A big part of earning customer loyalty is delivering on the brand promise made through our sales and marketing messages. We must follow through on what we say, and ideally exceed the expectations that have been set.
With that in mind, we must remember that sales and marketing messages are built around intentions. They’re carefully crafted to make a specific brand promise we can deliver on, or set an expectation we’re confident we can meet. But our intentions mean little compared to the customer’s interpretation of our messages. They ultimately decide for themselves what we’re saying, which means their interpretation of our promise is our promise. And that promise sets their expectations.
So, we’re at a spot where our sales and marketing messages have set expectations that may or may not align with our original intentions. What now?
More often than not, brands assume their messaging was accurately interpreted and deliver their products, services, and experiences accordingly. With this approach, brands are vulnerable to aiming at a target that isn’t there. They follow through on a promise that has unknowingly shifted due to customer misinterpretation. In this all-too-common situation, nobody wins.
Luckily, there are opportunities to sidestep this pitfall. By staying connected with customers, gathering their feedback, and keeping tabs on their interpretations of our promises, we can adjust our aim when targets move. We can tweak and adjust our messages as needed to ensure customer interpretations are aligned with our intentions. Through ongoing dialogue and active listening, we’re equipped to identify when and where deviation occurs. Then, we can use those insights to guide agile decisions that regain alignment between what we promise and what they expect.
If it has been a while since you’ve explored this intention-interpretation-expectation dynamic, here are a few ways to get started.
Ask them about their expectations.
In order to meet and exceed customer expectations, we have to start by clearly defining them. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t always happen. At least not to the extent or level of detail needed.
Dedicate a customer feedback survey to focus on establishing what your audience wants and needs from your brand. This is the foundation of their expectations because they’re looking to you to satisfy a want or need. But go beyond the surface-level factors. Seek to understand how satisfying that want or need will impact their bigger-picture. This matters because the brand-customer relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are other variables and surrounding environments that shape a person’s expectations, and that’s where reality exists. Your brand is one piece that makes up the whole, and one small pain point can have a larger impact that it seems from the outside looking in.
Gather brand perception insights.
This is another standard piece of the customer expectation puzzle, and another that often goes overlooked when crafting a brand promise. Understanding what people think about your brand and how you stack up against competitors is vital to understanding their expectations. If it turns out that perceptions aren’t matching reality, then some internal assessments are warranted.
When gathering brand perception insights, it’s important to get more specific than traditional price, product, and placement attributes. Base some of the perception categories on your ideal brand identity, but also list others that might uncover shifting preferences or growth opportunities. Include level-of-importance ratings to identify areas of emphasis and challenge your assumptions of what customers prioritize. And make gathering brand perception insights a regular practice because, as we’ve seen over the past few years, market and consumer trends are changing rapidly.
Conduct pulse surveys.
These are short-and-sweet feedback opportunities that are limited in scope and happen periodically throughout the year. Rather than capturing everything under the sun in an annual or bi-annual survey, create a schedule attached to customer behaviors. Send out surveys on certain topics based on where they’re at along their customer journey to make sure the questions you ask are timely and relevant. This approach allows you to monitor how expectations shift and how your brand is performing over time.
An added benefit of pulse surveys is you’ll have an engaged audience who is regularly receiving timely, relevant, and easy-to-complete feedback opportunities. If a trend or opportunity pops up that you’d like to explore, they’ll be ready and willing to quickly provide their input.
At the end of the day, the goal of any brand should be to exceed expectations and make the reality even better than envisioned. Doing so won’t happen by chance, it will happen through strategic action and a conscious effort to hear from those who matter most – the customers.