Consumer expectations are growing all the time, and companies cannot afford to ignore the phenomenon. In order to delight customers, companies must recognize the full extent of the issue, align its personnel around the effort, and measure the impact.
Is Your Company Meeting Consumer Expectations?
Many businesses think they are doing a good job of meeting consumer expectations. Unfortunately, the stats often do not support this belief.
Depending on whose numbers you go by, brands are either doing a horrendous job or are maybe doing OK, as depicted here in Forrester’s survey of brand customer experience measurement from 2018:
Either way, it’s not a stellar performance.
I think a question that companies and brand managers might ask is, “Are these scores fair?”
Did these brands all start doing a much worse job of taking care of their customers, or did the customers shift?
There are certainly companies that have gone downhill in providing service, but I certainly wouldn’t say that all of them have. That would be a pretty big coincidence.
The customer has changed, and businesses find themselves in a new environment. Customers have much more power than they did in the past.
People are voicing their complaints in more ways as seen in this chart of survey data from Social Media Today on Key Channels for Consumer Complaints:
In-person complaints still top the list at 55%, but just barely. Social media (47%) and email (42%) have become critical means of voicing opinions.
When it comes to voiced complaints, this does not mean doom and gloom for brands. Consumers are willing to share online when complaints are resolved in a positive way.
Keeping Your Customers’ Attention
Not only are customers able to say what they think about a brand or business at a level they never have been able to before, they also have their eyes open to a flood of new opportunities.
Consider Netflix talking about their main competitor being Fortnite. It’s not that customers just want to find a better version of a service. Sometimes their attention (and dollars) are getting snatched away by something totally unrelated.
I’d argue that continuing to improve your service and brand experience improves your chances of fending off both your direct and indirect competitors.
For companies that interface directly with the public, the tendency can be to focus directly on customer service personnel, but consumers are looking at much more than just a few employees.
In a review of how brands meet customer expectations, eMarketer reports that the many ways that consumers can interact with you may not fit the “journeys, paths and lifecycles” that a brand may have mapped out, but “these individual interactions or moments accrue, forming the basis for customer experience.”
These interactions can happen online, in person, in response to advertising, and several other ways. This isn’t just about any one location. It’s the sum experience.
Let’s start with the online experience. Women’s Wear Daily provided an overview of the 2017 IBM Customer Experience report for retailers, citing the need for a more personalized experience that creates more opportunities for self-service. The report also cited a common occurrence that I also find myself griping about, only “seventeen percent offered more than limited in-stock, out-of-stock information.
While there’s lots of room for improvement, notice the callout for self-service opportunities. It’s not that we need someone on the phone every moment to walk a customer through a website. We need the opportunity to allow customers to get what they want done.
When they hit roadblocks—and they will—that’s when the phone number or chat options should be available.
And while the person on the phone or on chat is guiding the customer to their destination, be sure to keep records of where those breakdowns are occurring.
Cost of Not Meeting Expectations
At this point, if your company is not using surveys to get regular feedback, you’re behind. It’s something you need to get caught up with post-haste, and there are tons of great solutions out there.
I’m not going to lie. This is something where we’re scrambling to do a better job ourselves. A few scattered responses don’t compare to systematic measurement.
The goal here is to learn where your company currently isn’t meeting expectations.
Think about the groups that historically have not met expectations: the DMV, taxis, and I’m sure you can think of several others. I’m frustrated that I have very little choice when it comes to an internet provider in the New Orleans metro area.
With the DMV, we’re kind of out of luck, right?
We have to go there sometimes, but we have shops here in New Orleans to handle title transfers and some basic tasks for drivers’ licenses. I have been so happy every time I’ve been able to pay ABC Title instead of the state of Louisiana. I pay more, but I get so much time back.
As eMarketer points out, “More often, newer, disruptive entrants—not incumbent brands—are setting these new standards for customer expectations.”
In a discussion about the business traveler ground transportation market, Michael Goldstein wrote for Forbes, “With the ride-hailing companies grabbing 70.5% of the market, taxis and rental car companies are now fighting over crumbs, with rental cars getting 23.5% and taxis just 6% of ground transportation receipts.”
Can you be the force of disruption instead of waiting for it to happen to you?
I don’t know about your business, but I know that the consumer base that I work with has plenty of options. The company I work for has to continue adapting.
Maybe this isn’t impacting your business yet.
I think there is the inherent desire for customers to want to stick with something that works reliably. There is a switching cost that must be paid every time they want to use a new service. Switching from Amazon to Jet or to Target or Best Buy all involves additional research and comparison.
I recently bought an alarm clock. I haven’t had one for at least 10 years now, but I wanted to be able to keep my phone away from my bed at night. I didn’t have major selection criteria going into the process.
As an experiment, I tried Target and Amazon to find a low-cost, attractive alarm clock. I struck out with Target, and I had a weird experience with Amazon. Some of the products had reviews that did not in any way matchup to the products I was considering.
At this point, I ended up trying to a few different major retailers and wound up finding something at Walmart.
I would have much rather found an alarm clock on the very first website I tried instead of having to check several more websites. While my switching cost was a little annoying, it certainly did not stop me from going to find what I actually needed.
The switching cost for your company’s service may be higher than what I experienced, but don’t expect that customers will be unwilling to pay it. Switching costs are decreasing even more with the rise of price comparison apps.
Connect Business Units to Enable
The customer service department is not the only group responsible for customer expectations. It’s an issue for the entire company. It may impact your supply chain. It should impact your marketing.
Regardless of which team officially owns the problem, the company needs to contribute. That process starts by leadership responsibilities and workflows accordingly.
Empower People on the Front Lines
If you’re in a space where people complain about you or call you out on social media, you’d better be ready with a response. And it needs to be more than “we’ll get an answer for you.” If you want a good example in this space, check out the major airlines’ social media accounts. They have a tough gig, and the entire company deals with the success or failure of airlines’ providing real, helpful answers to customers.
At Chico’s clothing store, the company changed the compensation structure of the store associates so that they are rewarded for in-store sales as well as online sales. This creates less of a pressure to close the sale immediately and shifts the conversation to one of empowerment. Shifting compensation makes a world of difference in changing behavior.
Speed Matters, But There Are Other Ways to Help Your Customer
Speed is a big deal. There’s no doubt about it. According to some surveys, customers may feel that it’s the most important thing that your business can do to create a better experience.
That said, customer satisfaction is the real goal here. Your customers may be more responsive to empathetic support than fast support.
How many times do you get frustrated having to start over your story about why you called when talking to customer support? Having basic communication tools (like helpdesk software) in place can help the customer feel like they’re actually being helped instead of having to endlessly repeat the frustration that led to the interaction in the first place.
(Quick personal gripe on this one… healthcare really needs help with this point. Please get better info sharing tools in place quickly!)
The Obligatory Amazon Reference
So much of the conversation around customer expectations can be negative, but there are companies that succeed in this space.
Amazon is one of the true disruptors of the past 20 years in the shopping experience, and the company has helped to shape consumer expectations in a major way. One of the major shifts the company has brought about is in how consumers receive their purchases. Amazon Prime means that customers will (mostly) get their “free shipping” items delivered in just a few days. Obviously, this shipping isn’t truly free since people are paying a monthly or annual subscription to get access to this service.
One might argue that the other services bundled with Prime could be the reason that customers choose to pay, but Prime’s subscribers don’t see it that way.
We willingly pay for better, faster service.
And, oftentimes, that service may be the real differentiator between otherwise-comparable offerings.
Featured photo by Robert Bye