A paper salesman for over 40 years, Frank remembers the day when he was selling paper to butcher shops. The meat wrapping paper his clientele purchased could be customized with a message of their choice. One of his clients handed him a paper with the message he wanted to appear on his wrapping paper. A word had been misspelled. The person in charge of printing the butcher’s paper noticed the error, and made the decision to correct the butcher’s spelling.

When the butcher received his paper he was furious. Why? Because he had intentionally misspelled a word so that his customers would come back and tell him about it...thus giving him another opportunity to build a personal relationship with his customers. The message was clear. Before assuming customer expectations, it is important to ask.

Customer expectations are never to be taken for granted. Just because you have something you want to sell doesn’t mean that it’s what the customer wants to buy. If the two don’t match, you won’t make a sale. You’re probably familiar with the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The extra time it takes to discover expectations up front may be exactly what’s needed to make the sale or to eliminate unforeseen problems after the sale is made. From a customer’s point of view, nothing is more exasperating than expecting one thing and getting another.

Nothing pays bigger dividends than fulfilling expectations. Sales success, personal compliments, job promotions, good feelings, and renewed energy all spring from fulfilling customer expectations.

Fulfill Expectations
1) Seek answers from your customer. Ask questions. What’s
most important to you? How do you want it delivered? What’s your perception of us? What are we doing right? What can we do for you that we are not doing now? How can we improve? If you were the president of our company, what would you be doing that we aren’t?

A restaurant customer satisfaction survey asked me if my food was served hot. I answered “yes.” However, what I would have preferred being asked is if I appreciated being seated next to the wait station where there was a continual banging of plates and flatware. Without this question they could easily have assumed that my visit was positive, when it was anything but. Ask questions that will get at what interests the customer, not simply what interests the service provider’s management team.

Customer expectations are never to be taken for granted. Just because you have something you want to sell doesn’t mean that it’s what the customer wants to buy.

2) Learn how to really listen to your customer. Develop the ability to reflect any feeling expressed and to paraphrase the content of their message. The skill of listening is critical to understanding what’s most important to the customer. For example, one day I was in a major department store and a customer, clearly upset, was shouting at the young sales clerk across the counter, “You’d just don’t understand how I feel!” To which the young clerk could only reply, “Madam, I’ve given your coat to alterations and they’re working on it now.” The woman was shouting to have her feelings understood and the young clerk, shaken by the experience, could only focus on what was being done to solve the problem. We live under the illusion of understanding. Effective communication is only possible when the intent of the message sent is the intent received; this takes the special skill of active listening. Never assume anything.

The last thing a customer wants is to be made to feel like just another sale. By anticipating differences and by listening to the details of your conversation with the customer, you
will be more apt to identify specific needs. Then, be on the lookout for creative ways to meet customer expectations, especially when they differ from your normal business practice.

3) Elicit feedback in a variety of ways. Feedback can be an eye opening experience that paves the way for greater opportunity to delight the customer. Ways to elicit feedback could be phone interviews, monitoring complaints, visiting customers to ask for feedback, customer focus groups, a toll-free customer-service line, and written customer surveys. You can never get too much feedback from your customers.

As Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” To be a champion in the eyes of your customer, ask meaningful questions and listen carefully to what each customer tells you. Become diligent in requesting feedback in a variety of ways.

Copyright 2007 © Mary Jane Mapes All rights reserved

Author's Bio: 

Author of self-study learning systems, Portage, Michigan based Mary Jane Mapes speaks at conventions and for corporations on winning customers for life, the art of listening, and developing influence. Contact her at maryjane@alignedleaderinstitute.com, call 1-800-851-2270