Here’s a little story about customer expectations.
I recently moved to an old house in a rural area. As you can imagine, my broadband options were pretty limited. Like most people (72%, according to a study by Wunderman), I usually need a brand to impress me before I commit, but my lack of choice meant I couldn’t wait to be wooed.
Fortunately, the man I’d bought the house from was keen to recommend his current provider, and I was more than happy to follow in his footsteps. Word of mouth is a beautiful thing, so my expectations were high. But all too soon, my goodwill dried up. I encountered problem after problem and the agents I dealt with exacerbated the issues.
In the end, I got my broadband, but I’m already plotting an escape route for when my contract ends.
An empty emotional bank account
When a customer begins a relationship with a brand, they open an ‘emotional bank account’, a concept popularised by Stephen Covey. If you’ve been introduced to a brand by positive word of mouth, you might open this account with a hefty deposit of goodwill. The coffers can be topped up over time, with great service and smooth interactions.
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But this account can also be depleted – and once the account goes into the red, the brand has their work cut out to clamber out of that debt. In this instance, my emotional bank account was drained. The product wasn’t the problem, either. When I moved to the countryside, I’d resigned myself to the fact I probably wouldn’t be enjoying a 50Mbps fibre-optic connection.
The problem was that my customer expectations weren’t met, my interactions weren’t smooth, and the agents I dealt with hadn’t been empowered to help me. All in all, a bit of a disaster.
But what could have been done differently?
How to identify customer needs and expectations (and then meet them)
There are plenty of agent behaviours which will keep clients making happy deposits in their emotional bank accounts – but some are more fundamental than others. Let’s take a look.
1. Knowledge is power
A friendly and empathetic attitude is a great thing for an agent to have, but without the knowledge to back it up, customers will quickly become frustrated.
Take my broadband drama. From a customer emotion standpoint, I rapidly became frustrated because nobody I dealt with had the knowledge to help me. They couldn’t explain their confusing price plans, they couldn’t answer my questions, and more often than not, I felt like I was educating them.
Agents are always going to have to deal with problems they can’t solve – but with the right knowledge and training, there shouldn’t really be questions they can’t answer.
Brands have to make sure agents are given the resources to answer complicated questions. Providing they implement them thoughtfully, brands can even consider using technologies like Virtual Assistants to ease the burden of handling low-level queries – meaning agents can crack on with the difficult bits.
2. Listen up, follow through
Customers aren’t crazy – they know when they phone a call centre, Bob on the end of the line isn’t going to be the one to come out and fix their leaking pipe. What they do know is that Bob should listen carefully to their issue and follow through with the resolution he offers (like arranging for a plumber to call at a specified time) because if he doesn’t, frustration is bound to ensure.
Of course, follow through isn’t just for promises. If customers give feedback at the end of the process, this should be followed up too, so they know their input is making a difference. Engagement at every stage of the journey lets your customers know you’re not just listening, you’re reacting, which is definitely the right way to manage customer expectations.
3. Ask not what your customers can do for you
If a brand can deliver value in every interaction, trust will blossom. If a brand offers smooth communications, easy processes, and a frictionless customer experience… well, that might just turn into love.
Brands should make life easy for their customers, and agents have a huge role to play in this. Seems obvious, right? But when you start to dig into some fairly common situations, it’s amazing how many brand interactions require serious effort from the consumer – like repeatedly having to chase up a problem despite being promised a call back.
Instead, brands should always be thinking about what they can do to meet and exceed customer expectations. At a business level, this requires taking a hard look at processes to refine and improve them. But from an agent level, this means giving agents the tools to measure customer emotion, understand their own performance, and become frontline heroes, because where frontline heroes lead, increasing customer expectations and loyal brand Ravers will follow.
4. Don’t force your customers to head for pastures new
Brands wondering how to identify customer needs and expectations don’t have to tie themselves in knots to find solutions. They simply need to avoid complacency by continually implementing these tips and striving to measure customer emotion.
Even if you think moving on is too much hassle and frazzled customers will probably stay put, the research suggests otherwise. Accenture found that more than half of customers had switched service providers in the past year, and a whopping 64% cited frustrating customer service as the top reason.
The best ways of managing customer interactions aren’t complicated, but if customer needs and expectations aren’t met, there’s a serious risk they’ll close their emotional bank accounts and head off for pastures new.