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Are you falling down on expectations?

No matter how much time and money you invest in promotion, small, make-or-break experiences stick in your customers’ minds. Financial Times journalist Michael Skapinker recently described how a researcher from printer and computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard called for his views on the ‘big business issues’ for 2005. Skapinker’s ‘big issues’ were the series of small, unresolved, problems he’d had with their hardware and service which reduced his productivity.

The 1993 movie, Falling Down, starts with Michael Douglas’s character at the end of his tether as he walks across sweltering downtown Los Angeles. Hungry, he visits a fast food restaurant. All he wants is breakfast. But it’s 11.33am and the counter-staff say breakfast stopped at 11.30. Beneath glossy images of juicy burgers and mouth-watering salads he orders a Whammyburger instead. But the food tastes like cardboard, and looks nothing like the pictures. That’s when he pulls out a machine pistol and starts shooting. An extreme reaction - but we know how he feels.

In the past Britain’s customers were renowned for patience, suffering poor service without complaint. But this is changing. Customers, whether trade or retail, are rebelling. Their expectations are rising, and if they don’t get what they want they go elsewhere. Thankfully, they don’t pull out a gun to make their point. But what seems small, or even trivial to you, may look different to your customers and past customers.

Are you keeping up with their expectations and delivering what you promise? Swap burgers and salad for windows and conservatories. Do your customers’ experiences on the phone, on the website, in the showroom or on site live up to your marketing? And before you nod and say yes, of course, how do you know?

Do you systematically make the effort to find out? Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking questions and watching. A better way is to research the gap between what your customers’ expect and what they experience. In Network Veka, homeowners cannot claim the guarantee unless they complete a feedback form on their installation. Members can see how they do compared with the rest of the network, and those with the highest ratings receive awards at the end of the year. Members are encouraged to improve, and it’s no surprise the level of customer satisfaction is consistently high.

Rising expectations, the changing needs of customers, rival firms competing for custom – these factors open and close the gap between customer experience and reality, even if you continue to do what you have always done. The past is no guide to future performance.

Are you falling down on customer expectations? Those ‘little’ issues could be bigger than you think.

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