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Managing Customer Expectations in the 21st Century - Age of the Savvy Consumer

14th Jun 2016
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The 20th century was the age of “infomercials.” TV was still a main source of entertainment and information, and companies “hawked” their products with commercials, short and long, demonstrating the amazing results a customer would get from this acne medication, that weight loss miracle pill, or that set of videos that would make a purchaser a real estate magnate in 30 days. The products rarely lived up to the results they touted, but sales were good, banking on one-time customers who rarely had an avenue to spread their disappointment. Two things have changed that now:

  1. The Internet as a source of information and customer feedback

  2. The millennials who are savvy, suspicious, and relying on social friends rather than companies for their purchasing decisions. And this demographic will make up the largest segment of the consumer market by 2020.

The New “Rules” for Managing Customer Expectations

It’s not so much a matter of managing the performance of your product or service as it is managing customer expectations of that performance. If customer expectations are realistic, based upon your marketing, then there is no disconnect. When a disconnect occurs, that’s when your reputation suffers. And once dis-satisfaction is spread all over social media, you will spend all of your time in “repair mode” – not a good place to be.

So here are your new marketing rules.

You decide what you want consumer expectations to be.

You know your product or service better than anyone else. What can your customers expect in the way of performance? If you are selling career clothing, for example, can your customer expect for it to go from washer to dryer to being worn with no other care? If you are selling a project management software solution, can your customer expect that you will provide training that will make it fully usable quickly and easily?

Be honest with yourself, and you won’t have a problem being honest with your prospective customers.

Honesty – It’s What’s in Demand Now

Never, never, never promise or project a performance that cannot be delivered. Your marketing should be completely realistic. Beyond that, of course, are those customer reviews which are published all over online sources. If you are in the business of producing fake reviews, stop it right now. 20th century infomercials may have gotten away with that, but you will not. Recently, TripAdvisor got “caught” engaging in this, and its reputation suffered almost irreparable harm online. Repairing loss of trust on the part of today’s savvy consumer is a long and arduous struggle. You can avoid this struggle by being honest in the first place.

Managing Customer Reviews

It was inevitable. Sites like “Angie’s List” and even Amazon are now in the business of providing customer reviews or products and services. Consumer reports on all sorts or products are now available with just a few clicks. Stanley Chang from The Good Gears put it quite succinctly: “We are in the business of providing honest customer reviews of consumer products. In a noisy world of Internet marketing hype, there have to be places for consumers to get the truth.”

As a marketer or small business owner, your job is not to manage actual customer reviews. It is to monitor them and respond to those that are negative as quickly as they appear. Get yourself a good monitoring tool so that you will receive alerts whenever your product, service, or company is mentioned. Access those comments and get on them immediately. If your product/service has not met customer expectations, you need to know why and how you can fix that.

Eliminate as Much Fine Print as Possible

Yes, you will have some fine print. But the more you have, the more suspicious today’s consumer will be. Often, it is seen as a “bait and switch” tactic, which is so last century. If you have fine print that in any way alters your original promises for your product or service, then you need to go back to step 1 and re-define your product performance and expectations.

You’ve set up an expectation that will not be met. This happens all of the time. Recently, Southwest Airlines advertised a huge sale on flights. Yes, there were some great deals getting to places, but the blackout dates and the return flights, all in fine print, made these “deals” far less favorable. Expectations were dashed as soon as would-be customers became aware of the restrictions. This is bad PR and only serves to make customers angry.

Consistency Across all Channels

This is not a difficult practice for a small business with a single or very small team of marketers. But as companies grow and have separate individuals or teams responsible for TV, social media, website, etc. marketing, the chances of becoming inconsistent are greater. The same messages for what a consumer can expect need to be given on all channels or, again, trust is lost. If a site is offering 30% off and a social media post promises 40% off, customers are confused and irritated.

Respond Individually

When a customer contacts you about expectations not being met, your response must be swift and satisfactory. Remember, that individual has a social network, and your response will be spread to that community, impacting others’ perceptions of you. Never leave a complaint hanging out there.


Recently, I had to contact my cable provider about its failure to implement some changes I had made to my service that impacted by monthly bill. While I was able to resolve the issue satisfactorily, the communication did not stop there. A follow-up email requested that I “score” the service I had received. This makes me feel that I am listened to, that my opinion about the expectations I had mattered. Follow-up builds relationships, and that is what this new generation of consumers demands. Your commitment to meeting expectations matters.

Reputations – Built and Destroyed Quickly

Marketing is not about the company anymore. It is now consumer-driven. Businesses need to make the thought shift from trying to control customers and what they think to presenting honest expectations for their products and services, knowing that consumers will judge them on those expectations. As Bob Dylan memorialized the phrase in his song, “The Times, They are a’ Changin’.”


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