This article was originally published by Inc. on Oct. 26, 2017

Aligning your brand and strategy starts with making sure you’re setting the right expectations and segmenting customers.


It’s your job to tell your customers what they can and should expect from you — not theirs. Expectation setting may be the most critical element of delivering the right service to the right customers — which is the foundation of our first principle of service design.

You ensure that you are making and keeping the right promises by following the principles of service design. That is, you examine the touchpoints between your company and the customers you have (and the customers you want), evaluate customer attitudes, and determine which service design archetype best matches your strategy and capabilities.

What you learn from doing this should help you determine whether you’re meeting customer expectations and how to set and manage them. It also helps you ensure that you are fulfilling your brand’s promises and that your brand and strategy are in sync.

Implied vs. Explicit

For example, at American Express, Green, Gold, and Platinum (and the mythical Centurion) cardholders see a schedule of benefits and a corresponding price list. Fidelity Investments and others in that industry offer different services depending on the amount of assets a customer parks with them. They also have separate, explicit lists of offers and service policies for individuals whose employers contract with Fidelity for employee wealth-management services.

Sometimes segmentation is implied, as it is by the various Hyatt hotel brands. Especially in B2B situations, the segmentation is not likely to be stated outright, but it is there nonetheless.

For example, you might have automated services for the lower end, and a personal touch at the top. In professional services firms, less valuable clients often deal with less experienced partners or are encouraged to take advantage of more commoditized service offerings.

One Rule

The game of expectation-setting doesn’t follow any set pattern: it is — and should be –different for each company. But all companies should follow one rule: Once you’ve set expectations, you should meet them every time.

What follows are ten questions to get you started on the process of finding the disconnects among your customer expectations, the experiences they have, and your ability to execute.

  1. Do you have the right customers for your brand — the customers you want?
  2. Do you know what you do that delights customers most? Can you make that magic happen every time?
  3. Do you know what customers say they expect of you at each touchpoint beween the two of you?
  4. Can you deliver a complete, end-to-end customer journey in each channel /on each platform? And can customers switch channel and platforms with significant effort or cost on their part or yours?
  5. Are navigation, look and feel, and quality of brand experience the same on all platforms and channels? Does each ” feel like you?” Can customers reasonably expect the same services?
  6. Are there any places along the customer journey where you need to innovate to catch up to changing customer expectations (e.g. in terms of technology) or where innovation can help you leapfrog rivals?
  7. Do you actively engage customers to help you find ways to improve service and develop new offerings?
  8. Do you know what three or four things customers say about why they like doing business with you?
  9. What events in a customer’s relationship with you make reasons to buy manifest?
  10. What do customer complaints or criticisms reveal about gaps between what they expect and you deliver?

In a future column, we’ll explore strategies you can develop based on how you answer these questions. But in the meantime, work with your staff on a 360-degree basis to see what opportunities for improvement you can come up with on your own.

© Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell

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