Happy customers are the key to any successful business. In almost every industry, meeting the needs of your customer should be the number one goal – if you can do that well, then the profit and reputation will follow. Satisfied customers lead to positive reviews, repeat business and referrals, three things that are worth their weight in gold for small businesses.
It is one thing to know and understand your customer’s expectations, and another to really satisfy them. Knowing how to meet these expectations will help your business grow and stand out from others in the industry. But how can you make sure you are exceeding your customers’ expectations?
First things first: you need to understand each customer’s individual needs and expectations. This will differ between businesses and industries, as well as from client to client. Setting clear standards, getting the whole team on board and regularly gathering customer feedback helps you achieve maximum customer satisfaction.
We have created a handy guide to help you meet and exceed your clients’ expectations. Whether you are a local business owner or a tradesperson looking to get more work, this article will help you put this goal into action. Keep reading to learn how. .
What is the Difference Between Customer Needs and Expectations?
A customer’s needs refer to something that solves a problem. However, customer expectations refer to the outcome they really want from a product or service.
Although these terms are often used interchangeably with customer wants, they actually refer to different motivations a customer has. It is important for a business or tradesperson to understand what they mean and how they factor into clients’ happiness (or unhappiness) with your service.
A customer need is a problem that the client needs to solve, and it’s the minimum standard you need to meet. This solution can be a product, a service, or an experience. Common examples would be food for hunger, a drink for thirst, or a mechanic for a broken car. There are a range of possible customer needs and they get more complex than the examples above.
Needs will vary from person to person, and are shaped by their current circumstances. There are seven basic needs that can apply to all customers. Taking these into consideration will tell your customer that you understand what they’re after.
- Information – Knowing how much information to give to customers is essential. Feeding too much information in a short period can make you seem like you are trying too hard to sell your service and can put customers off. One way to nail this need is to ensure that directory listings, flyers, and websites have critical information already listed. This allows customers to be the ones to ask for specific information and avoids overwhelming them with details.
- Time – The saying ‘time is money’ is especially true in this day and age. You have to remember that a customer’s time is valuable, and you have to treat it with the utmost respect. Quick responses to queries and immediate acknowledgment of issues are a sure-fire way to meet this need, as well as sticking to appointment times.
- Control – Customers often want to feel like they have an influence over the outcome of a service. A good way to make your customers feel in control is to listen to their feedback and incorporate changes and improvements to your service accordingly.
- Alternatives – Customers enjoy having the chance to choose from a range of services. This allows them to choose the one that most directly suits their needs. Data has shown that businesses that offer flexibility in their services perform better than their counterparts who have limited offerings.
- Fairness – This involves giving clients proper attention, fair prices, and reasonable turnaround times for services. Being honest and trustworthy helps customers feel you’re doing right by them.
- Friendliness – This simply refers to approaching your customers with politeness and courtesy. Business owners, salespeople, and tradespeople who have a friendly attitude leave a good impression.
- Empathy – Businesses who understand and appreciate their customers’ circumstances are always more successful than those who don’t. It is important that you can connect with a customer and their feelings, as this will also encourage customer loyalty.
On the other hand, a customer want is something that does not necessarily solve a problem, but is desired by the customer. The reasons can vary, but it’s not wise to overlook the wants that are really motivating customers to purchase. An example would be someone who wants to hire a landscaping business to improve the look of his backyard or garden. The customer can get by without sprucing up his home, but he wants to satisfy an emotional need or achieve a personal goal.
Last is a customer expectation. This is arguably the most important of the three: customer expectations are what the customer expects from the business or service provider, and this often determines the customer’s satisfaction. Expectations are not limited to the service alone – they’re based on the entire experience of doing business with someone. This includes interaction with the staff, expertise and product knowledge, how long it takes for queries to be answered, availability or ease of purchasing, and the extra perks of using the service, among other things.
Customer expectations also have two main dimensions:
Desired service refers to the type of service that customers want to receive. This what they think the business can and should deliver.
Adequate service refers to the minimum level of service customers will accept without dissatisfaction.
Why is it Important to Understand Customer Needs?
Understanding customer needs is a necessary step before you can satisfy them – without a plan to give customers a service that ticks their boxes, unhappy clients are inevitable. On the other hand, satisfying needs means gaining a loyal customer base who will prefer to do business with you over competitors.
Although customer needs are personal and vary a lot, all of them fall into one of two major categories: physical and psychological needs.
- Physical Needs – A customer’s physical satisfaction is closely connected to the quality of a service. For example, a person could always walk into a particular store for iced coffee on sweltering days. This behaviour equals satisfying their thirst and cooling down with a cold drink.
- Psychological Needs – This comes into the picture whenever there is an emotional reason behind a purchase or using a service. After they meet basic physical needs, psychological or emotional needs will drive purchasing. An example is running to a famous coffee shop like Starbucks instead of making your own coffee at home, just because it’s a well-known brand.
Psychological needs are what drive company loyalty and are essential for businesses that want to grow their customer base. When a customer feels they have a positive relationship with a business, they will feel a bond and return to the same business in future. This loyalty really stands out in very competitive industries.
Remember that knowing the importance of customer needs is not enough. You also have to understand how to satisfy customer needs, customer expectations, and achieve customer satisfaction.
Customer needs will only include what the person is looking for, and usually come as tangible goods or services. Customer expectations, on the other hand, refer to a person’s existing vision or ideas about how the service will be delivered and the results they’ll get. For example, a customer may need tires from your company, but he expects these tires to give amazing performance on the road based on what your advertising has told him.
The end result is customer satisfaction, which is essentially a measure of how well your business could meet both the needs and expectations of your customer. This does not mean that you need to be able to perfectly pin down every customer’s expectations, because you don’t always know what they have in mind. Instead, aim to meet most of your customers’ expectations in order to satisfy them.
With a bit of research, you’ll find most of your customers have very similar needs and expectations, especially in your main target markets. Here are some handy ways to uncover what your customers are really looking for when they give you a call.
Where Do Customer Expectations Come From?
There are three major ways that customers form expectations. These are a prior experience from a competitor’s service, a prior experience from your business, or seeing reviews about your business. Your marketing also plays a part in what customers expect.
- A prior experience from a competitor’s business or service – If a direct competitor to your business can provide a great customer experience, then potential customers will expect you to match or beat that experience. Most businesses acknowledge this and see outdoing their competitors as one of the key ways to gain a competitive advantage. Failing to meet a customer’s expectations will cause them to switch back to a competitor they preferred.
- A prior experience with your business – Customers who have experienced unhelpful support from your business in the past will probably have lower expectations. But if they’re currently satisfied or recommending you to others, failing to repeat that standard will quickly leave your customer jaded.
- Reviews of your business – The internet is every person’s go-to platform for researching products, services, and businesses. There are a lot of review sites in which people share their experiences with businesses’ products, services, and or customer support. If your business has built a positive reputation, then those who have read these reviews will expect the same or better service from your business.
- Your marketing and communications – This is the simplest source to decode. If you’ve made a certain promise as a business, whether that’s in advertising or your sales process, customers will expect you to deliver on that commitment. Setting the bar too high can set customers up for disappointment, but going above and beyond will leave them raving about your business.
How Do I Identify Customer Needs and Expectations?
Below we’ll give an overview of these common methods of understanding your target market.
These top three methods for understanding your customers’ needs should be a standard part of your day-to-day business:
- Ask Customers the Right Questions – Being observant and paying extra attention to customer interactions can give you a lot to work with. Most customers are aware of what they want and need from a service, but some cannot express this, usually because they are not knowledgeable enough about the service they are receiving.
Gathering information when talking to clients will help you understand how to take the initiative. Be the one to narrow down your customers’ needs by asking the right questions, like “What would you like the product to do?”, “What’s the most important issue you want to solve?”, or “How much do you want to spend?”.
- Gain Insights from Happy & Unhappy Clients – When your business is doing something right, you will notice customers come back to reuse your services. Actively returning customers are a great resource as they can identify exactly what it is that makes them so happy with your business. The easiest ways to gain these insights is by asking returning customers for a review, sending a follow up email, or asking them to complete a customer experience survey.
On the other hand, what dissatisfied customers have to say can be just as valuable to your business. Sometimes a clients’ expectations just weren’t reasonable, but other times, there’s something you could have done differently to make that customer’s experience a positive one. Paying attention to both positive and negative feedback gives you the best understanding of your client base.
- Read & Categorise Feedback – Categorising your feedback can help you make sense of the general feelings of your customers and pick up patterns in responses. This will allow you to make more informed decisions about how your business should adapt.
This is not a one-time thing, but a continuous process. Doing this will keep you updated about customer expectations as they evolve, and can help you improve products and services to suit customers’ preferences.
There are a few more techniques that can be used to understand customer needs and expectations. These tactics take a bit more effort, but this kind of market research can really help make your service outstanding:
- Customer Journey Mapping – As a business owner, you need to understand what your customers are looking for and the customer journey they take when searching for your service. When a customer is interested in a product or service, they follow a series of steps, from awareness to consideration through to decision-making.
The customer mapping process aims to understand the stages your clients go through, and how they interact with your business (for instance, finding you through Google, reading your website, or looking you up in the Yellow Pages). Mapping your customers’ journey helps you understand their perspective, any hurdles they could face in choosing your business, and how to address some of those roadblocks.
- Customer Surveys – This is a very traditional way of gathering information, and can be used for small or large groups of people. These are usually in a Q&A format and provide a detailed set of data, which can be analysed or summarised for helpful insights.
Surveys can be sent out to your email mailing list to gather information and opinions, or you can do a customer feedback survey for each client you work with. Aim to identify what needs and expectations you’re currently meeting and which you can do better on.
- Social Media Listening – We usually think of social media as a way to communicate with customers – but this communication can go both ways. Customers can give feedback in a more accessible way, giving you the chance to fix things or improve for the future.
You can also look out for posts about your business in local groups or on social media generally. It can be hard to see negative things written about your service, but paying attention to what people are saying can help you understand what needs or expectations aren’t being met.
- Focus Groups – Focus groups are more often used by larger companies, but it can be a helpful tactic to grill your target audience on what they want and need. Run by a moderator, a focus group brings together people from a certain demographic who can be interviewed about their thoughts and preferences.
Focus groups are ideal for understanding your customers’ feelings and perceptions about your business, or just what they’re after when they need to use a service like yours. Being able to ask people similar to your customers what they look for in a plumber, electrician or landscaper is a priceless opportunity!
How Do You Meet Customers’ Needs and Expectations?
Knowing your customer base, reaching out to them, and setting clear standards for your company’s customer support services is crucial in meeting the needs and expectations of your clientele. There are eight key strategies you can employ to better meet your customers’ needs and expectations.
- Get to know your customers – Your first step should to identify who exactly your customers are. Basic demographic information, such as age, gender, and location, will not be enough. To truly understand your customers, you need to know their interests and the factors that they consider when making purchasing decisions.
The best source of this information is your existing customer base. Try to ask them what made them purchase your products or use your service. Maybe even ask them why they chose your business over others. Their answers can develop a broader understanding of what your customer base needs and expects
- Reach the right buyers – Although most businesses think they know their target market, their projections can often be wrong, or not specific enough. The ideal customers for a business are not always who we think they are. Determining your ideal customers can be done by analysing your existing customer base and identifying the traits that correlate with repeat purchases and loyal customers.
- Identify new ways to meet customer needs – Even after identifying your most valuable customers, their needs and expectations, you should still continually strive to find new ways to better meet their needs and expectations. Customers will not change their expectations to fit your product and services. Instead, you need to be willing to change or improve your product and services to fit their expectations.
For example, if your customers’ chief priority is time efficiency, then you should focus on improving this aspect of your services. Do not try to do what your competitors are doing. Instead of focusing on your competitors, focus on your own customers and prioritise their needs.
- Lay down clear standards for your expectations of customer support – Remember that your business’ customer support team has one of the biggest affects on whether your business can meet customer expectations since they interact most with your customers. Relative to this, hiring and training all of your customer-facing employees should be a priority for your business. Anyone in your business who will interact with customers or potential customers should be trained and informed of the standards of customer service you expect.
If you have a support team, set goals for key support metrics, such as first response time, average resolution time, and first call resolution rate. These metrics are some of the easiest to monitor and measure, and will establish a concrete benchmark. For your employees who may deal with customers out on the field (i.e. in their homes, at a worksite) make sure there are specific processes in place for dealing with customer complaints and queries and expectations for reporting feedback.
- Ensure transparency – An important factor in meeting customer needs and expectations is whether your business takes the time to help them set accurate expectations. Most businesses will focus each customer’s experience on being able to generate a sale. It’s understandable why this is done, but it may not always be the best course of action.
Instead, focus on educating your prospective customers on what your business can offer, what they can expect from your products and services, and the policies they will agree to if they make a purchase. Ensure transparency on information regarding pricing, return and cancellation, and the level of support they can get should they require help.
- Develop a customer-centric culture – In a business, every employee’s contributions will inevitably affect your customers’ experience, directly or indirectly. This impact can be enhanced by developing a customer-centric culture. Always encourage your employees to keep customers central to their decision making. By doing so, it will center every action your business takes around the end user – your clients.
- Regularly collect feedback – The best way to gauge the success of your efforts is by collecting feedback regularly. You can do this through customer satisfaction surveys. Asking questions will help you get a sense of the experience your customers get from your business and its services and identify areas for improvement.
- Scope out your competitors – A customer who has previously worked with or purchased from a competitor of yours will use that experience as a baseline expectation of your business. One way to know whether your business is meeting such expectations is by learning about your competitors. If you see a competitor is doing better than you in a specific area of the customer experience, improving that part of the customer experience falls upon you.
How Do You Exceed Customer Expectations?
Creating a customer-centric approach in your business is the best way to take your service from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Here are the three key steps to going above and beyond for your customers.
- Know your customers’ expectations – Checking in with your customers is important because it gives you the chance to ask about their experience. The information you will get from this can improve services and products, and help build customer service knowledge.
- Renew the focus on providing excellent customer service – It is important to remember that having employees who are easy to talk to, quick to help, and care about the customer is an asset to your business. Training your team and keeping them up to date with the latest company news, and products/service updates can help them cater to customers better.
- Measure how you are doing and continue to improve – Identify and collect relevant data so you can best understand your customers’ service experiences. Do this by sending out customer surveys or feedback forms or simply through a quick phone call. This will allow your business to craft an action plan to tackle any problems and avoid negative experiences in future.
By staying in touch with how your customers feel from start to finish, you can offer a service that truly stands out from the competition.
What is the Difference Between Good Service and Excellent Service?
Good service involves delivering on customers’ needs and wants, and meeting customer’s expectations. To deliver excellent service, a business should go above and beyond customer expectations. Finding ways to give extra value and delight customers is what makes a really excellent and memorable experience (and will earn your business the best customer reviews).