How to meet and exceed customer expectations

How to meet and exceed customer expectations
By Pedals | On May 05, 2022
16 min read
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As a brand, of course you want to exceed your customers' expectations with every single interaction. And while this may not be possible 100% of the time, striving to meet or exceed expectations can set your brand up for growth and success. After all, it only takes one bad experience for a customer to move on to a competitor.

At the same time, customer expectations can often feel like a moving target. What your customers want or need one day may not ring true the next. Meanwhile, the means by which customers expect to receive support is constantly evolving.

Yes, there are a lot of variables and unknowns when it comes to customer expectations. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take to not only figure out what your customers' expectations are, but work towards meeting or exceeding them more often.

In this article:

Why your business should strive to meet customer expectations

Making efforts to meet or exceed your customer expectations will increase overall satisfaction. This, in turn, creates loyal customers who will come back time and time again. And of course, your business couldn't stay afloat without customers.

So, what are some other benefits to consider when it comes to consistently meeting customer needs and expectations?

Increase customer retention

When you frequently meet or exceed your customer expectations, you'll increase your customer loyalty and keep them coming back for more. In fact, 89% of companies report that great customer service plays a huge role in retention.

Retaining existing customers is always beneficial, especially when you consider that the cost to acquire a new customer is, on average, five times higher than that of keeping an existing one. In this sense, delivering on your customer expectations regularly can directly benefit your company's bottom line.

Secure a competitive advantage

No matter the industry your business is in, you have plenty of competition. Other businesses offer the same goods and/or services you do — and likely at similar pricing. Oftentimes, delivering excellent customer service that meets or exceeds customer expectations is the best way to stand out from your competition. If a potential customer can get a similar service from another company but you offer the best customer support, you can win their business.

Generate more referrals

Exceeding customer expectations does more than just retain your existing customers; it can also generate new business. That's because when your company delivers an excellent customer experience, your customers are more likely to tell their family and friends about it. This, in turn, could drum up some new business for you. In fact, studies have shown that word of mouth is the driving factor behind anywhere from 20% to 50% of purchasing decisions today — so those referrals can go a long way.

How to understand what your customers expect

Okay, so you now have a better understanding of why meeting or exceeding expectations is so important. But how do you go about doing that when you're not quite sure what your customers actually expect? It's no secret that customer expectations have evolved over the years. In fact, today's consumers have higher expectations than ever before.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get a better feel for what your customers' expectations are so that you can build strategies to meet or exceed them every time.

Perform qualitative research

It might sound a little obvious, but why not turn to your customers directly? Consider, for example, sending out an email survey to each of your current or existing customers. In this survey, you can ask for feedback on each customer's experience on a scale of 1-10. Obtaining this kind of qualitative data can be a great starting point to determine where your company stands. From there, you might want to ask additional questions to get more information from your customers about their experiences. Some examples of questions to ask may include:

  • How likely are you to recommend our company to your friends or family?
  • How did we exceed or fail to meet expectations?
  • How can we improve your experience with us?

Of course, surveying customers on their experience doesn't only have to happen after they make a purchase. You can actually gain a lot of valuable insight into the quality of your customer support staff by surveying customers after they've interacted with your support team. Sending out a survey to ask about a customer's experience with a specific team member, how well the team member addressed their needs and concerns, and other aspects of the interaction can go a long way towards improving the quality of your support.

Talk to customer-facing team members

Your support team has the most direct customer interactions, so it only makes sense that you should consult with these employees as well. Speaking with your customer service team can provide you with some extremely valuable information about common issues, complaints, and concerns that customers frequently bring up. Likewise, your customer service team can probably tell you about the specific ways in which your business is already meeting or exceeding expectations.

Don't hesitate to ask your customer service team for input on changes you could make to improve the experience for customers — you might be surprised at the ideas they have and how eager they are to share them with you.

Browse competitor reviews and feedback

Last but not least, take some time to read reviews and feedback about your competitors from their customers. By reading your competition’s customer reviews, you'll get a better feel for what they're doing right and wrong in terms of meeting customer expectations.

From there, you can more confidently determine what your customer base finds most important when working with a business in your industry. You can then assess how well your own company is delivering on these elements to improve the experience for your customers.

Where can you find competitor reviews? Generally, the most honest and genuine reviews will be found on third-party review sites such as Yelp, Angie's List, and Google Business pages. Customer feedback on social media platforms (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) can also be helpful. You may also be able to find reviews on your competitors' websites, though these tend to be more biased — after all, a company isn't going to publish negative reviews on their site.

10 Ways to meet and exceed customer expectations

Now that you have a better idea of what your customers are expecting, how can you go the extra mile to show them just how much their loyalty means to your business? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Jump to a section:

  1. Understand the customers you serve
  2. Surprise your customers
  3. Improve your response time
  4. Practice omnichannel customer service
  5. Be transparent
  6. Inspire a customer-centric culture
  7. Make informed decisions with customer satisfaction surveys
  8. Take advantage of customer support technology
  9. Encourage self-service
  10. Retrain your support team

1. Understand the customers you serve

Start by making sure you know your customer base as much as possible. This doesn't mean just knowing their age, location, or other basic demographic information. It means going above and beyond to really get to know what your customers' interests, needs, and pain points are.

How can you gather this information? This is another situation where surveys can be your best friend. By inviting feedback from your existing customer base, you can get a better feel for the factors that make up your customers' expectations. From there, you'll be able to more confidently understand your customer base and craft a strategy to meet or exceed their expectations with each interaction.

When creating a survey to learn more about your customers, consider asking such questions as:

  • What led you to purchase a product or service from our business?
  • Is there something about our product or service that stood out from others on the market?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your overall experience with our business?
  • Is there anything we can do to improve your experience?

2. Surprise your customers

Consistently meeting a customer's expectations is great — but when you're able to exceed them, that's when you can really set yourself apart from the competition and create lifelong customers. One of the best ways to exceed a customer's expectations? Surprise them.

Surprising your customers doesn't have to mean making a huge, grand gesture. It doesn't even have to cost your business a lot of money. Something as simple as sending a hand-written card thanking a customer for a purchase can go a very long way. Likewise, sending a loyal customer an email on their birthday (along with a special discount on a future purchase or a small freebie) is a great way to add an element of surprise.

If it's in your company's budget, another way to show customer appreciation with an element of surprise is to hold a special event, such as a luncheon or other free gathering, for your customers. Send out invitations to your event on social media or via email and require an RSVP so you can gauge how many people will be coming. Small appreciation events don't have to cost your business a lot of money but are a great way to wow your customers and exceed their expectations.

I refuse to buy my pet supplies for my pets (Meep and Zurg!) from anywhere except for Chewy. The other week, I accidentally placed a duplicate autoship order. 2 hours later, a CS rep called me DIRECTLY to let me know they thought I made a mistake with my order and wanted to make sure it was correct.  My trust and admiration for Chewy shot through the roof as my jaw dropped to the floor. I was astounded that a large company like Chewy was calling to make sure I wasn’t overcharged, even though they knew it was user error. Because of this, I’m a Chewy customer for life!
- Sophia Shedore, Content Marketer at Loop Support

3. Improve your response time

Fast response times to questions or complaints are expected — so failing to respond quickly could mean that you are not living up to your customer's expectations. In fact, according to Statista, 31% of consumers in the United States expect brands to respond to a social media question or complaint within 24 hours. In this same study, 20% of respondents even report that they expect an immediate response.

With this in mind, quick response times are more important than ever. So, what are some ways your brand can improve response times and exceed customer expectations? One option to consider is adding a live chat support feature to your website. With these chat features, visitors are instantly greeted by a chatbot and are routed to a customer service specialist as needed. Likewise, offering at least one form of support around-the-clock is a must these days. If your customer service team is only available to respond to calls and messages from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on business days, your response times are absolutely going to suffer.

A great way reduce your response time is to breakdown agent journeys, and focus on automating repetitive, low-value tasks to allow for more efficient resolutions.
- Devin Poole, Senior Director, Strategic Marketing at Dixa

4. Practice omnichannel customer service

Just as today's consumers expect faster response times than ever, they also expect to be able to get in touch with your brand in any way they prefer. With this in mind, offering customer service across a wide range of channels is a must for meeting your client's needs and expectations.

Ultimately, offering an omnichannel experience that works for your customers will depend on knowing your customer base and the types of communication channels they prefer. However, in addition to the "standard" phone and email support, your brand may also want to consider offering:

  • A self-service platform
  • A live chat platform
  • Social media support
  • In-app support

Of course, it's not just enough to offer these channels for your customers to reach out — you need to deliver the same level of service on each channel, which can be easier said than done. This is where taking the time to carefully train your customer service team on how to interact with customers on each channel will pay off big time. Ideally, a customer should be able to reach out with the same problem or question on any support channel and receive the same level of service each time.

5. Be transparent

Your brand doesn't have much control over the expectations your customers have these days — but you do have some say. Specifically, you can help manage and set the right expectations by being as transparent as possible with your customers.

For example, make sure that you're clear about your company policies (return policies, cancellations, pricing, etc.) on your website and elsewhere. This can help to set your customer service team up for success. Likewise, you'll also want to clarify the type and level of support that your company will offer if a customer needs assistance with an order, product, or service.

By being as clear as possible about your policies and support channels, you can help to set reasonable expectations for your customers. This, in turn, can help to keep everybody on the same page, setting your customer service team up for success.

6. Inspire a customer-centric culture

All too often, businesses place 100% of the burden of meeting customer expectations on their support teams. And while it's true that customer support teams do deal with customers more directly than any other department, the reality is that every employee should be working with the customer in mind at all times.

The idea of working around the customer's needs at every level of your business is known as a customer-centric culture — and it's a concept that every brand should embrace. Across all departments of your business, employees should be trained to put the customer first. Your product development team, for example, should understand and consider the unique needs of your customer base when designing a new product. In doing so, they'll be better equipped to create a user-friendly product that meets or exceeds expectations.

If your brand isn't already embracing a customer-centric culture, there are some steps you can take to work towards this goal. Consider, for example:

  • Having employees from other departments hold regular meetings with customer service teams
  • Mapping the customer journey and ensuring that all departments are familiar with it
  • Recognizing and rewarding employees who go out of their way to put the customer first

7. Make informed decisions with customer satisfaction surveys

Collecting customer feedback on a regular basis is one of the best ways to gauge your company's success when it comes to meeting and exceeding customer expectations. By reviewing this feedback, you can get a better feel for the areas where your brand may be meeting expectations and areas that could use some improvement.

There are plenty of practical ways to go about collecting customer feedback. Customer satisfaction surveys are among the easiest and most effective. By sending out a customer satisfaction survey via email after a purchase or after an interaction with your customer service team, you have the opportunity to collect important data about the customer's experience.

When crafting customer surveys, try to come up with questions that will provide you with both qualitative and quantitative data. Specifically, qualitative data is numerical in nature and thus can be easily measured, charted, and visualized. One example of a question that can collect quantitative data is one that begins with, "On a scale of 1-10..."

Qualitative data, on the other hand, tends to offer more in-depth information — but is more difficult to visualize or measure. For example, a question like, "How can we improve your next experience with our brand?" will elicit a qualitative response. Oftentimes, qualitative data is a useful supplement to quantitative data, helping your brand get the "big picture."

Once you have this information, you can identify areas where you meet or exceed customers' expectations and pain points where you may need to improve. For example, if survey responses indicate that customer service response times are slow, it may be time to work on speeding up response times across all of your channels.

8. Take advantage of customer support technology

These days, there is no shortage of customer support technology available to businesses of all sizes. These platforms, when integrated and used properly, can help to improve the quality and speed of your brand's customer service and support. This, in turn, can help your customer service team meet and exceed expectations more often.

Some examples of customer support technology to consider implementing within your business include everything from chatbots for your website to answer bots (automated ticket deflection), ticket tagging platforms, skill routing platforms, and more.

A few specific examples of customer support platforms to consider include:

  • Zendesk: CRM platform that streamlines such services as text support, phone support, email support, live chat, and more
  • HelpScout: Cloud-based help desk solution for small businesses
  • Dixa: Customer engagement platform designed to improve service through personalized chat, email, messaging, and phone support

By taking the time to explore your options when it comes to different customer support platforms, you can determine which may work best for your brand and for your customers' needs.

9. Encourage self-service

While it may seem counterintuitive to meet or exceed your customer's expectations by having them figure things out themselves, the reality is that self-service can go a long way in improving overall satisfaction. That's because when customers have the ability to help themselves rather than turning to a customer support team, they feel empowered while saving themselves the hassle of reaching out for assistance.

This makes sense when you consider the fact that about 40% of today's consumers will try to resolve an issue themselves before reaching out to customer support. If nearly half your customer base is going to attempt to figure out their own problems, why not make the task easier for them?

There are many simple steps you can take to encourage self-service, such as:

  • Creating a chatbot
  • Providing community forums
  • Setting up a centralized knowledge base or FAQ

10. Retrain your support team

As you craft and refine your brand's strategy for exceeding customer expectations, there's a good chance you'll also need to revisit some of your training with your customer support team to make sure everybody is on the same page. Specifically, retraining is valuable for boosting the quality of your customer service as a company because it provides each employee with the most up-to-date information, policies, and methods to follow.

There are many skills you may need to retrain an employee on, such as using specific customer support platforms and solving problems. You can get a better feel for areas that may require additional training by taking the time to review customer service transcripts and tracking individual employees' performance and customer feedback.

From there, provide regular retraining (either in group settings or in individual sessions) to your customer service teams with the information they need to deliver the best experience to your customers every time. This is especially important if you're implementing a new customer service or support platform, as you'll need to make sure that everybody is confident in using the platform before you roll it out. This will give you and your team the best chances for success in using the platform itself.

What happens when you fail to meet customer expectations?

In a perfect world, your business would be able to exceed customer expectations every single time. In reality, this isn't how things play out. Unfortunately, when your business fails to meet a customer's expectations, you could lose that person's business. Likewise, depending on how poor the experience was for your customer, they may share that experience with loved ones (or even more people than that via social media), which may hurt your reputation. The same goes for a negative review that a customer may leave as a result of a poor customer service interaction.

One example of a poor customer service interaction that negatively impacted a business occurred when British Airways lost a man's luggage back in 2013. After the airline's customer service team was apparently unable to locate the lost bags, the upset customer posted about the issue on Twitter, tagging the airline in his post. He even paid to promote the post so that it would reach more people.

At the time, British Airways did not have anybody monitoring their social media feeds. As a result, the tweet went viral in a short period of time, and the exchange between the passenger and the airline painted British Airways in a very negative light. By failing to deliver on the service the customer expected (baggage support) and then failing to respond to the customer's social media complaints in a timely manner, the airline's reputation was seriously tarnished.

Another example of poor customer service from Amazon left a customer extremely disappointed. A Fast Company article covers the details of this interaction, where a customer simply wanted to have a bogus email address removed from his account via live chat. Not only was the customer service representative unable to help him, but she frequently took between five and 15 minutes to respond to each message and repeatedly called the customer by the wrong name. Ultimately, the customer reports that he had to resolve the issue himself — and the published transcript of the chat has gone viral online. Not a good look for Amazon.

Speaking of "going viral," business owners should remember that all it takes is one poor customer service interaction to tarnish a reputation. These days, customers' expectations for service and support are higher than ever. Meanwhile, tolerance for poor service is at an all-time low — and disgruntled customers will not hesitate to take to social media if their expectations are not met. As seen in the British Airways example, these interactions can quickly go viral and destroy your company's reputation through social media sharing.

The tools you need to meet and exceed customer expectations

It's no secret that today's consumers have higher expectations than ever before. The good news for businesses? There are also more tools and resources than ever before to help brands understand, meet, and even exceed those expectations. From there, businesses can reap the benefits of improved retention, a greater competitive edge, and more referrals.

Meanwhile, customer support platforms like Zendesk, Dixa, HelpScout, and others can help brands reach their full potential while delivering a consistent customer experience every time. Not sure which platform may be right for your growing business? Dive into TestBox, a free service that allows you to try out some of the most popular and trusted customer service solutions on the market so you can make a confident choice. Sign up to get started!

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Pedals

Pedals is a beloved member of the TestBox team whose entire goal in life is to author amazingly helpful blog posts and to cameo on every piece of TestBox swag.

TestBox empowers you to have a self-serve, customer-led experience so you can buy new software and feel confident that you made the right choice. Currently focused on Customer Support, TestBox allows you to test out Zendesk, Freshdesk, HubSpot, Dixa, and other products side-by-side. It takes a matter of minutes to sign up and take these products for a test drive. Find out more at TestBox.com or follow on LinkedIn.