3 Brilliant Ways to Exceed Customer Expectations

Companies today face greater competitive forces than ever, and technology continues to empower customers to quickly voice their satisfaction with the service they receive. Social media alone is a powerful megaphone that can elevate or ruin your brand reputation. Price and value are no longer the only drivers in a buyer’s journey. Customer satisfaction with the customer service delivered across all channels can drive customer loyalty, build trust and secure a positive brand image.

Customer experience (CX) is a new battleground, and NOW Customers are highly attuned to whether or not their expectations were met.

 “Most companies must realize that they are no longer competing against the brand that sells similar products. Instead, they’re competing with every other experience a customer has.”

– Dan Gingiss, CX Expert

Just meeting expectations and solving issues is no longer enough to keep your customers. And satisfying customer pain points and unmet needs are merely just getting to parity. Businesses need to go above and beyond to win over NOW Customers or face customer churn. While customer expectations may differ by generation, every customer seeks out quality products or services and expects the best in return. In fact, according to a recent study by Oracle, most people across the board want more from their brands.

Exceeding customer expectations means delivering an exceptional customer experience that leaves a lasting, memorable impression. The quality of every customer’s interactions with your business, not just with the customer service department, is just as important as the product or service sold. And consistently delivering outstanding service and memorable customer experiences is what drives customer loyalty and advocacy.

What Does It Mean To Exceed A Customer’s Expectations?

In general, people tend to tell their friends, family members, and colleagues about a good or bad experience they’ve had with a business. Word of mouth is still the most trusted source of information, with 96% of customers reporting that they no longer trust brands or advertising. So how do you know if you met expectations?

  • Some people will complete a customer satisfaction survey, write a customer review, or publish a post on social media. When customers are surprised and wowed by their positive experience, they become superfans. In best-case scenarios, customers will give the employees who went the extra mile a shout-out and make sure management is aware of the rock stars on their team. Positive customer feedback should be celebrated and shared among employees as examples of exceeding expectations.  
  • When things don’t go well, you stand the lose the customer and even potential customers. A study from NewVoiceMedia found that 51% of consumers would never do business with a company again after just one poor customer service experience. Customer loyalty is fickle in today’s on-demand world, where a product or service is readily available. Additionally, 42% of customers would post their negative experiences with a brand online for everyone to see.  

Delivering exceptional customer service and exceeding customer expectations looks different for every company, as it should be if it is to be a competitive advantage. However, the attributes that define an exceptional experience are humanized (personalized), empathetic, relevant, customer-centric, timely, and generous.

So the next question to answer is, “How do I exceed my customer’s expectations?” To answer this, we need to look at how customer needs are connected to what they value.

Start With What Your Customers Value

Before you can find ways to exceed customer expectations, you need to know what they are in the first place. Businesses can do this by asking  customers for their feedback in the f customer surveys, focus groups, interviews, and other feedback platforms. Gain an understanding of  their needs and service expectations, where your brand may be missing the mark, and what an exceptional experience looks like to them. The next step is to synthesize all of the data into themes and identify focus areas. One way to prioritize the focus areas is to rank them by perceived value.

A few years ago, global consultancy Bain & Company identified 30 “elements of value” based on three decades of research. The elements of value approach extends Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” insights by focusing on people as consumers—describing their behavior as it relates to products or services. Bain’s “elements of value” pyramid shows how products and services deliver fundamental elements of value that address four kinds of needs: functional, emotional, life-changing, and social impact. The research also found that, in general, the more elements provided to the customer, the greater customers’ loyalty.

The relevance of elements varies according to industry, culture, and demographics. Companies use the model to prioritize where to focus efforts to exceed customer expectations and identify which elements will help set them apart from the competition.

3 Brilliant Ways to Exceed Customer Expectations

When your next best product or feature is copied within weeks or months, the experience is everything. Brand loyalty and advocacy are cultivated by the value created in the customer relationship. And businesses that consistently deliver more than what customers expect of them understand, “Your value is not in your rate, but in the experience you create.” The following are three ways to exceed customer expectations and examples of companies who have put them into practice.

1 – Humanize Customer Engagement: Customers want brands to understand their unique needs and desires. They share personal data with their brands of choice, expecting it to lead to more relevant experiences. In fact, customers put a higher value on personalized experiences. A recent study by Oracle stated 68% of consumers say tailored experiences based on their tastes and preferences are important to them. When a company shows their customers that they “know” them on a human level, there is an opportunity to surprise and delight.

A company that humanizes customer engagement really well is Starbucks. The company’s mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit; one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. And they innovate with a focus on improving relationships with their customer. An example of this is their award-winning “Every name’s a story” campaign that promoted inclusivity, recognition, and acceptance at Starbucks stores worldwide.

“At Starbucks, writing your name on a cup and calling it out is a symbol of our warm welcome. It’s a small gesture, but it’s symbolic of what we believe in: Recognition and acceptance, whoever you are, or want to be. We welcome everyone.”

2 – Innovate To Meet Customer Needs, Not The Competition: To reinvent your customer experience, you first need to learn more from your customers. Seek to understand how your customers live and work and what motivates them. What are the emotional, social, and identify-related elements that surround your customer?  Design new questions to ask your customers that are critical to understanding them holistically. Use the new insight to innovate new ways to meet and exceed your customers’ needs in ways they were not expecting. Design services to generate a memorable experience that strengthens customer relationships and aligns with the company’s values.

CVS is a good example of a company that innovates with a strong focus on customer needs. Since its inception, the company has empowered people to stay healthy and get the products they need. For decades, CVS has provided services to meet needs outside of its role as a pharmacy. The CVS Good Samaritan Van is a free service that helps people get back on the road and to their destination. Customers feel cared for in a time of need, which is the outcome the experience was designed to achieve. And in 2000, CVS invented retail medical clinics, essentially connecting retail and healthcare together in the same location, to provide convenient, affordable care to their customers by eliminating wait times.

Customers are attracted to companies that put them in the center and make their satisfaction a priority. And when a company takes actions that serve their customers’ needs, even outside of their primary business, customers respond with trust and loyalty.

3 – Design Experiences With Your Customers: Customers who feel an emotional connection with a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value and will recommend that brand 26% more than the average. Most brands work hard to stay top of mind in their customers’ lives and build that emotional connection. Believing that the more places consumers can experience the company’s product and the overall brand experience, the better. But there may be another way to establish a deep connection with customers. A CX approach gaining popularity is to co-create with customers and bring them into the experience design process.   

The best way to design an outstanding customer experience is to do so in collaboration with your customers. Ask customers to share feedback about positive experiences and areas for improvement throughout their customer journey. Map where they feel your company is meeting and exceeding expectations. Then ask customers to define their ideal customer experience, one that would create more value from their perspective. This approach can be applied to your company’s level of service or the products your business sells.

An example of a brand that adapted to new customer behaviors and technologies and found a powerful opportunity along the way is Betabrand. Betabrand began with a simple, yet revolutionary idea: collaborative design. The fashion platform publishes concepts for customers to provide their feedback and input. Giving customers the power to crowdfund the co-designed project into existence within weeks.  Every week Betabrand brings its customers into a virtual shopping experience with live-streamed product launches. The company has taken a co-creation approach to experience design to a new level. Betabrand has made millions of sales and thousands of products in real-time development and continues to set a new industry standard.  

Exceeding Customer Expectations Consistently

CX has fast become a top priority for businesses, and 2021 will be no different. What is different now is the need to innovate and design a customer experience that is truly a differentiator and strategic advantage. Solving for un-met needs or pain points and removing dissatisfaction as a means of improving Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) will just bring you to parity. In other words, just meeting needs and expectations are table-stakes. NOW Customers want and expect more from the brands they frequent.

Companies that want to differentiate beyond products and services will need to invest in programs and technologies that align their value proposition (elements of value) with exceptional customer experience expectations. As noted in this article, the goal is to go the extra mile and exceed customer service expectations instead of simply meeting them.  Business investments need to span across departments, channels, and buying preferences as customers expect seamless engagement in an omnichannel on-demand world.

In conclusion, look to gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ journey (from the customers’ perspective) across every interaction point. Validate the findings through research, customer feedback and team insights. Then prioritize the interaction points and most important focus areas based on business goals and KPIs such as customer retention and customer lifetime value.  Innovate with a team of cross-functional employees and customers to define the ideal customer experience. Next, align the organization around the CX vision and a common definition of an exceptional customer experience. And finally make sure to educate employees on how to adopt a customer service mindset, support each other, and consistently exceed customer expectations.

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