The Gist

  • Make your promise clear. Set a straightforward standard for what customers can expect after interacting with your brand.
  • Align KPIs with business goals. Ensure your performance indicators match up with a common CX goal to help your team thrive.
  • Understand customers' wants and needs. Recognizing customers' ever-evolving expectations is the only way to achieve satisfaction.

If you look around at some of the most notable and reprehensible examples of customer experience gone wrong, these stories often have one thing in common: The experience fell woefully short of what was expected. In these instances, what was promised — implicitly or explicitly — was not delivered. Meeting customers’ expectations is the Holy Grail of CX. Consistently hit the mark, and you’ll earn loyalty. Get it wrong, and you’re set up for disaster. 

So how can organizations lay the foundation for meeting customer expectations? It boils down to mastering four key principles.

    Define Your Promise to Customers 

    Meeting customer expectations begins with defining the customer promise — or the intended experience — which is the core of what customers can expect. It should be crafted as the intersection of a brand’s purpose, acknowledgement of customers’ needs and a reiteration of the unique value proposition. 

    For example, Alaska Airlines proudly publishes its Customer Commitment on its website, alongside links to some of its most important policies. The airline's promise is concise, but gets right down to business. It reads: “Thank you for being our guest. Our goal is to always provide safe, reliable transportation for a reasonable price, along with the caring, friendly and professional service that we are known for.”

    The Ritz-Carlton, a world-renowned customer-centric brand, also publishes its Gold Standards on its website. Its credo publicly outlines exactly what customers can expect: “The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

    Although they're not always called "customer promises," such statements set the tone for what customers can expect. It's equally important for a business to market its message to both customers and employees. Such mantras are most powerful if everyone in the organization is working toward the same thing. Even without this coordination, there’s plenty that leaders can do to encourage alignment.

    Establish Communication Governance

    After establishing a common vision for what customers can expect (and what “good” experiences look like), it's crucial to have safeguards that ensure misleading messages never reach consumers. In the 1996 Pepsi Harrier jet debacle, a Seattle-based student famously attempted to redeem 7 million Pepsi points for a military jet, acting on a misleading advertisement he’d seen on TV. 

    While that’s an extreme example, it is a reminder that any and all brand messaging contributes to a customer’s understanding of what experiences they can expect. If a campaign’s strap line is “What can we do for you?”, then customers are likely going to expect the brand’s representatives to be empathetic listeners who understand their needs and respond accordingly. Customer-facing teams need to be aware of these expectations and prepared to deliver. 

    Learning Opportunities

    Governance, whether this takes the form of communication principles, new employee training, a set of checks and balances or something else, can help ensure that the right messages get out there, while any misleading ones are stopped in their tracks.

    Align KPIs With a Common Goal

    As the old adage goes, “what gets measured gets done.” Corporate scandals such as the Wells Fargo cross-selling debacle demonstrate how quickly things can go wrong if key performance indicators (KPIs) and incentives aren’t in line with the desired customer outcomes. In that instance, Wells Fargo employees began opening accounts on behalf of customers without their knowledge or consent in pursuit of sales targets. This is unacceptable in the world of CX.

    To prevent things from going haywire, CX leaders should engage with their HR counterparts to regularly assess if department goals and KPIs are encouraging people to deliver the right kind of experiences — or not. For example, a service team might be measured by the amount of calls handled or response turnaround time, but these quantitative goals don't encourage agents to resolve the underlying issue. If the desired outcome is quick customer resolution with a smile, then a combination of turnaround time, resolution rate and customer sentiment might be a better mix of KPIs.

    Keep a Pulse on Customer Expectations 

    Customer wants and needs aren’t static. They are constantly changing, which is why establishing a vision for desired customer outcomes via a customer promise — and managing this through communication governance and KPIs — is only half of the battle. These steps help customers understand what they can expect and encourage teams to deliver, but this effort is moot if a team's target goals don't align with evolving customer needs. 

    This isn’t about sending out another reactive survey asking customers to rate their experience, but rather staying in tune with customers’ lives and how changing pressures impact their desires. Teams will have to artfully blend quantitative and qualitative data; immersions and interviews can be paired with operational trend data to yield rich insights. 

    The four principles outlined above won’t prevent the occasional customer experience hiccup — perfection isn’t realistic and a few bad experiences are to be expected. But they should go a long way to shore things up and help an organization rally around customer experience.

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