All businesses want their customers to be satisfied but any business owner whose firm offers an intangible, a service which customers commit to, before the service is actually performed, faces additional challenges in meeting customer expectations. If you work in a services environment, before you plunge into the survey, focus group or other project for your clients, you can put valuable insurance in place by taking the following steps to make sure customers’ expectations are in line with what your firm will deliver.
It’s easy to overlook the obvious and so one of the key areas to focus on, is making sure your customers know what your results look like. Whether it’s a report, an in-person presentation, an e-mail file, or some other option, it’s really important that they know what your firm does. Probably equally important is for you to find out what else they’ve received, in the past, from services firms offering something similar to you. For example, if other consultants have always sent a hard copy of the report and an e-mail version, you may want to consider doing the same. Or, if the client’s expectations are that you will go in and make an in-person presentation as well as sending a report, it’s important to find this out ahead of time. At the same time, if your deliverables, of necessity, are quite different from what other firms are providing, it’s essential to spell this out and discuss it with the client ahead of time. As much as possible, show rather than tell. If confidentiality agreements prevent you from showing completed work, make up a sample or a ‘dummy’ so that you can explain vividly and clearly what it is the customer will get when the project is completed.
It’s also a key to go over the realities for executing the work. This means addressing any factors in the external environment which will impact the work but which you do not control. If there are obstacles to completing the work but you have overcome these on other client assignments, explain your methods. Review some of the unexpected or unknown factors which can come up and how you propose to mitigate against them. Sometimes, these can be simple issues. If a customer insists on doing a major survey during the summer vacation period, you need to make sure they understand that, while you can comply with their choice of timing, the results may be less than spectacular because many people will be away. Or, if your customer insists on having you conduct a focus group with certain businesses, at a time when the entire target industry is off at the annual convention or trade show, the customer needs to understand that focus group attendees may simply be those who are still in town, rather than a good cross-section of the industry.
Another variable to review, especially given the propensity of customers to want it all and want it now, is exactly what the trade-off is between a rapid turnaround to meet a deadline the client has pulled out of thin air, versus taking a more reasonable amount of time to complete the work. While it’s true we can all work quickly, it needs to be emphasized to the client that their request to have you deliver in three weeks as opposed to six, means there will be sacrifices along the way. Make sure details like this are well explored before the client gives you the go-ahead to commence work. That way, you will have set the stage for delivering results that are much more likely to produce a ‘Wow!’ response than to have a disappointed client staring stonily at your bill.
Copyright Deborah C. Sawyer