Reaching the mark [Archives:2002/49/Business & Economy]

December 2 2002

The Road Ahead
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One of the major difficulties faced by service-oriented businesses, and one that causes their failure is their inability to meet customer expectations.
Customer expectations keep on evolving and changing amid different social and economical trends. As a result of that a gap is created between customer expectations and perceptions about the service. Businesses need to bridge this gap between what their customers expect from them and what they actually receive in order to ensure their satisfaction and build a long-term relationship with them.
Meeting customer expectations starts with improving the quality of the service. In fact, bridging the gap should serve as the primary task for businesses attempting to improve quality standards and services marketing. In other words the business should begin with customer expectations and perceptions and build the organizational tasks around it.
At the outset, the business should understand the difference between customer expectations and perceptions; customer perceptions are subjective assessments of the actual service experienced by them, whereas customer expectations are the standards of performance against which services and service experiences from one business or another are compared.
Many managers are not aware of what exactly their customers expect; they may not interact directly with them or they are unwilling to ask about expectations, which results in bad decisions regarding the services and the business future.
Consequently the quality of services suffer and the business lose customers.
The authority to change or influence service policies and procedures should be delegated to empowered teams and front-liners because they have better knowledge of customer expectations and perceptions.
Another problem is the lack of strategies to retain customers and strengthen relationships with them, when businesses have strong relationship with current customers this gap is less likely to occur.
Such a relationship would help the business understand the changing needs and expectations of existing customers. You don’t expect much while flying Yemenia airlines comparing to emirates airlines, for example, do you?
As part of that, there are a variety of techniques used to collect accurate information about customer expectations, such as, for example customer visits, survey research, complaint systems and customer-help offices. Feedback collected from such sources should be analyzed in order to improve the service quality and hence reduce the gap.
Understanding customer expectations includes recognizing the reasons behind customer complaints, analyzing the things that may go wrong or upset the customers, and also creating recovery strategies for dealing with unavoidable faults and service failure.
This means building a well-defined complaint handling system to process customer complaints, and compensate the customer for any errors or unfulfilled promises.
Remember: Gaining an accurate understanding of customer expectations and opinions regarding the service is critical for long-term success through building organizational objective around that.