Updated May 2020:
Companies place a great deal of importance on meeting customer expectations. According to Forrester, nearly 95% of leaders say that providing a good customer experience is a top strategic priority, and 75% want to use customer experience as a competitive advantage.
But it’s a big, crowded marketplace out there, full of consumers that want different things at different times via different channels. What do customers really want? What do customers expect from your customer service department?
You would think that it’s hard to make a sweeping generalization about what “all customers” want, especially where customer is concerned.
Luckily, research tells us that there are some commonalities we can look at when setting the bar. Let’s have a look at that research now:
1. Your customers want you to understand their needs
Customer frustration stems from a discontinuity between the expectation of a customer service interaction, and what’s actually delivered. Nearly three-quarters of consumers expect you to understand their needs and expectations.
A study from the MIT Sloan Review found that that customer service expectations had two levels: desired (what the customer hopes to obtain) and sufficient (what the customer would find acceptable). Of course, there’s a third level: unsatisfactory, where companies miss the mark entirely.
The difference between these relative levels is significant and is surely something reflected in your bottom line.
Many businesses have learned that it’s often advantageous to “underpromise and overdeliver” in order to increase the likelihood of exceeding customer expectations. Others take pride in high expectations, knowing full well that they can deliver the goods.
Whatever you do, make sure you understand and set those expectations with your customers from the beginning and then deliver on them.
2. Your customers expect to have multiple options when contacting you
There’s a wealth of recent data citing the importance of channel preference on customer satisfaction. In a nutshell, customers expect companies to communicate with them on their preferred channel, be it in person, online, or on the phone. Modern consumers expect to be able to communicate with you across at least 10 different channels — depending on the type of inquiry.
Added to that, more than 85% of customers expect conversations with customer service representatives to move seamlessly and in real-time between channels. And that means, no repeating themselves and their problem.
Studies show that channel preference depends on the type of interaction.
For example, for “simple” inquiries (like “what’s my bank balance?”) online self-serve and email are the preferred channel. However as the inquiry gets more complex, speaking with a live agent through live chat or on the phone becomes the preferred choice.
Being where the customer is — wherever that is at the time — is the key to meeting customer expectations.
3. Your customers need you to respond quickly
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a store, on the phone, or online – no one likes to wait. Accordingly, the response times of channels you provide service on should be reasonable.
What’s reasonable, of course, depends on your customers and their channel preference. For example, one study shows that on Twitter, 53% of customers expect a brand to respond in under an hour. That number jumps to 72% when they have complaints. In the call center, it’s often hard to determine what the right service level is. For example, see Shai’s recent blog post on the subject: “Why 80/20 is Probably the Wrong Service Level for Your Call Center“.
When it comes time to do something about wait times, remember that technology can be your ally. For example, call-back solutions like Fonolo can help eliminate hold time, while also reducing abandon rates and telco costs in the call center.
4. Your customers crave a personalized experience
Though we live in a seemingly anonymous culture — where “self-service” is so prevalent — customers increasingly want a personalized experience when it matters most. Salesforce found that around 50% of consumers ignore communications that aren’t personalized to them. And 79% of consumers will also say that personalized service is more important than personalized marketing.
CRM technology allows businesses to have proper relationships with customers all the way from the shop floor to the call center — take advantage of it. This approach can also extend to proactively contacting customers, for example, sending electronic communication about relevant promotions, follow-up calls to ensure satisfaction, etc.
Fostering relationships with customers can significantly increase the likelihood of exceeding their expectations, turning them into advocates of your brand.
And it’s well worth the investment: even just the perception of personalization could significantly increase revenue.
5. Your customers want you to solve their problems
Only 12% of customers believe companies when they claim to, ‘put the customer first.’
At the root of every customer inquiry is a desire for a quick resolution. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that customers don’t want to jump through hoops to get their problems fixed and questions answered.
Empowering your front-line agents so they have the ability to resolve customer issues is key. With each transfer, subsequent call or email, customers lose patience with your organization, resulting in a loss of goodwill which can significantly affect your ability to retain and grow your customer base.
Solving customer problems right away is a sure-fire way to avoid issues from your customers down the line.
6. Your customers wish you would listen to them
Just like anyone, your customers want you to listen to them. Really listen. You may collect feedback but do you act on it? Around half of people surveyed believe that companies don’t take action on customer feedback.
Consumers have a louder voice than ever, and if you’re not listening to them, someone else will. Overwhelmingly, customers want to give you feedback — more than 85% of customers expect you to give them the opportunity to provide feedback.
And the companies that let consumer expectations and feedback guide them dominate many industries today — Amazon being the most obvious example. By making it easier for customers to get what they wanted, and creating products based directly on feedback, Amazon has obliterated many traditional retailers in their space.
7. Your customers like you to be proactive
People strongly favor companies that are proactive when it comes to customer service — both personal notifications about service issues and more public social media statements.
Customer service has long been in a reactionary trench; don’t wait for your customers to reach out to you with their problems and questions. Being proactive is how you present your brand as ‘going the extra mile’ for your customers.
Create opportunities for them to provide feedback at any point. Formalize the processes around when you reach out to certain customers, depending on how they interact with your content. Make customer focus groups a regular part of your engagement strategy.
8. Your customers love to be surprised
Customers love to be surprised. In fact, surprise can light up the same pleasure area of your brain as drugs, indicating humans are designed to crave the unexpected.
Surprise is an incredibly powerful tool for shaping the customer experience. And remember, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money. A handwritten note in their delivery, a small discount, or a birthday card could be enough.
Based on some of our earlier stats, they’ll probably be surprised if you’re proactive about solving their problems or listen to their feedback!
9. Your customers prefer saving time over money
Contrary to wait many believe, most people value their time over money. The best way to sell someone something is by presenting it as something that can either save them time or improve the quality of the time they have.
That’s why McDonald’s marketing strategy focuses on ‘happiness’ and not about ‘cheap food’. Another example of this is with cheap alcohol. This is particularly important for certain products but works with anything.
Time is of the essence now more than ever. The majority of customers feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do.
10. Your customers wish you would give them consistent answers
Besides IVR and repeating themselves, the customers hate the most is inconsistency. More than three-quarters of customers say that getting inconsistent answers from support agents is a major frustration for them.
With the majority of consumers using multiple channels to communicate with you, it’s time to make sure that it feels like a single conversation. Are you giving customers the same answers, and the same level of service across all your channels?
Understand Your Customers’ Needs — and Surpass Them
The key to delivering excellent customer service — and a chorus of customers advocating your brand — is truly understanding your customers’ needs and expectations. Using tools like MaxDiff to truly understand customer expectations will set you apart from other brands and give you a real insight into how to create loyal customers time and time again.