The Subtle Art of Setting Customer Expectations

By Eva
August 8, 2022
The Subtle Art of Setting Customer Expectations

Setting customer expectations right is an art, and it begins by keeping them realistic, doable, and customer-centric. Since it's all about meeting those expectations, you cannot risk overstating and setting impossible standards for your business.

Therefore, businesses must set the right customer expectations by focusing on product quality, features, delivery, and pricing. Due to increasing competition, customers now have more options, knowledge, and expertise.

So if any promises are unmet, that sets the grounds for them to switch to other brands. However, you can easily avoid this business suicide by setting customer expectations immediately.

What are Customer Expectations?

When we talk about customer expectations, these are the ideas, thoughts, or ways a customer anticipates how a particular product or service would benefit them.

For instance, consider a customer who wants to buy a laptop. They may be thinking of getting a touchscreen display, backlit, ergonomic keyboard, slim and lightweight design, etc.

However, these are only the physical expectations. There may be other expectations that are not as easy to explain or view, i.e., the intangible aspects of customer expectation.

Knowing your customers' expectations is very important if you want to foster a healthy relationship with them.

Importance of Understanding Customer Expectations

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Whether you have a large enterprise or run a home-based small-scale business, understanding customer expectations is very important for the business to thrive.

Today more than ever, there is a rising need to identify these expectations before putting your brand on the market. This is because 54% of customers have higher expectations from customer service today than just a year ago.

With the rising competition and market expansion, these customers enjoy greater bargaining power than ever.

Understanding these expectations shows that these customers are important to you. But then, once the customers get into that comfort zone with your brand, they are likely to spend 140% more on your brand following a positive experience.

Just imagine a satisfied customer telling nine others about their experience, whereas a disgruntled customer goes around and tells at least sixteen people about their bad experience with the brand. This negative feedback has more of a domino effect and drastically affects your ability to keep or attract new customers.

To minimize negative experiences, resolve complaints, check customer feedback, and ensure you deliver what you promise.

So your main job is to find and then bridge this gap between the customer expectation and their experience with your brand.

How to Set Customer Expectations Right

Boundaries are always healthy, even if they make you feel like you are restricting your abilities to serve the customers. Trust us here; it is best to keep things real rather than take the bar up to an unrealistic, unachievable level.

If you set the standards too high and cannot achieve them at any point, that will affect your client-business relationship badly.

So here’s a little list that’ll help you keep things real yet best for your customers:

  • Be Consistent: First and foremost, all your customer service efforts must be consistent and streamlined. Indicate the business hours and days, how to connect with the customer service staff, and ensure that the customers are always entertained during the mentioned period.

  • Deliver Excellent Quality Products/Services: Make sure to put up those products or services only on the market that are the best in terms of quality and according to the customer's demand.

  • Be Honest: Now, there will always be times when you won't be able to meet the customers' expectations. Be realistic and accepting when that happens.

  • Set Mutually Agreeable Terms: Once you have a client on board, sit them down and discuss the project's scope in detail. Better yet, draw up a contract, put everything in writing, and get it signed to avoid misunderstandings later.

  • Say No: At times, the clients want to add in a thing or two after everything is finalized and settled. Make sure to say no, where need be. Avoid getting dragged into agreeing to impossible expectations.

How to Set Boundaries for Customer Expectations

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Setting up schedules, timelines, and ultimate deliverables helps serve as a guideline for businesses and customers. It is the best way to make the most of the customers’ time and save your organizational resources. Now, how do we set these boundaries?


Set up timelines; well thought out, planned, realistic, and doable timelines, preferably backed by a calendar link. This practice will keep things in check on both ends.

The customer would know when to expect the product or service and the time your agents would be able to assist them or get back to them.

This also gives you sufficient personal space to work without unnecessary interruptions or annoying calls. The time for the client is wholly and solely dedicated to the client, and the time for work has its own time domain.

Establish a Work-Life Balance

Make sure to keep your personal life and business separate from the start. This is especially important for new startups, as business usually takes off from relatives, loved ones, or people in your immediate circle.

Although they play a major role in helping your startup to flourish, it may sometimes get annoying when you get phone calls or messages all day and night. So set up boundaries from the start.

Make a website for business, get a different phone number for business calls, set up a separate email, social media pages, and other essentials.

Then, if you still get messages on your personal accounts, you can add a personalized automated message to your number, politely asking them to reach you on your work number/email.

Set Up a Routine

This can be considered more of an extension of the timelines, but it is important to set a schedule for answering phone calls, emails, and queries. There may be customers or people who call to bug you - or just out of habit - in the middle of the night or early morning.

If you get up at every call and jump to respond to every message, thinking it's good for business, it will affect your mental health and peace.

Sleeplessness, fatigue, and all the hustle, ultimately come with a great cost for you and the business. Like consider, would your productivity levels be high or low if you don’t sleep through the night?

How will that affect your mental health if you don’t rest properly and give time to your family and children?

A stressed-out entrepreneur would be unable to give their max to the business and customers.

Remember, dealing with customers takes a big heart. Therefore, you need ample rest, patience, and peace of mind if you wish to serve them well.

Stay In Charge

Make sure you always have the reins. You are not working for the client but rather with the client.

So say no, and be assertive where you feel the boundaries are being crossed. Let them know where they may be asking for too much or stepping over your boundaries.

It’s not easy to learn, but the earlier you understand, the better. You will see that saying no at the right time can save considerable time, effort, and energy. So, say no, where needed, and keep the controls in your hands.

Zero Guilt

Sometimes customers resort to ugly tactics like guilt to get their way around. Never be bullied by them. Instead, keep a firm stance over your rules and boundaries.

Setting these ground rules is great for business, so no one should make you feel bad about it.

You are the leader here, and as a businessperson, you know what time, effort, and boundaries are best to ensure your clients get the best service possible. So stick to them and never let guilt be the guide.

Check for Breaches

Practically speaking, there will always be breaches. Clients' demands are ever rising, and they will always want much more to be done than they agreed to. Establish policies to avoid issues like extra work and budget constraints.

Also, make time to talk about late payments, work scope, etc. If a client still pesters you or gets into your personal space by calling you after business hours, get things straightened.

Ask them to book an appointment with you and discuss in detail what else they need done and the cost estimates for the additional work.

How to Keep Customer Expectations Real?

The deal becomes fairly easy once you have established the boundaries. Some customers are easy to satisfy; others may ask for the moon and stars!

Once you get a client on board, keep reality in check instead of getting carried away in the excitement. Here are some strategies that’ll help.

Keep An Eye Open Before Committing

Ensure a thorough, in-depth discussion with the client about the project. Then, carry out the required due diligence, and look at the terms of payment, the overall contract, and everything the project covers.

Also, keep a check on the customer expectations - both explicit and implicit - that the project entails.

In short, keep your eyes open before signing because you have no choice but to keep both shuts afterward!

Use Official Business Channels Only

As discussed, you need to stick to the standard practice and respond only via your business email, phone number, Facebook page, or other means of communication with the client.

It may seem okay to respond once in a while via your personal number, but that can become a long-term practice, thus breaching your privacy and affecting your relationships.

When in Doubt, Walk Away!

It’s not easy to say no to a client, but if you feel you do not have enough capacity to handle a specific project or client, say no. It’s better to walk away than deliver poor quality results, damaging your relationship with the client and bringing your name down.

However, don’t turn them down abruptly. The best practice is to talk with them and honestly tell them how you feel about the project and why you can’t take it on. Then politely refuse or offer an alternative plan.

Bottom Line

Remember, forming good relations with the customers is a two-way street. So setting the expectations where you need them is important for business and client satisfaction. It is also best to set up personal space and boundaries for business from the very start.

Tackling these issues from the beginning is a great way to save time and resources. This way, you can keep your meetings with clients focused on the project details and establish solid relationships that go a long way.

Cover Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash