The Secret to Anticipating Your Customer’s Next Move
About thirteen years ago, I launched Optimove and have been managing it ever since. Like every business, it was critical to consistently acquire customers. But because I decided to build my business without any outside funding, I had to put an exceptional emphasis on retaining my existing clients. I was successful – and I want to share my secret with you.
The core of holding on to existing customers is keeping them happy with great customer service, and at the core of great customer service is managing people’s expectations. Now I know that many of you may have come across this concept before, but I would like to share my somewhat different and holistic perspective on the subject. From my point of view, if you can manage your customers’ expectations you’ve taken care of setting them, meeting them, and exceeding them – all in one shot.
The other day I was watching Mad Men and I thought that Don Draper explains it perfectly in a scene from season 2, episode 3 (The Benefactor), where he fires his secretary, Lois Sadler. While expressing that she didn’t understand why she was being fired, Lois says that she always covers for him. Don gets agitated and responds with a comment that every business person should ponder: “You do not cover for me; you manage people’s expectations.”
Suddenly it hit me.
Don Draper’s persona as the founding partner of one of the most successful advertising agencies in Manhattan would indeed create a specific set of expectations in customers. Each customer relationship includes a unique set of expectations, and the ability to gauge and fine-tune the expectations of each individual customer is crucial. By acknowledging this fundamental rule, vendors can be better equipped in figuring out how to manage client expectations, as opposed to covering for their own or others’ mistakes.
“You do not cover for me; you manage people’s expectations.” — Don Draper, Mad Men
But what does that even mean, managing people’s expectations?
For me, it means being proactive and anticipating customer’s expectations instead of waiting to react to a problem. You could wait until a customer sends you a frantic email, saying: “Hi, when do you think you’ll have that data for us?” and react as quickly as possible, making sure to populate that data and brag about your customer service “win,” which, in my opinion, was a failure. Instead, before even meeting to discuss the project, you could demonstrate more initiative and send an estimate of when you’ll deliver the first stage of the project.
If you’d properly anticipated your customer’s needs, your customer would be able to report to his superiors at the next day’s management meeting with confidence that he had an update from you as well as an estimate of when they will have results. As a result of your initiative, you’ve positioned yourself as a professional vendor in your client’s mind before even beginning the project. You’ve even made your client look good in the eyes of his superiors, because he chose a professional vendor who communicates transparency of all aspects of the project.
This is a fairly simplistic example. In reality, there is no B2B company on Earth that can keep every customer completely happy all the time. Customer’s expectations change. Some of these changes are unforeseen. It’s not always as obvious as the above example what a customer is expecting. Sometimes customers themselves don’t even know what they want.
In my opinion, however, you can greatly foresee many of these customer expectations in advance. Truly succeeding in building customer relationships and anticipating customer’s needs comes down to having a high level of emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is the awareness of yourself and the surrounding environment. This awareness includes the ability to manage and control motivations and desires of ourselves as well as others. This combination is key to creating and maintaining excellent customer relationships and managing their expectations.
Similar to the early stages of a vendor-client relationship, anticipating people’s needs and desires is also important in the early stages of a courtship. Your romantic interest might mention wistfully how long it’s been since she went to a classical concert. Imagine how many points you’d score with her if you booked tickets for both of you to the philharmonic soon after she told you that!
Instead of viewing setting, meeting, and exceeding customer expectations in isolation, you should understand them as subsets of managing customer expectations. Manage customer expectations by starting out the customer relationship like a courtship. Maintain that courtship stage as long as possible and anticipate your customer’s needs using emotional intelligence. This proactive and holistic approach, in my opinion, is the key to achieving long-lasting customer relationships and keeping your customers happy and engaged with your business.