Lynn Manternach/Tree Full of Owls  

In a recent survey, 93 percent of Americans said companies fail to exceed their service expectations.

The 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer also showed 55 percent of Americans walked away from an intended purchase in the past year because of a poor customer service experience.

According to the study, 61 percent of Americans feel companies have not increased their focus on providing better service. Within that group, 32 percent actually feel businesses are paying less attention to providing good customer service, which is an increase from 2011.

Interesting data, considering how many companies talk about their differentiating customer service. Consumers clearly see things a bit differently.

So do companies not understand what it takes to provide great customer service? Are consumers expecting too much?

Providing great customer service is all about expectations – yours and theirs.

When you buy a product, you generally have pretty straightforward expectations. You expect the quality of the product to be somewhat related to the price you are willing to pay for it.

When it comes to service, things are a lot less straightforward.

Customers have a specific set of expectations for you when the relationship begins. Those expectations are based on consumer perceptions of you, your company and your industry. Expectations are formed through personal past experience, as well as the experience of others who interact with the customer.

Obviously, delivering below expectations is bad. But meeting expectations is also bad, especially in the context of creating loyalty. Consumers do not reward you for providing exactly what they expect.

Creating customer loyalty and value comes from consistently exceeding expectations. That’s not easy to do. Expectations grow, shrink, change shape and change direction. They shift constantly and they shift easily.

If that weren’t challenging enough, how you perceive your customer service performance may be different than how your customers perceive it. If you believe you are providing friendly and speedy service, but customers have higher expectations for the service, then your service is not friendly and speedy.

If your company can consistently exceed customer service expectations, people will notice. Many of those customers will tell friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers. Those recommendations are worth a whole lot more than the marketing and advertising you pay for.

In fact, social media users who receive great service have a significantly better reach than others, telling an average of 42 people about their positive experience, compared to just nine people for those not using social media, according to the 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer.

In addition, people who have used social media for customer service at least once in the past year are willing to spend substantially more (21 percent) with companies they believe provide great service. They are far more vocal about service experiences, both good and bad.

So how do you know how you’re doing with customer expectations? It starts with listening.

Use complaints strategically. Listening to complaints helps clarify what disconnects customers from your company. It can provide important information about the failures or gaps in the service system. Compile, analyze and feed the information back to employees who can help correct the problems, and use complaints as an inexpensive and continuous source of insight into consumer expectations.

Track satisfaction with individual transactions. Surveying customers about their satisfaction with a transaction immediately is a simple and focused way to get great insight into customer expectations. This approach also provides great insight into how well your employees are representing your brand and their impact on the brand experience.

Customer satisfaction surveys require more resources, but can be done without a large budget. Make sure you are only gathering relevant and important information that is actionable, and stay focused on what is really important to your company. You’re asking your customers to give up their time on your behalf. Keep the survey as short and focused as possible.

Effectively delivering more than consumers expect is very difficult to do on a daily basis. But the benefits of getting it right are huge.

 

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (MindFireComm.com) in Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. Contact Lynn at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.