There are a lot of different things that go into starting and operating a business. You need a product or service that can sell and a team that can distribute it. You need marketing campaigns, a customer service plan, and financial planning. All of these things are important, but there are nitty-gritty details, like customer expectations, that can be easily overlooked that can throw your entire plan into disarray.

One overlooked aspect of running a business is managing expectations. This isn’t likely to be a bolded item on your “how to be the perfect CEO” Powerpoint presentation. However, that doesn’t make it any less important just because it’s not talked about enough. Customer expectations can have an enormous impact on the success of your company, for better or for worse.

Expectations come in many shapes and forms. There are expectations for quality, time, appearance, customer service, and just about everything in between. Customer expectations greatly affect the decision to shop with your business as opposed to your direct competitors.

In this article, we’ll discuss why you should set customer expectations and why it will be beneficial to do so. Additionally, we’ll touch on some of the things that can go wrong when you don’t properly set customer expectations as you develop client relationships. The way you set and manage expectations is an important aspect of running a business, so let’s get right into it:

1. Keeps Customers Accountable

There is a considerable demographic of consumers that will try to get away with as much as they can. They’ll seek out every possible loophole that works to their benefit. Anything that isn’t explicitly explained or detailed in your company policy can be skewed heavily in their favor if you’re not careful.

Setting customer expectations before you even develop a client relationship can prevent too much tomfoolery from happening. What you’re doing is using clear expectations to keep customers accountable to themselves and to you. Even as a one-time customer, you are developing a relationship with a company, and there are expectations that both sides need to meet in order for transactions and partnerships to be properly executed.

Let’s use a return policy as an example. Many companies establish a 30-day window for products to be returned after purchase. If your expectation is clearly stated to be a month-long time period for possible returns, your customers will be expected to follow that policy. Set that expectation from the start, and you’ll have a lot fewer calls and complaints about trying to return an item well past the 30-day limit.

2. Predicts and Anticipates Needs

Customers can be a needy bunch. You won’t be able to provide one hundred percent foolproof, satisfactory performance to every consumer within a 500-mile radius. However, you can do your best to take care of every client and customer by using expectations to predict and anticipate their most common needs.

A common expectation being set is the delivery time required for companies to ship their products to a customer’s doorstep. If you don’t provide an estimate to your customers at the time of purchase, they’ll come up with their own expectations. Their prediction might be significantly faster than what you’re capable of doing, and they could be setting themselves up for disappointment when your deliveries don’t reach Amazon Prime levels.

Knowing this, you can maintain customer expectations by anticipating the needs that may arise. When someone buys something from you online, you can typically assume they want their purchases completed and shipped as soon as possible. You should be ready to address possible delays due to common errors such as payment problems and address mix-ups.

3. Maintains a Realistic Outlook

When you are able to set customer expectations from the very start, you are able to maintain a realistic outlook. Not all expectations are realistic, especially when many situations are left up to interpretation. If you let vague responses and information take hold, customers may build up expectations to be impossibly high and still hope that you can meet them.

Let’s go back to that return policy. If this policy is made well-known to your customers, they know exactly what to expect if they choose to make a return. This includes opportunities to receive a refund and a timetable for a second delivery if applicable. If these expectations are not set clearly, customers will attempt to make demands that could be unreasonable.

What you need to remember is to stick to the expectations you set. You can’t offer a money-back guarantee and try to weasel your way out of it every time a customer tries to take advantage of the deal. The more you stick to your word, the greater the relationship and brand image you will develop with consumers.

4. Establishes Consistency

One thing customers love to see in the brands they shop with is consistency. Knowing exactly what you’re getting out of a company makes it easier to develop a long-term relationship with them. If you’re never sure about the quality of the service you’ll get, you might as well seek out different options that provide stability.

This concept can be clearly seen at hair salons. People can be very particular about how they get their hair done. When selecting a hair salon, they have expectations that need to be met for them to want to return. If you can set and meet those expectations, your customer retention rates will be through the roof. After all, you won’t want to visit a hair salon that cuts your hair a different style at every visit.

These sorts of expectations come through performance. You can’t set high expectations for your products and services if you’re unable to meet them consistently. Top brands have the expectations they do because they have a long track record of success. People expect high-quality products on a consistent basis from Nike, Apple, and Tesla because they’ve shown they are capable of setting and meeting those expectations.

5. Set Expectations Can Be Exceeded

Perhaps the greatest reason to set expectations for your business is so you can exceed them. You should obviously aim for high expectations, but keeping them reasonable means you can go above and beyond from time to time. Customers who feel like their expectations have been exceeded will be blown away.

You can’t feasibly exceed expectations for every single customer. This can be taxing financially, emotionally, and physically, depending on your industry. However, it’s nice to know that if you need to appease a customer or land a major client, you have a list of quality expectations and the capability to push them to their limit when deemed necessary.

For example, you could pay the extra fee for overnight shipping on your deliveries, but you set customer expectations at three days. If you really needed to, you could pay the few that would speed up delivery, such as a replacement for a defective product or a large purchase that can put your small business on the map.

We all have expectations for everything we do, whether we actively set them or not. When operating a business, you have expectations for yourself and your company. Your customers also have expectations of you. While some of these expectations are out of your control, you can manipulate them in your favor. Setting customer expectations allows you to serve your community to the best of your abilities accurately.

[Related: 6 Ways Businesses Can Manage Difficult Customers]

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Tim Douglas; Pexels; Thank you!