2020 has been a tough year for almost every industry – and with the near future looking anything but stable, managing customer expectations (and delivering what you promise) can be difficult. Here are some of our top tips for businesses who are striving to meet high service standards in an unpredictable climate.
Managing Customer Expectations, Tip 1: Be Honest
Pre-2020, consumer behaviours were increasingly driven by a desire for instant gratification: once a decision to purchase had been made, there was a growing expectation for goods or services to be delivered in a short timeframe (often within 24 hours).
The coronavirus pandemic has changed this. Whilst consumers are still pleased if a company can deliver within a short timescale, safety is more important that speed: in an uncertain climate, consumers need to know that they will receive what they’ve been promised, and are prepared to wait a reasonable amount of time if their chosen provider proves dependable. Building consumer trust is paramount, therefore – which means clear, honest communication from the get-go.
Are there delays in your supply chain? Are you short staffed? Are pre-Covid service guarantees no longer viable? Be honest. Remove the element of surprise and be honest about what you can deliver, how much it will cost, and when the goods will arrive. Customers are more likely to respond positively if they’re warned ahead of time; and they might even leave you good feedback or become repeat customers if you stick to your word.
Tip 2: Define What You’ll Deliver
As well as being honest about any issues that you’re experiencing, it’s a good idea to define – early on in the buying process – what a customer can reasonably expect from you at this time. Though it’s always good to strive for the best service you can possibly provide, it’s wise to futureproof your offering.
With this in mind, we’d advise running through various scenarios that could unfold as the pandemic progresses, and realistically charting any disruption to service. Take this into consideration throughout your marketing. Whilst it’s not about creating a sense of doom and gloom or underselling yourself, key to managing your customer’s expectations is to remember that they don’t want to be sold an ideal scenario. In fact, they’d prefer realism. Define what you can definitely promise, 100% of the time – not just on those days where everything falls into place – and your customers will certainly thank you for it.
Tip 3: Communication proactively – and encourage feedback
It can be tempting to stay quiet during times of uncertainty – after all, if you’re feeling unsure, how can you project a convincing image to customers? – but our advice is: don’t. Even if all you can say is that you aren’t quite sure what will happen next, an honest appraisal of the situation is better than silence.
Most importantly, don’t wait for your customers to come to you. If you are being assuaged by anxious questions, you’ve already left it too late, and customer confidence may have been dented. When trying to manage customer expectation (and, by the same token, trust), make it as easy as possible for them to find out what to expect from you. Reach out often and across a range of platforms: email, social media, on your website, and even by phone.
Moreover, give your customers plenty of opportunity to contact you. When businesses are struggling to keep afloat or resources are stretched, it can be tempting to ignore calls or emails, or – worse still – advise customers to avoid making contact. The way to keep your customers onboard and invested in your brand is to show how much you value their opinion at any time – even during a pandemic. If you’re finding it hard to keep on top of communications, consider setting up a dedicated email address or social media platform (a special Twitter handle, for example) and let your customers know to contact you there with their feedback or queries.
Tip 4: Serve Customers Where – and How – They’d Prefer
The term ‘meeting customers where they are’ has become more popular in recent years. In essence, it means that you need to be active in every arena in which customers can be found, and let them call the shots. Don’t tell a customer who wants to correspond via email that they need to phone you, for example; or ignore a customer who wants to query an order on Twitter because that’s not your preferred mode.
‘Meeting’ the customer has become even more important during the pandemic, where physical presence has become limited (or even impossible), causing customers to flood other, more accessible mediums. Digital channels have become more important than ever; and, interestingly, so have phone calls. It makes sense: after all, if a customer can’t actually see a brand representative face to face, they will need to at least hear someone’s voice in order to get that sense of credibility and human contact. The landscape for customer service has changed, and you need to be honest about where resources should be directed in order to meet your customers where they now are – not where they used to be.
Tip 5: Partner Up
Are your customers asking for something you can’t currently deliver – either because it’s not possible due to the pandemic, or because their requirements have changed in line with the current situation? Whatever the reason, consumer behaviours are changing; therefore, in order to manage – and meet – their expectations, you’ll need to think carefully about how to alter your offering. Finding a partner might be a great option. Home delivery, for example, is now more in demand than ever before – and whilst not every company has access to its own fleet of vans, there are plenty of courier services that do. Is there a brand you can partner up with for mutual benefit, and to ensure that you’re going the extra mile for your customers in this difficult time?
Tip 6: Train Your Staff!
This might sound obvious, but staff training has never been more essential. If elements of service are changing frequently due to the global situation, this can be confusing for your customers, and it’s even more baffling if your staff aren’t up to date with the latest amendments. Not only may this unnerve or anger your customers, it also looks unprofessional - and, in the long run, this could harm your brand. Set up a new system for training (and perhaps a frequently-updated online hub for your staff to consult) to ensure your team are never caught off guard: in an ideal world, they would always be up to date, fully informed, and well trained on the most common customer queries.