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Managing customers’ expectations

For every small business, providing great customer experience is the number one priority. Small business owners invest in making a connection and building a strong relationship with customers in many ways to keep them happy and satisfied....

For every small business, providing great customer experience is the number one priority.

Small business owners invest in making a connection and building a strong relationship with customers in many ways to keep them happy and satisfied, and they are rewarded with the likely gains: growing revenue, loyal customers and a strong bottom-line. One of the golden rules to attract such loyalty is to “under promise and over deliver”, which unbeknown to customers is not as simple as it sounds. Customers do not want simple promises; they want to know that it will be done excellently, in the speed of lightening, bigger and better than anyone has done it before, and they want it to be affordable, which is a paradox. A business owner can deliver these expectations, but what the customer does not know is that it comes at a cost, for example: shortfall in profit because the entrepreneur reduces his margin to gain to keep them happy.

Big corporations who produce volume products, distribute widely, have a healthy bottom line can afford to meet these expectations, but not a small business owner, who operates on a small to medium scale. Therefore, how should business owners manage the expectations of customers for mutual benefits? That is a huge question.

A blanket definition of a customer is a person who purchases your goods or services. But they are not all the same, what differentiates them is the level of their expectations, which can range from the reasonable to the illogical. This is hard to capture in customer profiling especially here in Nigeria. You can categorize a customer by work class, income, gender, tastes and habits, but it is hard to determine what their temperament is. Nonetheless, small business owners do not get to choose because most times they cannot afford to be selective about the type of customers they get.

The flip side to the relationship between a business and a customer is that the customer bears little risk on their demands on a business because they have options and the monopoly of choice. For small business owners, it can be a make or break situation. They must bend over backwards to please them in today’s world of cutthroat competition where there is always another entrepreneur standing by to offer more for less. The consequences of failing are a bad reputation and reduced opportunities to make money.

This is not a case for excusing mediocrity or systemic issues in businesses that fail to meet customers’ expectations; rather, this is a discussion on how to manage customers’ expectations for mutual benefit.

As much as it is difficult to inform a customer that you are no superman or woman, but you can deliver, one of the ways that can work is by educating the customer on the process. Educate them about the standards of operations and the circle of production that ensure the delivery of a quality product or service that meets their expectations. Every business in every sector has these standard operating procedures in order to achieve efficiency. These evolve into long-standing practices; create a uniformity of performance, and predictability in operations, which is evidence of a healthy business. And yes, we live in a fast-paced world now, and with technological advancement, businesses should be able deliver faster; however, standard procedures are designed to not only match capacity, but also to serve as quality assurance.

Every business has rules to ensure they deliver the best. For example, if a chef ran a small restaurant that could seat five people daily, she can cook and serve them without difficulty. But if word travels about her delicious meals that attract ten more people daily making fifteen, she would have to make changes to her operation to ensure it suits her capacity and operation. To further buttress the point about what it means when a business can only offer within its capacity, here is another practical example, this time a business in manufacturing.

They produce canned tomato puree and to produce the best quality, it will have to go through three stages of production, and each stage takes at least three days. In total it will take nine days to produce a high quality can of tomato puree that makes people like to purchase it. But if the chef above places an order for thirty cans of tomato puree and demands that she needs the cans in shorter time than the standard production circle and at an affordable price, it may mean that the business owner will likely take short cuts to deliver the product, incur more cost, especially if she outsources the last two stages to similar companies or hires more labour, and skip quality assurance to produce the product. The result will be less than the customer desired, and the risk that the customer will reject the cans is high.

Another way is to advise customer to always prepare in advance. If they are aware of plans to acquire products or services ahead, they should prepare by looking for vendors on time, getting quotes, evaluating the quality of their products, prepare a budget, among, and plan to execute at the right time. This would save them cost. It would also give small businesses time to deliver bigger, better and faster to meet their expectations. It will create time for review and reduce margins for error. At the end, the customers win.

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