How to Know What Customers Expect From Your Business

One of the most important things a business owner can do is to understand what, precisely, their customers expect from them.

This is easier said than done. After all, customers don’t often explicitly tell you what they expect from you. You have to interpret this from their behaviors. That understanding, then, informs how you market to, sell to, and provide support to your customers.

Below are some tips to help you understand your customers’ expectations.

Distinguishing Wants, Needs, and Expectations

For customers, the line between a need, a want, and an expectation is often blurred.

Someone could need a toothbrush because theirs is old.

Someone could want a toothbrush in a specific style or color, but that doesn’t change their fundamental need for a toothbrush of some kind. The interesting thing is that a want drives behaviors more strongly than a need does.

Someone’s expectations, however, both shape and are shaped every interaction you have with that customer. The size of a company factors into expectations, too, says marketing professor Pankaj Aggarwal. His research has found that customers have a higher expectation for warm, friendly service from small businesses.

The data behind customer behaviors

Meeting (or disappointing) customer expectations has a profound effect on customer behavior, too. The 2019 State of the Connected Customer Report, which surveyed nearly 8,000 U.S. consumers, highlights this dynamic:

Customer happiness depends as much on the quality of a company's engagement as the quality of the product or service they're buying. 54% of respondents think companies need to fundamentally transform how they engage.

Customer expectations are shaped by their interactions with technology solutions. 75% of customers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences.

Customers want companies to better understand them. Most customers (73%) now expect companies to understand their needs and expectations, and to build experiences based around them.

Customer needs and wants inform their expectations, but expectations are also shaped by customers’ prior experiences with your business and with similar companies.

4 Tips for Understanding and Responding to Customer Feedback

Customers have myriad ways to communicate their expectations, and the fulfillment or disappointment thereof. To understand those expectations and how well your company is meeting them, keep customer communications organized in an effective way.

Embrace email

Email remains one of the most popular ways for customers to provide feedback to companies, marketer Gregory Ciotti writes at Help Scout. Surveys and customer contact forms can easily be distributed by email, for example.

Email is a more effective tool when responses are handled in a timely manner. Create a system for organizing feedback from email as well as for answering the messages themselves.

Standardize processes for feedback collection and responses

A centralized project management system can help your team gather feedback from customers, address individual issues, and spot trends over time.

In addition to having one place to store customer feedback, shape a process or policy for responding to feedback. Authors Steven D. Peterson, Peter E. Jaret and Barbara Findlay Schenck recommend asking three questions when putting together a response:

  • Is the complaint or suggestion reasonable?
  • What’s the best way to respond?
  • What specific steps do we need to take?

Having such guidelines helps ensure your company addresses the customer expectations that will have a positive impact on the business, without your getting bogged down in minutiae.

Track customer reviews constantly

Customers are quick to share their opinions of companies on social media, on review sites, and in chats. For example:

  • 67 percent of Gladly survey respondents said they would try to dissuade others from using a company whose customer service didn’t meet their expectations.
  • 50 percent of respondents in the Gladly survey said they relied on online reviews above friends and family recommendations.

Review sites are especially important because they track company reputations over time. On many review sites, users can search for and browse older reviews, even as new ones appear. This allows customers to see how your company has responded to feedback in the past.

Consequently, it’s important to keep track of what customers are saying in online reviews. Assign someone on your team the task of staying on top of review feedback and incorporating it into your overall analysis.

Speak your customers’ language

At work, using industry jargon helps to cement your team’s sense of belonging to a specialized in-group. Using industry jargon with customers, however, communicates that they’re not part of that in-group. That means speaking to customers in heavy jargon “can weaken your relationship with those customers and sabotage the customer experience you’re striving to create,” consultant Micah Solomon at Forbes.

Shaping communication with customers is an ongoing project, but it’s one that plays a huge role in what customers expect and how they experience your business. Pay attention to how customers speak about your company’s field, your products, and your service. Then, work to respond in kind, thereby underscoring how your customers are part of an in-group, as well.

To figure out your customers’ expectations:

  • Ask yourself, “Is this an expectation a need or a want?”
  • Gather feedback from multiple sources and keep it organized.
  • Seize every opportunity to listen to customer feedback and evaluate customer behavior.

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