Unclear expectations create problems. Lots and lots of problems. There are countless examples of how poorly defined or misaligned expectations have resulted in increased corporate costs, horrific PR nightmares (e.g., United Airlines), and lost future business (e.g., negative reviews on Yelp).
Well, for many years a core tenet of my coaching work has been dedicated to helping my clients manage their own clients' expectations. When you set the expectations yourself, that is what your performance will be measured against. Those of you who are familiar with, or have been through my Business Differentiation Blueprint® Program will already know how this works ... and that it DOES work!
When left to their own devices, clients and customers create their own ideas of what to expect. These expectations are generally arrived at by default, through the magnitude of influences in daily life: family, friends, neighbours, media, or even a random post they saw on their favourite social network. And to be fair, these expectations generally reside deep in your client's subconscious and they only become aware of them because they haven’t been met! Only then do they become loud and clear … and troublesome for all parties involved. How is that for a challenging conundrum?!
Regardless of how they arrive at their expectations, clients and customers form them, either consciously (by design) or subconsciously (by default). They rarely enter any engagement without a peripheral sense of what they expect to transpire, whether it be a trip to their local watering hole, the purchase of their next home, or a B2B relationship with their key supplier. Clients have expectations of providers when they are spending money, if even at a very conceptual, undefined level.
So, given that expectations are part of the package (and most often the source of the greatest consternation), as business owners it leads us to the natural question: "How can we influence and clarify those expectations to improve the quality of our client engagements, and provide a better, more fulfilling experience to our customers?"
The short answer is: Never leave it to chance.
And the second part of that answer is: Never assume you’re on the same page. Ever.
Seems obvious, right?
Well, if it's so obvious, why aren’t more business owners investing more time, money and resources into defining and clarifying expectations before they engage with their clients and customers?
In my experience, it’s because these same business owners haven’t invested the time to clarify and refine their own expectations of themselves within the context of their offer.
If this sounds familiar to you, here's how to get started down the path of understanding and managing these expectations in greater depth...
Five Steps to Fulfilling Expectations
1) Identify ONLY 1 or 2 areas where your company has a stronger than average advantage or ability to deliver excellence (e.g., Customer Service, Quality, Client Relationships, Price, Speed/Turnaround, Charitable Giving, Sustainability, Product Innovation, Corporate Culture, Thought Leadership, etc.).
2) For each area, identify up to 3 promises that you keep, all the time, without exception, because you value them at a core level and they have become an integral part of your corporate culture.
3) For each promise above, identify 1 or 2 high impact initiatives that will improve the quality of your offer and build more consistency into your client experience.
4) For each initiative, define objectives, parametres, and KPIs that hold all divisions of your company accountable for their part in fulfilling them.
5) Confidently (and proudly!) publish your commitments to all stakeholders and encourage them to hold you accountable to aligning with your own expectations and standards of excellence.
By going through this exercise, you will have established the primary parametres against which you want your success to be measured. You will have directed your clients’ attention to your areas of strength, and invited them to assess their experience based on the metrics to which your company is accountable.
Some clients will not appreciate or value your areas of strength, and they are less likely to become advocates or fans of your offer. They place importance on other things, according to their own value system. And that’s OK, because they are not the ones you want to focus on.
The clients who share your corporate values are the most important ones because they will be watching carefully. When you deliver consistently and predictably they become your biggest fans and advocates, and therefore your greatest asset in terms of repeat business and referrals.
By identifying your strengths and corporate priorities, drawing attention to them, and setting clear expectations to which you are corporately accountable, you establish a strong foundation of expectations that will not only substantially reduce potential problems, but also set your company on an accelerated growth curve that is sustainable through time.
From this perspective, clarifying and addressing stakeholder expectations is the answer to a number of corporate challenges. I know this works. My clients know that this works. So...
When are you going to clarify your commitments and start highlighting your strengths?
It will make all the difference.
To your Success, Differently,