“Under-promise and over-deliver.”

How many times have you heard that maxim as a business owner? It’s true: setting the right expectations with your customers, and then meeting or exceeding them, is one of the foundations of a successful business. No matter what type of business you are in, your customers have expectations in terms of service, interactions and quality.

Consider your own interactions with businesses. Perhaps you own a luxury car and you bring it in to the dealership for service. Chances are you expect a high level of service given that you paid a premium for the vehicle. Yet if you arrive in the waiting room and it’s dirty, poorly lit and lacks basic amenities such as a restroom or current reading material, you’re probably going to be disappointed. By the same token, if you purchase a low-priced economy vehicle and the dealership service area offers free snacks, Wi-fi and massaging chairs, you’ll be impressed, as you probably didn’t expect that level of comfort.

The same principles apply to any other type of business. While you certainly don’t want your customers to have exceedingly low expectations of your business, as that usually indicates other problems, you don’t want to set expectations that are unreasonably high, either. The key, then, is to effectively set and manage customer expectations so that you know exactly how to provide the excellent service.

Not All Expectations Are Created Equal

While you might think understanding that your customers have high expectations is enough, it’s important to realize that there are several types of expectations — and every customer is going to prioritize each type differently. The type of business you operate can also influence customer expectations; after all, if you operate a technology company, your customers have every reason to expect that you will have the latest technology in-house and the knowhow to use it. Issues caused by technological failures are probably not as easily forgiven as they would be at a small mom and pop shop that sells handcrafted items.

More specifically, customers tend to have expectations in the following areas:

Explicit expectations. These are expectations related to the promises made by you or your product. For example, if you promise to have orders in customers’ hands within three business days, they expect you to follow through.

Implicit expectations. Customers expect that you will do what you say you will do. But they also have expectations based on what’s implied by your claims. If you claim that you can handle shipping international orders, but orders routinely get stuck in customs, the implicit expectation that you understand how international shipping works will not be met.

Performance expectations. Most service evaluations are based on the assessment of how performance meets expectations. Performance isn’t just how a product or service works; it encompasses order accuracy, timeliness, the ease of working with a company, special order management and other factors. Performance expectations might be explicit, but they are more often based on the individual’s experiences with other companies and what they consider to be acceptable.

Communication expectations. How do you communicate with your customers? Most people have expectations on how businesses will relate to them, both in-person and online, and generally those expectations include courtesy, politeness and a willingness to provide service and answer questions.

Know What Your Customers Want

The number-one cause for dissatisfied customers is that their expectations weren’t met. That’s why it’s so important for you to understand what your customers want and expect and take the necessary steps to fulfill those needs.

Start by keeping your word. Whether it’s promises related to shipping speed, a return policy or item quality, realize that customers are expecting to receive what you’re promising. Let there be no mistake that your word is good and that customers can expect you will uphold your end of the agreement.

Second, pay attention to what your customers want. This might mean researching your competitors to see what they offer and also going to your customers to find out what they want and how you are doing when it comes to meeting those needs.

And finally, be realistic. Offering customers a particular product or service might ensure their satisfaction, but if it destroys your budget or creates problems in the company, it’s not worth it. Be reasonable in your promises, and if you have a chance to go above and beyond, take it.

Setting the right expectations for your customers and meeting them is one of the keys to running a successful business. Think about what your customers expect from you, and then take steps to exceed those expectations.


About the Author: Gina Dumais is a business blogger with more than two decades of experience running both online and bricks and mortar businesses.