Managing Customer Expectations

by Patricia Lotich on July 1, 2013

customer service strategy is the best first step in creating a culture that supports great customer service.  This includes having a good understanding of who your customers are, what they want and creating systems and processes to meet their needs.  This approach is the foundation for a strong service organization.

Another important aspect of the customer experience is helping to manage their expectations. What this means is helping to prepare the customer for what their customer experience will be.

Often customers come into the environment for the first time, and if they are not familiar (i.e.: air travel, healthcare, auto repair) with the service process, they can have preconceived ideas for what to expect.

And often, the customer experiences something completely different which can negatively impact their perception of the organization. This makes it important to help prepare the customer for what the experience will be.

For example, a patient who enters an emergency room might have expectations to be seen immediately (the term emergency implies this).  This is often not the case because there can be peak times of the day when there are many patients to serve.

An emergency room that is service oriented will be proactive and help the patient understand what the process is and what to expect through the experience.

This can be done through verbal communication at check in, perhaps a looping video or an informational pamphlet in the waiting room.

Preparing the patient for what to expect can minimize the frustration a patient will have with long wait times. There are other things that can be done to create a friendly waiting environment. For example, having beverages available, a hostess to help with communication, health care related training videos, television and plenty of reading material.

I recently had two personal experiences with service expectations. The first one demonstrated the wrong way and the second showed the right way to set customer expectations.

The first example is a doctor’s appointment.  The appointment was scheduled for 3:45 pm.  I arrived at approximately 3:40 pm, did my paperwork and was asked to sit in the waiting room.

Around 4:00 I was called back to the examination room. The nurse took my vitals and said, “The doctor is with another patient and you are next so she’ll be in shortly….”

Well in my mind shortly meant a few minutes, maybe 15.  The clock ticked and I heard conversations in other rooms and I waited and waited and waited.

Finally at 5:00 I opened the door, stuck my head out and said, “Did you forget me” to the nurse.  She said “oh no, would you like a drink of water?”  I said, “No I would like to be seen so I can go home.”

I went back in the room and at 5:30, the doctor finally came in.  She did apologize for the wait but the apology didn’t feel heartfelt, and I was angry.

Where they failed, was first of all to tell me I was the next patient when clearly I was not. The second was their patient assignment process was bad otherwise this would not have happened. Third, they did not define how long of a time “she’ll be in shortly” was. Therefore, my expectations were very different from the actual experience.

My second example is, I had an airline ticket booked and needed to make a change, so I called Southwest Airlines customer service line.  I went into an automated answering system that said the wait time would be 8-14 minutes.  I was at work so I put the call on speaker phone and went about my business.  To my surprise, someone attended to me in 3 minutes, not 8 or 14.  I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the outcome.  If I had to bet, I would say that it was probably intentional that the wait time was less than they prepared me for. They didn’t promise me no wait, but they did prepare me and helped me manage my expectations. This is the right way to do it! Kudos to Southwest Airlines!

Bottom line, most people are reasonable and if they understand what to expect, they will respond positively.

Finally, the goal with any customer service system is to have a seamless and quick customer friendly process. All systems should be managed through a quality management system and constantly reevaluated to find ways to improve the process.

Does anyone have other examples of setting customer expectations?

photo by:  alancleaver

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