What Today's Customers Expect

Expectations run in the background of every interaction we have. If, upon meeting someone new, they slapped you instead of shaking your hand, the shock of your expectations being so wrong might be almost as painful as the slap itself.

Whether you’re running a gas station, a home painting company, or a high-end retailer, expectations are running unseen through every business interaction.

To succeed as a small business, you need to exceed customer expectations more often than not. Doing so earns you an individual customer’s return business and defines your reputation, which sets the stage for you to keep building your customer base and loyalty.

What Are Consumer Expectations?

Consumers enter small business transactions with a set of standards they want the business to meet in mind. Their expectations are based on everything from past interactions with local businesses, to purchases from large retailers, to advertising, to things they’ve heard from family and friends. If those standards aren’t met, they may be left unsatisfied.

Even worse, once you’ve lost a customer’s trust, it’s much harder (and more expensive) to win them back (Outbound Engine). They might share their dissatisfaction with their network, losing you goodwill with a group of consumers who may not even have encountered your business yet.

For example, some common topics that consumers hold expectations about include

  • How easy it is to get in touch with a business
  • How easy it is to find answers to questions
  • How pleasant in-person interactions with the business are
  • The price and quality of goods and services
  • The availability of products or service appointments

It’s important to note that although some consumer expectations are carried over from past interactions with large businesses (and the large customer experience teams and budgets that come alongside them), there are still unique advantages small businesses can leverage to exceed expectations. We’ll get into a big one now.

Consumers Expect Trust-Based Relationships Above All Else

When someone chooses your small business, it’s crucial to win their trust.

Trust with a business involves all the same characteristics as trust with another person. Principles like honesty, accountability, loyalty, and good communication are all the same.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and incidences of highly-publicized litigation against large companies like Facebook, there has never been a time when building trust with consumers was more important (Accenture). Salesforce research shows that “only 48% of customers say they generally trust companies.”

Image of 48% of customers say they generally trust companies

Obviously many consumers feel they have been failed by businesses that don’t have their best interests at heart. As a result of being burned before, consumers prioritize trust and actively look for it when choosing companies with which to do business.

A Hubspot survey revealed that consumers’ top priority is “to feel heard, appreciated, and valued” with 58% of consumers stating that expectation (Hubspot).

This is where local businesses step into the spotlight. The opportunity is all yours to win over local customers looking for businesses they can trust, especially those who may have been burned by a lack of personal relationships or customization with larger businesses. Your business can even earn a reputation of being trustworthy in your larger community.

Those who can figure out how to get consumer expectations right can build the trust that is so often lacking today. We’ve identified four key consumer expectations around trust that businesses can focus on.

1. An Understanding of Their Unique Preferences and Expectations

Consumers expect businesses to understand their needs and not provide the same generic experience to every shopper. In a Salesforce survey of 15,000 individual consumers and business buyers, 66% of respondents say they expect companies to “understand their unique needs and expectations.” However, the same percentage feel they are usually treated like no more than another number (Salesforce).

Image of 66% of respondents expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations

This can be as simple as keeping a pulse on your customers through simple interactions. If a plumbing company hears from multiple customers that they would like longer service availability hours, they can extend their hours a few days a week.

Although making changes to meet customer expectations isn’t always realistic for small businesses with stretched staff and budgets, it’s worth pursuing strategic adjustments when economical.

2. Accountability and Follow-Through on Commitments

When you make commitments to your customers, do everything in your power to follow through. But mistakes and blunders are unavoidable. The most important thing is how you respond when you let a customer down.

While making a correction and quickly moving on may feel like the most comfortable path, it’s important to own up to what went wrong and explain how you will avoid it in the future. A sincere apology can go a long way to rebuilding trust. If you’re worried about the risks–personal or even legal–of apologizing to a customer, consider this most extreme example from the Harvard Business Review:

“For many years, medical professionals were advised not to apologize when they made mistakes that hurt or even killed patients, because doing so might make the hospital vulnerable to a malpractice lawsuit. But research has revealed that when some hospitals began allowing doctors to offer apologies to patients and families, or even made apologizing mandatory, the likelihood of litigation was reduced.”

Your business is highly unlikely to ever find itself in such a dire situation. But take it as encouragement to be open to apologizing when appropriate.

Of course, whenever possible, it’s important to follow-through on commitments like maintaining appointment times, delivering the promised quality of goods on time, and honoring contracts.

3. Plenty of Communications Options and Channels

In today’s super-connected world it’s no surprise that people want to stay connected with businesses in the way they reach their friends: virtually. In a Hubspot survey, 44% of respondents said every company should offer multiple options for reaching customer service, from online chat, to email, to social media, and the traditional staple: a live phone call.

Between headcount, tech stack, and training, we know it can be challenging to add more communication channels. One way to counteract that is providing a robust FAQ page or online help center to reduce the cost of answering questions.

There are also tools that make it easy to add a new channel–like texting–and manage it alongside traditional ones like email and voicemails.

The more available you are to consumers and the faster they can get answers to their questions, the less likely they are to jump ship to a larger company.

4. The Right Kind of Outreach

Consumers expect the right balance between your business being incommunicado and flooding their text messages every day. Although you never want to become annoying, it’s important to stay top of mind for your customers by reaching out occasionally.

There’s no need to turn it into a complicated balancing act. You have the perfect resource at your fingertips: your customers. If you’re not sure how often they want to hear from you, all you have to do is ask.

When you reach out at the right times, you provide more value and build more trust.

Every Expectation Comes Back to Trust

Everything we’ve mentioned so far boils back down to trust. So, even when your daily interactions start to feel mundane and you get tired of dealing with the same issues, remember that at every point your goal is to be trustworthy in your customers’ eyes, just like you would with anyone else.

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