We’re in the Age of the Customer, and as such, business success is predicated upon continuously meeting or exceeding customer expectations. The challenge for businesses is that they aren’t always the one setting the expectations. Customers’ expectations may have been set by your brand promise, your customers’ direct experiences, or the opinion of others presented through all manner of in-person and digital communications.
Most often companies fail to meet customer expectations because of the disparity between a company’s brand promise and its actual customer experience. This occurs for a number of reasons. Many companies:
1. Don’t understand why their customers really buy from them
2. Don’t do a great job of listening to customers
3. Don’t have a clear understanding of the customer journey; e.g., the myriad touchpoints customers encounter, as well as their performance and impact on how the customer connects to the company
4. Implement goals and compensation plans that don’t support achieving brand and customer experience alignment
5. Underestimate the power of social media and the impact that has on the market defining their brand in spite of a company’s marketing efforts (especially in B2B)
To close the gap between brand promise and customer experience, companies need customer and market insight more than ever. According to an IBM study, “as a group, CEOs are investing more in customer insights than any other functional area—far above operations, competitive intelligence, financial analysis and risk management. They are seeking a better understanding of individual customer needs and improved responsiveness.”
Consequently, companies have to learn how to listen to people, decide on appropriate actions, implement the decisions, and monitor results to ensure that their promises are actually being experienced and that the experiences are delighting (or even satisfying) their customers.
In other words, your job is to understand how and why your customer expectations differ from your brand promises, and then take action to bring customer expectations and your brand promises back into alignment.
And if that’s not complicated enough, you have to do this in an environment where social media acts as a real-time magnifier of individual opinions and experiences. Any lack of responsiveness on your part to social communications is interpreted as a lack of awareness or concern, which only serves to exacerbate the problem.
Ultimately, the expectations in the minds of your customers are the only expectations that matter. This is true whether the expectations have been set by your brand promise, your customers’ direct experiences, or the opinion of others presented through all manner of digital communications.
The customers and prospects interacting with your business immediately form their own impressions about what you’re all about. If you’re able to exceed their expectations, they’ll be pleased and will likely start sharing their experiences with friends, colleagues, and strangers via social media. If you disappointed them they’re even more likely to share their experiences—with results that could quickly upset your business plan.
What you do now can make or break your efforts and may even sink the company. The future is in your hands.
|Sam Klaidman is principal adviser at Middlesex Consulting.|