How salespeople can exceed the 4 levels of customer expectations.

How Salespeople Can Exceed The 4 Levels of Customer Expectations

May 31st, 2018

No matter what industry you serve, your customers have a bevy of competitive options available to them.

Your competitors may offer lower prices, easier tools, or any number of enticing deals to attempt to make their product or service more attractive than yours.

While these offers can help attract customers initially, it’s the salespeople that bring unique value to every customer interaction while understanding and exceeding their customers’ expectations that ultimately succeed.

By understanding these key customer expectations that you must meet as a salesperson and how to exceed them, you can develop a framework of impactful customer services that builds long-lasting and fruitful relationships.

The First Level of Customer Expectation: Accuracy

When potential customers first engage with you as a salesperson, they expect -- at the very least -- that you will provide them with honest, factual information and that you will act in accordance with your company’s messaging.

For instance, if you have a scheduled follow-up with a customer at 4:00PM, they expect that communication at 4:00PM. If your company offers a full cash-back return policy, customers will expect to receive their refund in full and in cash, rather than an overbearing salesperson trying to forcefully insist on them receiving a partial store credit.

Should you fail to deliver on this most basic of customer expectations, building any semblance of a relationship will be nearly impossible, as it immediately erodes any trust that they might have placed in you and your ability to service their needs.

How to Exceed a Customer’s Expectations of Accuracy

Selling ethically starts by understanding the importance of honesty. Being accurate and forthright in each customer interaction is an opportunity to prove to your customers that you’re a salesperson who is actively working to help them, rather than merely complete a sale.

Be thoroughly knowledgeable of your product or service.

According to SalesForce’s 2016 study, 70% of customers agree: knowledgeable sales representatives are a major factor in how loyal they are to a company.

Commit the details of each of your company’s offerings to memory. By equipping yourself with this information, you empower yourself to be a trusted source of product knowledge to your customers and prevent any accidental miscommunications -- which may result in your being mistakenly perceived as being a deceptive salesperson -- when engaging future prospects.

Follow through consistently.

Consistent follow-through is one of the most overlooked, yet powerful, tools in a salesperson’s kit. Whether following up after an initial conversation or after having closed a sale successfully, staying engaged with your customers shows them that you’re personally invested in their continued success.

Give honest answers.

Your customers will regularly inquire as to how your product or service is different or otherwise better suited than the competition to meet their needs.

In these moments, it can be tempting to tell a seemingly white lie in order to move closer toward completing a sale.

When the truth inevitably gets back to your customers, however, it terminates the relationship entirely, generating terrible customer reviews and damaging both your reputation and that of your company.

"By understanding, meeting, and exceeding the 4 levels of customer expectation, you transform prospects into repeat customers and stalwart brand advocates." Tweet

The Second Level of Customer Expectation: Availability

Customers want to know that the companies they do business with are always ready and willing to help. Drive-throughs, 24-hour service hotlines, and websites are all different forms of how companies have expanded their presence to ensure they are available to customers whenever needed.

This same concept applies to you as a salesperson: Once you’ve first proven yourself as honest and accurate, your customers will want to see that you’re consistently available to them when they need you.

While vitally important to your success, being an available and ready-to-help salesperson doesn’t necessarily stand out to them when you’re first building a relationship. (There aren’t too many people who excitedly call their friends simply because a sales representative promptly responded to their email.)

The true value of being consistently accurate and available, over a long period of time, is that you clearly demonstrate to your customer that you’re not simply serving them in order to complete a sale. You prove that you are working with them to make sure their needs are met and prove yourself as a trusted partner.

How to Exceed a Customer’s Expectation of Availability

Consistently meeting and exceeding a customer’s expectations of availability helps cement the foundations of a customer-salesperson relationship that is based on trust and mutual respect.

Know and adhere to the communication methods your customers prefer.

We’ve all experienced it: You fill out an online form, talk with a representative, or respond to an email and clearly indicate that you wanted to be contacted after 5:00PM and via email.

Right on schedule, you’re in the middle of a meeting at 11:00AM and your phone lights up. Sure enough, it’s a sales representative “getting back in touch with you.”

Putting forth the simple effort to record and regularly confirm the contact preferences of your customers ensures that you’re sending a clear message: You listen, care about their time, and you are attentive to their needs and preferences.

Promptly respond to your customers’ communications.

Should a customer leave you a message or send an email while you’re away, be prompt with your response. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to respond within one business day to customers, as it helps instill within them the knowing that you’re attentive to their communications.

When crafting your reply, take the time to thoroughly parse the questions or concerns they might express. Forgetting to address one of a customer’s key concerns can communicate that you lack an attention to detail and aren’t invested in helping them solve their problems.

Be available through multiple communication mediums and platforms.

Statistically speaking, most of your customers will indicate that they would prefer their communications with you be in the form of an email or a phone call.

Direct messages on social media, however, are becoming an increasingly favored communication option, as social media use commands more and more of the average person’s time spent online -- up to 20%, in fact.

By being available across multiple platforms, you set yourself up to be a quickly-available source of help and information that your customers can access from the environments they frequent most.

The Third Level of Customer Expectation: Partnership

Over time, your consistent and honest communication, coupled with your reliable availability, fosters a knowing within your customers that you can be a trusted source of help and a partner in helping them overcome their problems.

Developing a partnership with customers works hand-in-hand with our proven philosophy of Golden Rule selling: Treat your customers as you would wish to be treated.

How to Exceed A Customer’s Expectation of Partnership

Customers need to know that you understand the problems that keep them awake at night.

They need you, as a salesperson, to be a trusted partner whom they can rely upon to help them find the solutions that ultimately help alleviate their stresses. And by becoming this trusted partner, you create opportunities to bring unique value to your customers and set yourself apart from your competition.

Actively listen.

During your conversations with customers, don’t fall into the trap of simply listening in order to respond. Listen, rather, to understand their needs and to get a more clear picture of the hurdles and fears they face.

Take notes, and throughout the conversation, take the time to repeat back to customers what you are hearing to ensure that your interpretation is a correct reflection of what they are trying to communicate.

Not only does the act of actively listening allow for greater customer insight, but by taking the time to ask questions, take notes, and ensure you’re interpreting their words correctly, you demonstrate to your customers that you genuinely care about both the conversation at hand and meeting their overall needs.

Learn what your customer values.

With every interaction you have with a prospective customer, they will reveal to you -- directly and indirectly -- what is important to them and which solutions best fit their needs.

By knowing specifically what matters most to your customers, you can more keenly focus your efforts in helping them find a solution that solves their specific problems.

Be patient.

No matter how helpful you may be to a customer, if you are incessantly badgering them with calls or filling up their inbox all too frequently, you will seem like just another pushy salesperson.

Be patient. Your insight as a partner is helpful, but your customers need time to consider and decide which products and services are going to be the best fit for their needs.

The Fourth Level of Customer Expectation: Advice

By being an honest, reliable source of help and a proven partner, your customers will hold your opinions and insight in high regard. At this final level of expectation, your customers confidently trust that you are always operating to serve their best interests.

How to Exceed A Customer’s Expectation of Advice

At this stage of a customer-salesperson relationship, provided you continue meeting and exceeding their expectations, you transform one-time customers into repeat customers and advocates.

Anticipate your customers’ future needs.

Though you may be able to help your customer find a perfect solution to solve their current problems, there are always future hurdles on the horizon.

If you aren’t knowledgeable about the future issues your customers may encounter, ask. Your sales manager will likely be able to give you detailed insight as to what steps you can take to help your customers overcome the challenges they may face in the future.

By returning to your customer with this insight, and by helping them prepare for these future challenges, you send a clear message: You’re a trusted partner who is here for the long haul and is personally invested in their success.

Avoid the use of jargon terms.

Unless your customers are extremely familiar with the technical terms and abbreviations used in your industry -- this is most often the case in business-to-business sales -- avoid the use of jargon altogether.

Breaking complex ideas into simple, easy-to-understand chunks of information not only helps customers more readily grasp the advice you are offering, it also makes them feel empowered and enlightened.

And when customers learn something new -- and feel that you were key in their learning that new information -- they form a strong emotional connection with you, your products, and the brand you represent.

Continually Assessing Your Progress In Building Customer Relationships

As your relationships with prospective customers grow, it’s important to take time to periodically assess the strength of these relationships and how effectively they are progressing.

During this internal examination, focus on asking yourself the following key questions to determine whether or not each of your customer relationships are positively advancing:

1. "Am I providing my customer with accurate and honest information?"

If you are thoroughly knowledgeable about your product or service, whether or not it helps your customer meet their specific needs, and you accurately provide that information in an easy-to-digest manner, you are positively growing that relationship toward improved levels of trust.

2. "Am I reliably available for my customer?"

Having an up-to-date knowledge of each of your customer’s communication preferences, responding promptly to their communications, and making yourself available when they need you most lets them know that you’re invested in their success.

If you’re demonstrating a clear track record of reliable availability and consistent follow-up with your customer’s communications, you open the door to further strengthening that relationship.

3. "Do I understand my customer’s problems and the challenges of their industry?"

Taking the time to research your customer’s problems and understand the specific hurdles they are facing allows you to step into their shoes and better understand their needs.

If you’re confident in your knowledge of your customer’s problems and stay up-to-date on the challenges facing their industry, then you’re placing yourself in a prime position to deploy that empathic understanding and show your customer that you can be the trusted partner that they need.

4. "Does my customer actively seek my guidance and respect my insights?"

When your customers explain a difficult challenge they’re facing, do they seek your opinion on the matter? If they do, and they value the insight you provide, that is a surefire signal that you are are making a lasting impact and becoming a reliable advisor in their mind.

5. "Am I providing unique and lasting value for my customer?"

Whether performing research to help a customer find a solution to a problem or by simply being available during the hours that work best for their schedule, those extra-mile efforts are where impactful salespeople make their mark.

Though your customer may not remember each and every conversation you have with them, the way you make them feel and the value you provide during each interaction makes an indelible impression.

If you are regularly investing in your customer and actively seeking to provide them with unique value, then you’re well on your way toward developing a lasting and fruitful relationship.

Understanding and Exceeding Customer Expectations with a Servant’s Heart

No matter the industry you serve, the potential customers you pursue all have 4 sequential levels of expectations that must be met.

By understanding, meeting, and exceeding these expectations, and by continually providing value to your customers, you transform prospects into repeat customers and stalwart brand advocates.

How do you go the extra mile for your customers? Whether a seasoned sales professional or you’re just getting started in sales, we would love to hear from you! Be sure to share your thoughts with us in the Facebook comments below!

References

  1. Buckingham, Marcus, and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2000.
  2. Parasuraman, A Parsu & Berry, Leonard & Zeithaml, Valarie. (1991). Understanding Customer Expectations of Service. Sloan Management Review. 32. 39–48.
  3. Rust, Roland T, et al. What You Don’t Know About Customer Perceived Quality: The Role of Customer Expectation Distributions. Vanderbilt University Journal of Marketing Science, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University, Nov. 1999.
  4. State of the Connected Customer. SalesForce, 1 Jan. 2016

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