What Did You Expect?

By Jack LaRue

Consider this scenario. It's Saturday night and you go out to dinner. At the restaurant, you have to wait twenty minutes to get a table. How does that make you feel? Your answer probably depends largely on what the greeter told you when you first arrived. If you were told "It'll be just a few minutes," you were probably pretty frustrated. However, if you were told "The current wait is thirty to forty minutes, but I'll try to get you in earlier," you were probably feeling pretty good. The wait itself was identical. The only thing that changed was the expectation. It's a classic example of the common mantra "under-promise and over-deliver." 
 
We've all heard this, but have you ever thought about how contrary it is to our standard behavior? It's not that any of us purposely want to mislead our customers, but most of us are optimists. We want to communicate what we hope to deliver, and we often fear that under-promising could disappoint a customer. None of us wants to do that. So, with the best of intentions in mind, we over-promise, setting us up to under-perform.
 
The first step to exceeding customer expectations is to truly understand those expectations. This requires getting feedback from customers as well as the ability to look at things from their perspective. It doesn't have to be complicated - just ask customers what they expect. The better you understand your customers' expectations, the better chance you have of exceeding them. 
 
Next, make sure that you and your employees are setting the right expectations in the first place. This means having the data and experience to know what's possible and what isn't. If employees are just offering personal opinions about a deadline (also known as "guessing"), they're much more likely to fall victim to the optimism and conflict avoidance that can lead to over-promising. Don't be afraid to ask your employees exactly what they need to set more appropriate expectations. 
 
If you want to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, start by thinking about what your customer really expects from your services. Then think about how you and or your staff might be influencing those expectations or how they could influence them. With that understanding, you'll be in better shape to actually exceed those expectations - and enjoy happier, more satisfied clients.
 
How do you manage expectations at your firm? Share your comments with AccountingWEB. 
 
More articles by Jack LaRue:
 
About the author:
Jack LaRue is the senior vice president, myPay Solutions, at Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting.
 

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