Customer Experience News & Trends

How to manage customer expectations – even when they’re unreasonable

Customers often expect more than you can do. Fortunately, it’s possible to manage their expectations, deliver what you can and keep them happy.

You’re likely tempted to say no when customers ask for something that seems unreasonable or outside the scope of what you do. But consider this: Customers often make difficult requests because they don’t know what to expect from you.

They don’t know your rules, policies and generally accepted practices as well as you do or, perhaps, at all. Most ask because they don’t know the possibilities and limitations. Only a small percentage know what to expect and try to get more or take advantage of you.

That’s why the best way to handle unreasonable requests is to manage customer expectations better, says Robert C. Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport.

For instance, “If an issue will take a few weeks to resolve, it’s better to be transparent than overly optimistic and under-promise than over-promise,” Johnson suggests.

Here are five effective ways to manage expectations:

1. Cover more solutions

Employees on the front line who deal with customers most often need to be armed with a variety of solutions to common and potential issues. That way, they can offer customers an alternative when they demand something that’s not possible.

“By listing off possible resolutions, (service pros) empower their clients to understand the complexity of a particular problem, engage directly with its solution and ensure they don’t have unrealistic expectations of the resolution,” Johnson says.

Tip: Give front-line employees a forum — a meeting, chat platform, message board or data base — to share their best-practice solutions to common problems and some of the unusual issues they hear. Keep it updated and accessible.

2. Be transparent

Reasonable expectations are often born from trust. Companies that make their policies, values and practices transparent build trust with customers.

That’s done by making it clear through your website, company literature and social media pages how you do business. Then, most importantly, train employees to practice those principles.

Tip: On the transactional level, employees should explain how and why they’re handling a situation or issue a certain way. Customers who understand what’s going on will know what to expect, and they’ll be more likely to be satisfied with how you are handling things.

3. Give clear timelines

Most customers don’t mind waiting (a little, at least) — as long as they understand why. They understand that glitches, errors and bugs come up. But they expect you to be honest about them.

Tip: Post on your website, in social media and on your telephone queue how long they’ll wait for a response. Once you’re in contact, and if you can’t help immediately, set the expectation for a returned phone call, email or follow up. If it’ll take longer than you anticipated, update them when you said you’d contact them again.

4. Be optimistic and realistic

Most service pros want to make and keep customers happy — and they know that a quick resolution will do that. After all, everyone wants to hear good news, such as the problem will be fixed, the refund will be made or the solution will be implemented now.

While it’s good to be optimistic for customers, it’s more important to be realistic and set the right expectation, Johnson says.

Tip: Explain what customers can expect, plus what might get in the way of the ideal outcome. Then, if one of those glitches happens, customers won’t be taken by surprise and disappointed.

5. Follow up

Perhaps the most crucial element to setting and managing expectations is following up.

“Most customers are not bothered by companies touching base with them,” Johnson says. In fact, “customers expect businesses to follow up with them to round out their customer experience.”

Contact customers through the channel they choose with updates on progress and the final resolution. One final follow up: Call to confirm they’re happy with how things were handled and turned out.

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