By Benson Mukandiwa

There is an overwhelming effect that Internet has on customer expectations and service. As new technologies and channels for communication become established, distance is eliminated or minimized, and information is often available immediately. Today’s consumers are the beneficiaries (and sometimes victims) of the information explosion. There are volumes of information available to consumers on the Internet and it is able to be delivered at warp speed. This speed and access to technology has created an expectation in consumers that all of their transactions be completed in record time and with minimal complication.

Evolving customer expectations present an enormous opportunity for organizations to differentiate services. The uncertain economy and incessant customer demands have put the spotlight on what organizations everywhere must deliver. Rather than being a negative, this can provide tremendous opportunities for organizations with adept leadership and solid management. Managing customer expectations is as much an internal marketing matter as an external one; although there is no doubt that external pressures exist. Fostering an internal culture of constant incremental improvement almost guarantees that the level of customer satisfaction will rise. The idea is to set and achieve some measure of service quality internally before promising it to customers.

Customer expectations should be addressed in an organization’s strategic business plan, and should include and be driven by business goals that allows them to be more responsive to customer expectations. A comprehensive customer service strategy should include metrics that proactively address the issue of customer expectations, to include an ongoing review of their effectiveness. To be successful today, organizations must go beyond just meeting customer expectations and work to exceed expectations. Organizations that take an approach to exceeding customer expectations focus on defining and executing very specific, proactive customer service strategies. Organizations that exhibit customer responsiveness focus on service metrics that are driven by business goals . Exceeding customer expectations requires extensive planning and implementation of customer service strategies across all levels of the organization.

An organization that is able to constantly and accurately identify customer expectations will be in a more competitive position to gain and retain customers. No matter what the business is, customer’s expectations will rise over time. The expected speed, at which products will be delivered, for example, is much shorter today than it was two decades ago. In order to stay competitive, organizations must understand and keep up with customer expectations. However, organizations walk a fine line in trying not to get too far out in front of what customers expect. Successful organizations will have to become adept at coping with change. Effective organizations are flexible and able to evolve as necessary. These organizations are able to interface with customers differently, manage customer relationships more dynamically, and adjust staffing as needed for the purpose of meeting changing customer expectations .

An organization does not have to rely on intuition alone, as there are ways to elicit customer expectations directly from the customer. There are many ways to do this that include: customer surveys, focus groups, polling, and secret shopper programs. Employee customer training can be used to effectively help employees understand and identify customer expectations. Investing money and time on employee training is always a good investment, but it becomes an even better investment when it is combined with an ongoing program that measures how an organization’s customer’s level of satisfaction has improved, if it has. One of the better tools to assess whether or not an organization is meeting or exceeding its customers’ expectations is the customer survey. Organizations need to assure that if they are using customer satisfaction surveys they are worded correctly and elicit an actionable response from the customer.

An issue to be considered when using customer satisfaction surveys is that there may not be a direct correlation to the results shown on the surveys and actual effects on customer service. Satisfaction surveys are a far less accurate test of satisfaction than behavior. In business after business, research has shown that 60 to 85 percent of customers who defected from an organization had said on a survey just prior to defecting that they were satisfied or very satisfied. This has caused many organizations to respond with different, more highly technological approaches to gauging customer expectations and satisfaction. Although many organizations have invested a great deal of time and money in more technologically advanced customer feedback systems, the results are still rather dismal in reality. A good example of this exists within the global auto industry. Although 90 percent of automobile customers claim to be satisfied, only 40 percent come back for another purchase or vehicle service.

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