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How can organisations set realistic customer service expectations without harming their brand?


There is often a disconnect between what a service organisation can deliver and what the customer is expecting, resulting in dissatisfaction. However, understanding and closing this gap is becoming more difficult as customers become increasingly demanding.

28th Oct 2021
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Customer service is a key driver of loyalty and Gartner is seeing an increase in responsibility within customer service, not just for the experience it provides customers, but also the overall management of the customer relationship. However, with this greater opportunity comes greater responsibility.

There is often a disconnect between what a service organisation can deliver (based on budget constraints) and what the customer is expecting. This creates an “experience gap” that results in dissatisfaction, leaving customer service with the responsibility to set (or reset) an expectation of the nature and quality of the experience linked to the organisation’s overarching brand and set of brand values.

However, understanding and closing this gap is becoming more difficult as customers become increasingly demanding, with seemingly conflicting needs:

  • Customers want service organisations to respect their privacy, but at the same time provide a personalised experience.
  • Customers want organisations to provide a full-featured service experience, but at the same time be simple and effortless in what they do.

To successfully set or reset customer expectations, Gartner recommends customer service and support leaders consider the following:

1. Convey expectations of a specific level of service quality

This could be something as basic as a time commitment to respond to an email or the available hours for using chat. Customers have a starting point to go on and, as long as the organisation delivers against this expectation, customers are usually satisfied, even though it might not be the fastest or best in the industry. 

Without this expectation setting, however, customers will set their own targets based on prior experiences with other brands, and what others tell them, and if this is more aggressive than the reality in your organisation, then dissatisfaction is the likely outcome.

2. Clearly communicate what customers can expect

Letting customers know how long they are likely to be on hold when waiting in a call queue (and providing alternative options and having easily accessible service goal information on the website) are basic but important considerations. 

Introducing call-backs to allow the organisation to reconnect when it is convenient for the customer, or the option to shift from one channel to another (such as by sending an invite to continue the conversation in a chat channel), allows customers to have their expectations set and make informed decisions. If they choose to remain on hold, they are then more accepting of the fact that it may take more time for them to be dealt with.

3. Adopt a proactive approach to expectation setting

Proactive communication is a hot topic and much more can be done in this area (beyond a simple notification that a parcel is due to arrive within a set time frame, for example). By analysing the reason for inbound interactions, organisations can begin to prioritise opportunities for automating outbound proactive notifications.

When setting expectations, it is important to determine the relevant specificity. Proactively telling a customer that a parcel will arrive between 8AM and 6PM will likely do more to frustrate them than appease them. Providing a one-hour window would be more appropriate. Ensure that your expectations are set in line with the brand and the industry overall.

4. Deliver what you promise

Reactive approach to expectation setting are rife within service organisations, and such approaches should be eliminated wherever possible, through initiatives to ensure provision of appropriate data. To do this, customer service leaders should make an inventory of promises made by their departments. Analysing voice and text-based interactions is likely a good source, as are customer complaints.

Once documented and acted upon, the search can be widened to encompass any promise made to the customer. This would include those from other departments, such as sales (“My account manager told me the next version of the product would have that function”); marketing (“The advertisement said it’s easy to install — takes less than 20 minutes”) or finance (“I was promised l would get that refund by Thursday”).

This information can be used to determine the source of the promises and to document who specifically is inaccurately setting expectations across the enterprise. The distribution of this important insight empowers the customer service department and helps to position it more strategically within the broader CX programme.

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