3 Ways Small Business Owners Can Manage Customer Expectations

In today's highly competitive business environment, it's critical that small businesses set the proper customer expectation.

During a recent consulting assignment, with one of my clients, it became apparent that their customer service personnel were experiencing an excess amount of stress each morning. When asked to elaborate on the cause, my client explained:

“Errol, employees at the various store locations are committing our installation crews to a time-frame without verifying if our appointment schedule allows us to meet that commitment. Now we have to call the customer to reschedule their appointment. Having to do this puts us in an awkward position.”

As you would likely agree, that is not a great way to start the day! To improve your company’s customer service inside — and out — here are three tips to ensure you’re taking the proper steps when setting customer expectations.


1. Create effective internal communications.

In the above scenario, the store employees were making installation commitments, yet they are not responsible for fulfilling the commitment. Their ability to set expectations creates both internal and external issues.

  • Internal friction develops as the customer service personnel eventually develop a level of resentment toward store employees.
  • Externally, the customer is provided an installation time-frame, yet receives a phone call to reschedule the promised appointment.

Thus, the customer’s perception of the organization is diminished as a result. It’s important to make sure that everyone of your employees, across departments, is on the same page when setting customer expectations.

Departments must be aligned in order to provide great customer experiences. Take the time to include those who are responsible for meeting the customer’s expectation (i.e. in the above scenario, those responsible for scheduling personnel) when developing processes and procedures.


2. Promote consistency across multiple locations.

When a small business has multiple locations; restaurants, banks, grocery stores, or hotels to name a few; it’s a good idea to create standardized policies and procedures. Customers have a way of believing that the experience should be the same at all of your locations.

While the need for a certain level of autonomy is understandable, it’s best to provide a customer-focused operations template to those tasked with meeting customer expectations. This template simply provides a framework to ensure consistency across the organization. Autonomous actions can then enhance the customer’s experience.

Promote communication across multiple locations to allow for sharing of autonomous actions that produce real results. This could lead to incorporating some autonomous actions into the operations template.


3. Promise only what you can deliver.

As technology has somewhat leveled the playing field in a multitude of industries, companies are feeling the pressure to maintain a competitive advantage. The tendency to overpromise, just to get the customer to make a purchasing decision is sometimes the result of such pressure.

Instead, think long-term when setting customer expectations. Your ability to deliver on your promises is key in your quest to create profitable relationships. Future sales and referrals hinge on your customer’s perception of what you promised in contrast to what was actually experienced. An expectation can be set either through verbal communication or advertising.

Does your marketing strategy set expectations that include “same day service” or “we’re always available”? Do your commercials show happy employees servicing the customer? What about the images utilized in your advertising campaigns — do they accurately depict your product or your facility? Whatever you promise or promote sets the customer’s expectation. Make sure their experience is consistent with the promise.

In today’s highly competitive business environment, it’s critical that small businesses set the proper customer expectation. Create effective internal communications, promote consistency and promise what you can deliver as you strive to provide great customer experiences.


Speaker, author and consultant Errol Allen is the founder and CEO of Errol Allen Consulting, a Houston, Texas based company that provides customer service training, customer service strategy development and supervisor/management training. He utilizes his 25 years of hands-on experience in assisting his clients in creating customer-focused organizations.


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