April 17, 2019
By Bryan Reynolds
By Bryan Reynolds, Director of Sales Operations, TBI
In Part I of this column, we talked about the poetic passage by Shakespeare that paints a vivid picture in “All’s Well That Ends Well” of the problems that arise from not setting expectations. He writes: “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises; and oft it hits, where hope is coldest, and despair most sits.” As we dig deeper, we will examine how experience isn’t a finite target, but rather more of a gray area that is constantly evolving. There are different perspectives out there, but step 1 is realizing this.
Experience is subjective. With every new customer you encounter, they will come in with some predisposed belief of how their interaction should go with you. Phrases like “at the last place…” or “this is how it is always done…” come into play quite often. It’s important to understand that when courting new business, your first responsibility to the customer is helping them understand how you do business, what interactions they can expect, and what processes they must follow for them to have a good experience and ultimately be successful. If you don’t do this right out of the gate, the new customer will apply someone else’s expectations to your process and they will be sorely disillusioned, resulting in a lost customer and a damaged-beyond-repair relationship.
“I Don’t Know, but . . .” Sometimes the best answer is not an answer at all. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and I would agree that it is true in some cases. When setting an expectation, you cannot just choose your own adventure and hope for the best. Simply saying “I don’t know” can have a profound effect. I know that some of you are saying “Bryan, you’re crazy. I’m not saying that to my customer.” While I can appreciate that, the bottom line is that by saying “I don’t know,” you are, indirectly, setting an expectation. The most important part of this, though, is that your statement must be followed up by “… but I will find out.” We are in a vast and ever-growing channel where there is always someone who augments your services and enhances your value. Rest assured that there is someone out there you can lean on to garner their experiences and apply it to your situation.
Newest generations of customers expect expectations. The next generation of customer (millennials and Gen Zers) are the ones paving the way for what customer experience looks like and are redefining how business interacts with them. It’s a “new dog, new tricks” world out there, but the expectation-setting schema discussed above remains the same, regardless of age. The main difference, though, is that Hell hath no fury like a millennial scorned. Now, more than ever, customer retention is necessary for growth. Gaining a new customer is far more expensive than keeping an old one. Setting proper expectations and creating a good experience are key ingredients in growing current revenue. With this coming generation, you have a very narrow window to attract new customers, which further strains your resources. That window gets even narrower for you to win those customers. Future buying decisions and the loyalty of this generation are centered around their interactions. I’m not saying that gaining “new logos” is a bad idea, quite the contrary, but focus not only on attracting, but …
… retaining as well. The experience you create is your only mechanism for this.
How to Overcome – Automate, Optimize, Define
Automate: Leaning on tools you have to help foster the delivery of your customer’s experience with you is always a good option and is often the first answer from most when it comes to questions about scalability, but most times isn’t an immediately viable option for all businesses. Automating processes (and therefore experience) can come with a very heavy up-front cost and very heavy implementation strain (physically and emotionally), especially if what you do is specialized. There are a number of off-the-rack software programs out there to assist with this, many of which help immensely, but when considering these, make a slow decision. Vet it completely and determine if you have the personnel/time to manage the software and what the return on investment is going to be, because most often you’ll find yourself journeying down a rabbit hole. Determine where your company is going and find a solution that will grow with you and be flexible enough to change with you and your customers’ needs. If you don’t, it will have the opposite effect and further burden your customer’s experience.
Optimize: You ever go to your favorite take-out restaurant and open their menu only to see a vast sea of choices? How many have you tried? I would venture a guess that even though you have all of those choices in what you’re going to eat, you probably stick with the same sweet and sour chicken that you always get. The restaurant is good at that dish. Your approach to your customer should be no different. Don’t overwhelm them and promise them all of the things you do at a mediocre level. Find something that you do well and dominate. By taking a focused approach, your ability to set expectations grows exponentially, creating a good experience, which encourages customers to come back (this is crucial for the new generation of customer … more to come on this). Not to worry, though, if your customer needs a service that you don’t provide, luckily, we all reside in the channel and have many partnerships to mutually benefit our businesses. Go team!
Define: If you take nothing else away from this blog post, take this word: define. Expectation revolves around this. It is important to have defined processes and protocols that everyone, including your customers, can cadence to; something that everyone can actually point to in order to maintain reasonable accountability from all parties. Define everything: job descriptions, process, SLAs, exceptions, goals, experiences, etc. Doing this also keeps you from falling into the “fractured information” habit (i.e., not telling them everything). When you start to define things, you start to see where the gaps lie in your business and in your interactions with your customers. Set the expectation, the whole expectation, and nothing but the expectation — not just the one that is convenient at the time.
Your customers (and I) implore you: heed the advice of Shakespeare and not only use this to improve what you can execute on for your customers, but turn this into a revenue objective for your company.
Expect expectation. Nothing more, nothing less.
Bryan Reynolds is director of sales operations for TBI, where he leads an organization of more than 75 individuals who provide TBI’s partner community with back-office support ranging from quoting and solution design to implementation advocacy and project management. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn or @TBImasteragent on Twitter.
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