Expectations: The key to a stellar customer experience

This article will change your life.  No seriously, I mean it.  This article all by itself will in fact change your life.

At this point in my career if I have to get involved in a file it’s likely because it has gone sideways.  I can’t tell you how many files I have had to intervene in but let’s just say that if you stacked up all the files (I know.  A paper file metaphor??  Really Mike.  We’re all digital), they would be bigger than a bread box.

I can equally assure you that the vast majority of problems that I have had to deal with have come as a result of unmet expectations.  The simple reality in our business is that if you meet everyone’s expectations you are going to have happy suppliers and happy customers.  It really can be as simple as that.

Think about it.  Whether the expectation is around price, service or product when you make any kind of financial transaction you go in with certain expectations.  I like to buy my suits from Harry Rosen, or Henry Singer.  They are substantially more expensive than buying a suit at Moores.  One of the things that I enjoy about buying my suits there is the level of customer service that I receive.  Check that.  The level of service I expect to receive.  You see I’m not really that much of a fashionista and not really all that proficient at selecting items of clothing that work well together.

I expect that when I go into one of the high end clothing stores that I will be greeted by a sales person who is extremely skilled at selecting outfits.  I expect that I can raise my hands in the air, let them know the type of outfit I am desirous in attaining on any given day and have them “set me up”.  All I should have to do at the end of the experience is look in the mirror and say “Damn I look good”.  OK, I know clothes can only do so much but humor me would you.

I also expect that the quality of clothing that I am going to receive is going to be substantially above average, will feel good while I wear it and will stand the test of time.

These stores have spent a a lot of time, effort and marketing dollars to set my expectations.  If they deliver, I am happy.  If they exceed my expectations I am thrilled.  If they do not meet my expectations they likely lose a customer.

It is this last point that I want to touch on.  The setting of expectations.  In almost all sales courses I have ever done they talk about “going above and beyond:”, about “exceeding customer expectations”.  These are noble endeavors to be sure.  The piece that sometimes gets missed is this:  What if your customers have unrealistic expectations?  We never seem to discuss this.

Please do not get me wrong I am not saying that if you fail to meet your customer expectations that it may be their fault.  I am suggesting that if you fail to meet customer expectations it may be because YOU did not set their expectations properly.  How many times do I see mortgage brokers advertise that they are available 24/7?  Really?  So if I call you at 3am I should expect a call back by 3:15?  I don’t think so.

I understand.  I know what you are trying to get across.  You are trying to point out that they are not working “bankers hours” and are available at their clients convenience.  This may be a poor example because I don’t really think many customers would truly expect a return phone call at 3:15 am (and if they do you should probably fire them).

There are a few reasons why you should be intentionally setting customer expectations at every part of the process.  From your initial marketing, to the taking of an application and all the way through the closing process.

Your customers may not know what to expect

This is especially true with first time home buyers.  If they have never been through the process then they likely have little or no frame of reference to set expectations.  If you don’t then they will always be left wondering “what next?”.

There can be an immense amount of discomfort when you do not know what to expect.  Think about your hair dresser or barber.  This is a person that you visit on a somewhat regular basis.  If you have been going to the same establishment or individual for any length of time you know exactly what to expect when you walk in the door and it is a very comfortable experience.

For me the experience is always the same.  I have been going to the same stylist for over 15 years.  I know exactly what to expect.

I walk in the door, Louise greets me, takes my coat, leads me to the sink where I sit for a hair wash and a scalp massage.  I then make my way over to her chair where she cuts my hair, throws a little gel in and voila!  We’re at the payment counter booking our next appointment four weeks later.

If for some reason I had to go to another establishment or individual, while the end result may be the same, I can assure you that the experience is going to be far less satisfying.  I don’t know exactly where to sit and wait.  I won’t know the layout of the shop.  I won’t be certain who I have made the appointment with.  Where do I go for my hair wash?  Do I even get a hair wash?  What about the scalp massage?

Ugh, I’m getting stressed out even thinking about it!

Now what do you think that new hair dresser experience might look like if, when I walked in the door, the stylist greeted me and gave me the quick run down of what to expect.  “Welcome Mike.  My name is “so and so”, I’ll be taking you to our hair wash station over there.  Give you a quick rinse and a scalp massage and then” with the wave  of her hand, “we will move to my chair over there.  When we are done we take Visa, Mastercard or cash at the counter and we can schedule your next appointment then if you like”.

Which experience do your customers get?

Your customers may have unrealistic expectations.

As we discussed previously, you may have inadvertently set unrealistic expectations with your marketing, they may have been misinformed by that Uncle of theirs that had a mortgage once 20 years ago.  They may have gotten the impression that a mortgage broker can get any file complete and do it fast.  You simply have no real way of knowing what their expectations are so your best bet is to set them early in the game.  The first contact you should start setting their expectations and reinforce them all along the way.

Take a few minutes to give them the 30,000 foot overview of the entire process from application to funding.  Keeping in mind that they may be overwhelmed with the process and not retain all of what you tell them.  You need to consistently reinforce what happens next.  Remind them throughout what they can expect from you and when.

Communicate your expectations of them 

This is another one that many professionals forget to do.  This relationship is a two way street.  We cannot deliver what is expected of us if our clients do not deliver what we expect of them.  It is incumbent upon us to let our customers know what we expect and require from them and what they should expect in return if they do not deliver.

Remember, if you do not let them know what you expect from them, how could they possibly know?  I have heard many a broker lament the fact that their client would send docs in piecemeal with no sense of urgency.  When I asked if they explained the need for a complete package in a timely manner, I could always tell by the bewildered expression that briefly flashed across their face that, no matter how much they stammer that they had, they had not.

If your customer has a condition removal in five days and your lender is taking 24 hours to commit and then another 48 hours or more to review docs you need to ensure that your client knows you expect timely delivery of their down payment verification, income verification and any other documents you know you will require based on their specific application.

Setting expectations around competition

This one is critical as well.  You can diffuse so much of your competitions clout by setting your clients expectations there too.  We all know that we are likely going to end up in a competitive situation to some extent.  Whether they come across a lower rate online, return to their bank or have a family member enter the business, it is almost inevitable you are going to feel some competitive pressure.

You can do what most brokers do, close your eyes, squeeze them tightly shut and pray to god that your client manages to circumvent the landmine of information in the competitive landscape that is 2016.  The alternative however, in my opinion, is somewhat more proactive.  Since I do not really believe that “hope” is a sound business strategy I would always set my customers expectations about the competitive landscape they were about to enter.

“You will likely go back to your bank.  They will likely match my rate.  If all my clients went back to the bank when they matched my rate, I would soon be out of business and what type of rates do you think the banks would offer if brokers did not exist?”.

“You may see lower rates online.  Many of them have restrictions.  We want to make sure we are comparing apples to apples.  If you see something you think is interesting give me a call and we can discuss whether this is really a sound option for you”.

You see if you set the expectation up front it minimizes the impact that it has on the customer when they run into it.  It also sets you in a much better position to address it when they bring it back to you.  If you hadn’t set those expectations and they come back to you with a ‘matching’ proposal or a low rate online then you seem to be on the defensive when you have to react to it.  You lose credibility.  When you have set the expectation up front and dealt with it before it happens you look like a pro.

The bottom line.

Set expectations early in the game.

Do the high level run through at the first conversation.

Always make sure the client knows what to expect next.  They should never be left wondering what or when the next step is.

Do not use words like ‘should’ or ‘soon’.  For example: “I’ll let you know soon”.  Soon as in this afternoon?, or soon as in early next week?  Be precise and deliver.  “I’ll get back to you before the end of the day.”,  “I will let you know by noon tomorrow.”  Whatever it is be specific.

“They should get back to me shortly”. “We should be OK with this document”.   What the hell does that even mean?

Avoid being vague at all costs.  Ambiguity breeds contempt.

Set yourself and your clients up for success.  When you set expectations you can expect a positive outcome.

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