What are your expectations? The importance of customer expectations

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Customer experience What are your expectations? The importance of customer expectations

Published on 04.09.2019 by Liv Bianchet, Manager Customer Experience

If expectations are not fulfilled, it inevitably leads to frustration. Everyone experiences this in their daily life. If a recommended restaurant disappoints us or our partner forgets our wedding anniversary, it puts us in a bad mood. Such unfulfilled expectations on the part of customers have the potential to unleash immense frustration. This frustration quickly becomes expensive for a company. However, in order to fulfil expectations, they must first be recognised and understood.

Enthusiasm can only be generated when expectations have been fulfilled. To do this, however, retailers must first know and understand what expectations are. Nat Ware coherently describes what an expectation consists of. An expectation is characterised by three different dimensions.

Source: Nat Ware’s own representation

The first dimension is the idea of something, the second is the idea or perception created by the environment and the third dimension is what has been experienced so far.

In order to find out the expectations of the customers, these must be closely observed. The aim is to find out what the customer has experienced so far, the environment in which they live and how this results in their idea of what something should be like.

Satisfaction is directly related to the fulfilment of expectations. This may sound banal at first, but it is worth diving into understanding human thought. People tend to romanticize reality. They become disillusioned if their idea does not become a reality.

People have an instinctive fear of losing something. Sometimes they even make foolish decisions in order to avoid suffering from loss, at least superficially. Our brain makes associations that motivate us and shape our expectations.

Goals – such as with customer loyalty programmes – must be set in such a way that they seem achievable for the customer.

If the goal seems unachievable, the customers lose the motivation to want to achieve it. In their study “Endowed Progress Effect”, Joseph C. Nunes and Xavier Drèze investigated how the expectation of achieving a goal affects the motivation to want to achieve the goal. For example, customers of a car wash received stamp cards that promised a free wash when the card was full. One half of the customers received stamp cards with 10 empty fields, while the other half received cards with two pre-stamped fields.

The customer group with the pre-stamped cards filled the cards faster. This effect is directly related to people’s fear of loss, fear of not achieving a goal and the associated loss of face. The two “free” stamps allowed the customer to directly view their progress. The customer was able to get a better idea of achieving their goal.

The environment also has a direct influence on our expectations. Trip Advisor is the best example of this. If a restaurant receives many positive reviews (based on past experiences), we expect it to be a good restaurant. It is more likely that we will be forgiven if our expectations are not met. These recommendations were made by people whom we then assume had different expectations. If, on the other hand, we receive a recommendation from our private sphere, we will have a higher expectation of the quality of the visit. If our expectations are not fulfilled, this will weigh heavily on us.

If recommendations are made in the business environment, the criteria for assessment are much tougher. The criteria are expected to be levelled, measurable and free of superlatives. If expectations and experiences diverge, we refer to an “expectation gap”. On the positive side it generates enthusiasm, while in a negative scenario it spreads disappointment.

There is a fine line between creating an expectation and the actual fulfilment of the expectation. A company must therefore think very carefully about what expectations it wants to create and whether it can really fulfil them. Correcting a preconceived opinion is practically impossible. Thus, a company should concentrate on what it does really well and promote it realistically.

Three points for successful expectation management emerge from the above findings:

  • Only make a promise that can be kept.
  • Build expectations: understand where customers’ expectations come from.
  • Make goals a reality: make processes visible to the customer.

However, the most important thing is to know and understand the customer and their environment and to place the customer at the centre of all actions (customer centricity).

Liv Bianchet, Manager Customer Experience, PostLogistics

Liv Bianchet-Kop – lecturer and specialist in both customer-centered service design, with a focus on behavioural research and measurements, and educational design – works at Swiss Post Logistics as Manager Customer Experience.

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