Towards the end of my last post on Customer Loyalty, I mentioned “Thoughtful and constant cultivation of expectations is key”. This apparently struck a chord as I received a handful of comments and questions asking me to elaborate on the topic.  So here it goes…

First of all, in the world of complex service delivery there is a phenomenon I call expectation inflation.  This occurs at the beginning of the customer relationship when the customer compares your company to their previous solution. It is usually a troubled one which is why your company was engaged in the first place, and in this phase it should be easy to surpass their expectations.  Over time the customer’s memory of the past fades, and the customer begins to compare your company to itself.  This is realistic; as long as performance remains constant there should be no problems meeting expectations.  Then slowly those customers can begin to compare your company to some perfect ideal.  In this case it can becomes very difficult for you to meet expectations.  Even though your company is very good and hitting all its marks, when compared to the perfect ideal it looks average at best.  And by the way, this isn’t fair, but neither is life.

So what do you do?  The key is to constantly and realistically cultivate expectation setting.  In the IT services business this is one of the fundamental parts of the customer strategy relationship (vCIO is the popular title).  vCIO is accomplished through regular and candid dialog with the customer and introspection on service delivery (with you being your own worst critic as well as being the advocate).  Not just the customer’s advocate, but everyone’s advocate; customer, company, team, vendors, community, and self.  As vCIO, if we are able to zoom out and look at situations from all perspectives, we are able to guide perceptions, expectations, and decisions – ensuring that everyone involved has realistic expectations.  This way, when we perform well we can meet and exceed expectations.  When we don’t perform well, we learn from our shortcomings and share the lessons.

In my 25+ years of dealing with customers, I”ve learned they generally didn’t expect us to be perfect.  They expected us to care, try hard, constantly improve, and be candid and trustworthy.  This wasn’t by chance: it took time, discipline, and hard work to cultivate expectations, but in the end we had very strong, long term mutually beneficial customer relationships.

What I am reading:
Professional:  The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – Amazon Link
Why we do what we do in life and business
Personal: The Grid by Gretchen Bakke – Amazon Link
The fraying wires between Americans and our energy future