Since different forces from the customer may have different goals (the financial director wants to spend less, the technical director wants the latest know how, and the CEO wants more growth), the role of the provider is to fulfill all the expectations, in some part at least, in a juggling act of great complexity, but that’s the only way to do it.
Expectations can be subjective and objective, with objective expectations being the most natural and welcome. A subjective expectation is conditioned by the past, based on the experiences clients have had with similar products or services. At the other end of the spectrum, subjective expectations may not be based on anything in particular, except the preconceptions the customer has about a service or product. These are stereotypes that customers have developed over the years, like the popular myth: ‘Outsourcing is cheap’, and working in reversing them while forming realistic expectations is the goal of every business.
There are different ways to help customers get rid of their prejudices. One way is to ask them a series of questions about the falsehood they believe in. Most people don’t even know the answer to the most basic question: ‘Why do you think so?’ Others will automatically point to a source but will often be unable to clearly state that this source is trusted or even name it. Even if they do know the source, they can rarely correctly identify the level of authority the source has on the subject in question.
In the majority of cases, when dealing with a stereotype, presenting a few hard facts is enough to convert the person. Simple facts about the number of successful projects, years in operation and numbers of growth is usually enough. It’s not about having an argument but giving an alternative view that reflects objective reality rather than the conditioned one, filled with stereotypes.
Just as a salesperson has to know everything about their service, they should be able to predict stereotypes their customers may have developed dealing with a similar service in the past.
That’s what Ken Makovsky wrote in Forbes when speaking about customers who are not always right (when their expectations are based on falsehoods). He cited the case of an airline Spirit that was wrongfully thought to be the most complained about in the USA when a few disgruntled customers filed highly publicized complaints about it. The CEO responded with a speed of lighting, stating the company’s position of offering low fares, and not the luxury services, extra legroom, Wi-Fi and other stereotypical bells and whistles customers wrongfully expected from Spirit because those were available from airlines that are times more expensive. The CEO let the clientele know that they didn’t understand the position of the company, and have formed false expectations. In the next few months after the clarification, the complaints about the airline have declined by more than 30%.
Such discrepancies between expectations and reality should always be corrected at the highest level, and the sooner the better. It is vital to know what the business represents, and communicate that to the client immediately.
Dealing with stereotypes may be annoying, but it is relatively easy. In case when a customer did really have a negative experience with a product or service, it can be a little trickier. That’s where expectations are really based on experience, and the more emotionally involved the customer is, the more set in stone the negative supposition appears to be. The goal here is to turn a challenge into a possibility where a negative situation can be a great chance to demonstrate a business’s value.
Finding the reason for the negative experience and differentiating the current situation from the possibility of a repeated scenario might be done by comparing the difference in results. Negative experiences are often case-specific, not generic. If the client has gone to a cheap outsourcing firm in the hope to save money but ended up with an unfinished project and a hole in their pocket, investigating the reason behind the failure and showing the confidence of an alternative path can be a great way to reverse the expectations and start with a clean slate. Maybe the path is not to go for the cheapest vendor, but the vendor who provides high quality while still being cheaper than an in-house department.
To provide all that information the vendor must have deep knowledge of their own position and define themselves eloquently, because today the relationship between vendor and client is a discussion between experts, not a lecture where the provider ‘brainwashes’ the customer. Expectations are not a hindrance or a chance to manipulate the other party; they are a reputation boost and a gateway to better communication, and better deals.