Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Engaging Ideas: A leader’s guide to creating employee & customer commitment

Expectation Management Process

It is important to manage expectations from the first moment of interaction with a customer. To do so effectively, utilize the following process.


1. Set Expectations

Cushion with empathy
A cushion is a verbal statement that tells the customer in various ways that "I hear what you are saying, and what you are saying is important." Being empathetic simply acknowledges your customer's emotion and experience.


Understand the priorities
Ask questions of the customer to ensure that you understand their priority needs. For example, a customer may need to have their new payroll system set up by the start of their fiscal year or a company may need to have their phone system installed in the next thirty days.


Ask the customer for their expectations
Often their expectations may be more reasonable than you anticipate, and it may be quite easy to satisfy and resolve the situation.


Use headlining
Headlining is explaining your "train of thought" to the customer -- telling a customer what you are going to do before you do it. For example, you may say, "First, I will ask questions so that I understand exactly what is needed. Then, I will place the order. I will give you a realistic estimate of delivery time. I will call you immediately when it comes in."


Under-promise and over-perform
This guideline simply reminds you to set expectations with your customer at a reasonable level, but at a level that allows you to consistently exceed their expectations.


Check for agreement
After explaining an expectation or headlining a process, check with the customer for agreement. For example, "How does that time frame sound to you?" or "Will that process work for you?"


Policies and procedures
Policies and procedures are in place to protect you. When it comes to invoking a policy, it is not so much what you say as how you say it. Company policy rarely makes customers happy, so try to use policy as a last resort.


2. Monitor Expectations

Unless the situation is resolved immediately on first contact, your goal should be to have regular and appropriate communication with the customer. Continue to use the process to set expectations.


During an open situation, if the customer contacts you, that contact effort should be acknowledged within the guidelines set by the organization. Typical guidelines for most companies are to respond within one to twenty-four hours of the customer calling or sending a message. The reply should match


Examples of monitoring the process:

  • Acknowledge any information that the customer provides.
  • Indicate where your organization is in resolving the situation and explain the next steps in the process. To gain trust, include an expectation of when they can expect the next communication.
  • Respond to a customer request to talk to a manager or transfer the situation to a product expert. Respond by headlining the process for the appropriate action and setting an expectation for the next communication. For example, "Your issue will be turned over to our service technician. She will call you by the end of the day."
  • Respond to requests for additional information. Respond by relating when you or one of your co-workers can follow up on that requested action. Then follow-through and follow up!

3. Influence Expectations

Influencing expectations is usually the meaning of "managing expectations." When you influence, you are the one who modifies or changes your approach and style. People are influenced by:

People who they trust
Trust is earned. You must follow up on what you hear to gain trust.

The more you educate your customers, the more they understand the complexity of the situation and can align their expectations more accurately. For example, you may propose a higher quality solution that will take longer, but if you educate the customer about why it is a higher quality solution, that customer can better understand the solution and they will not have unrealistic expectations.

Situations where they can save face
Most people will not change their minds and have difficulty admitting their lack of knowledge in public. Allow them to easily move beyond a difficult situation without additional embarrassment.


See more related articles:

Effective First Impressions

Meet and Greet: The Most Common Mistakes


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