Managing Customer Expectations
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An important topic is managing customer expectations. If you can meet or beat their expectations, you have a chance to keep the customer happy. It is very much about communicating with the customer...
Needs Analysis / Qualification
In the early stages, you perform some kind of needs analysis to determine what the customer really needs. Distinguish between the customer's needs and wants. They may want all sorts of things, but you should focus on what they need.
Often a customer will ask for X but what they really need is Y. If you deliver X, you fail, because when they get X the customer realizes they needed Y. You failed to provide what they need, and it could be expensive to change. The customer is not going to want to pay for something they don't need, even if you have a contract.
Ability To Deliver
If you don't have the capability or capacity to deliver what the customer needs, you should not offer to. Remember to under promise, so you can over deliver. If their needs are way out, you cannot service them. It would be better to walk away than to disappoint them later.
Of course this all varies with your product or service. There are expectations on cost, schedule and the value of your product or service to the customer. Each has to be worked out clearly, so there is no misunderstanding later. Some you can trade off, such as rush jobs cost more, or the fuel consumption is not as good for the larger vehicle, the larger prints take longer. Also on bigger projects you can agree deliver in stages, to accommodate the customer need for something sooner.
Buy-in Of Key People
Make sure all people involved are in agreement that you can meet the expectations. Big projects require some kind of signoff; some may be ok with a verbal commitment. For example, in a dry cleaners your customer needs the garment tomorrow, and you make sure your staff can have it done by then.
Handling Changes In Plans
Often stuff happens. You need to keep the customer informed. You cant get it in blue, but you can get red or green. It wont be ready on Friday, but it will be on Monday. See what alternatives you can offer. Show that you understand what the customer needs, and that you are working to provide it for them.
There are lots of creative solutions available. In one situation I had to bump a customer for a more urgent project. In exchange I offered them a discount on the fees. I was thus able to satisfy both customer's needs.
Basically it boils down to keeping in touch with your customers, and letting them know where you are at. If you are open with them, they can be more understanding and willing to work with you to get their needs met.
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