • 86% of buyers are happy to pay for their experience. Translation: customers prioritize a premium experience, which also means that if they’re paying for a friendly voice on the other side of the phone, that’s going to be their baseline expectation.
  • 74% of buyers are more likely to buy based on experience alone. Translation: your customers are already poking and prodding at your customer service experience before they even purchase from you. This is where it becomes important to invest in the quality of each customer touch point, even before that customer clicks “order.”
  • Up to 80% of companies are now investing in a multichannel customer experience. Translation: It wasn’t that long ago that these numbers were closer to 20%. That’s a big jump, which means that if you’re going to invest in customer experience, you shouldn’t just limit your efforts to one channel. You should expect that customers will feel entitled to working with you across multiple channels. It requires a heavy dose of good CRM software to make sure you track each customer with accuracy.
  • 80% of people are more likely to purchase if their communication has been personalized. Translation: Personalization is the name of the game now, especially when it’s over email or text. After all, customers know that you have the software to at least autofill in their name. If you can’t even get that right, what does it say about your commitment to the basic customer experience?

How to Meet Evolving Customer Expectations

Now that we know the lay of the land, let’s focus on what you can do to first bring your customer service up to par. How can you meet the bare minimum?

  • Personalize. If you aren’t using customer relationship services that let you enter in details like “[CUSTOMER NAME],” then you’re not personalizing. No customer wants to read “Dear Customer” at the top of an email. They certainly don’t want to see you responding that way on Twitter. Find every opportunity you can to personalize your services, even if it’s just a brief mention of a name.
  • Build an omni-channel experience. A customer might browse your website on their phone during a work break, then come home and check you out on the tablet. A customer might hear about you on Twitter, then search for your product on Google. Our point? Remember that not every customer will come at you straight away. Strive to learn your most important “touch points” along the way so you can build an omni-channel experience for them.
  • Research your audience. If you’re just going to start out by meeting customer expectations, the worst thing you can do is ignore who your customers are. They have a baseline expectation that you’ll have some knowledge of who they are. Have you ever had a bad experience when traveling, for example, and only felt like another cog in their machine? That’s how you disappoint customer expectations. Research your audience. Make sure you have the CRM in place to know who a customer is when they approach you with a problem.
  • Engage on social media. Since every brand is on social media these days, just about every customer expects to be able to reach out to you there. You should at the very minimum have an active, engaging social media account that serves as a “contact us” function.

Going Above and Beyond Customer Expectations

Many people think that if you throw money at a customer, you’ll earn their loyalty. And there’s something to that; the idea of reciprocity. As one of the six major pillars from Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, reciprocity is indeed a valuable way to make customers feel better about the experience they’ve had.

But be honest. You didn’t come to this article looking for tips on buying customers’ happiness.

If you want to go above and beyond for your customers, you also have to think about what customers most value. Rather than provide you specific tips, let’s look at great customer experience examples and see what we can glean from them.

ThinkGeek: Applying “Buy Their Happiness” Selectively

In one customer service story, a husband was trying to save up for a surprise Christmas gift for his wife. He was going to buy it from ThinkGeek. But there were two problems.

First, the wife handled the finances, which means she saw the credit card statements.

Second, the husband managed to save up for a MasterCard gift card, but he was still about a dollar short.

The man reached out to ThinkGeek to see what his options were. The customer service team replied with a $5 gift card. No strings attached.

What’s the difference between this and buying off your customers with gift cards? Simple: it’s a calculated use of gift cards. It’s using those gift cards to make people feel special. In many cases, the long-term loyalty of the customer is worth far more than the value of the gift card in the first place. If ThinkGeek hadn’t given that man $5 off, they might never have gotten his $26 purchase.

Donuts: Do Something Unexpected

When Kyle Gawley of Get Invited tweeted out that his team could really go for some donuts, he didn’t expect them to show up so soon. But show up they did—courtesy of his web hosting company, which had seen the tweet.

Again we have an example of “buying customers’ happiness.” But in this case, it was a completely unexpected surprise. 

Customers like it when it’s unexpected, because it’s more likely that you’re not just trying to “buy them off.” Instead, you’re doing something nice. You’re not asking for anything in return. Rather than offering a customer $5 because they’re so frustrating to deal with, this is an example of calculated kindness creating a surprise that makes your company feel more genuine.

Target: Help Customers With Their Real Problems

Want to exceed customer expectations?

Go deeper. Get to the root of why they’re approaching you.

That was the case for one Target employee, who was helping a 16-year-old looking for a clip-on tie for a job interview.

The problem? That particular Target only sold regular ties.

So one employee at Target helped the young man by helping him tie the tie. That alone would have been going above and beyond the normal calls of customer expectations. But he didn’t stop there. The employee helped prepare the young man with some typical job interview questions.

That customer went into the store looking for a clip-on tie. But what he really needed was confidence and reassurance.

You can do similar things for your customers if you get to the root of why they’re approaching you. This goes beyond simply buying them off with a $5 gift card. 

Develop a genuine interest in customers. What are the problems that caused them to reach out to you today? When you start pitching in with those problems, you start entering “extra credit” territory.

Why Exceed Customer Expectations?

Be honest: it sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?

Truth be told, if you get good at it, the benefits can far outweigh the costs. The more you help customers, the more loyal those customers will be. The better your customer service reputation, the more people will recommend you to their friends and family.

But let’s dive into the numbers. Here are some of the key benefits of exceeding customer expectations:

It might seem like a paradox. Good customer service isn’t about the money. Yet good customer service also has a track record of bringing in a great return on investment.

Our recommendation? Invest in customer service and make it a priority. It has a way of not only establishing a firm company culture, but building a brand with staying power.

How to Align with Your New Goals and Measure Your Progress

It’s one thing to say that you should be better at meeting customer expectations.

It’s another thing to put it into company-wide practice.

Fortunately, there are more than a few ways you can take these vague notions of exceeding customer expectations and turn them into legitimate measurables for your business moving forward. 

Your first priority should be to change the culture at your business. You don’t have to hold a company meeting to explain that “the customer is always right.” But you do have to make customer service and customer experiences a priority in your approach.

Your first stage should be to analyze the customer journey. Include key elements, like the following:

  • What is the problem that causes the customer to approach you?
  • How do they hear about your business?
  • What action do most customers first take?
  • What are the most common touch points a customer has with your business?

When you identify those touch points, you’ll know what you have to optimize. But let’s get even more concrete. Here are some variables you can track to monitor your scores with customers:

  • Track your Net Promoter Score. Your NPS is going to be a key metric for determining what kind of experience your customers are having on a regular basis. You want to create “Promoter”-style customers (score of 9-10). These are the customers who don’t only enjoy what you do, but are so happy about their service that they actively tout your services to other people. The higher your NPS, the better a chance you have at building a reputation for great customer experiences.
  • Create customer surveys and track your progress over time. Use customer surveys to gather feedback on what kinds of experiences people are having. But don’t just shoot out one survey and call it a day. Identify the key areas in which you need to improve. Then send out those same questions with the same wording to customers at a later date. You want to be able to see improvement over time. This isn’t a sprint, after all; when talking about the customer experience, it’s always a marathon. 
  • Monitor your customer churn rate. Your customer churn shows how often people vote with their feet: in other words, how often do they leave you? In this case, you’re looking for a lower score. Monitor how often customers stick around. The less they leave you or unsubscribe from your service, for example, the better your customer experience team is doing.

When it comes to customer loyalty, people don’t remember when you merely meet expectations. That’s nice, but it doesn’t inspire loyalty. If you want to go above and beyond, you have to know what those expectations are and put a plan in place to exceed them. 

At the end of the day, it’s always down to you, your customer, and their problem. Are you going to help them, or are you going to treat them like another cog in your machine? You already know which answer will get you the best business results.

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