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Resetting Customer Expectations | Customers, Etc

Resetting Customer Expectations | Customers, Etc
By Ben McCormack • Issue #42 • View online
This week continues the theme of customer expectations (Walking back the customer journey, Setting vs Meeting Expectations), focusing this week on resetting customer expectations.

My first smartphone was the AT&T/Cingular 2125. It came out in the spring of 2006. I remember thinking hard about if I should get the 2125 or its bigger brother, the 8125, which had a full physical keyboard. Also, the 8125 had Wi-fi, which was a big deal at the time because cellular data was expensive. I was fresh out of college with a philosophy degree, so “cheaper” was definitely a feature that interested me.
It’s funny to think about the buying process back then. There were something like a gajillion Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, not to mention plenty of picks from Palm, Blackberry, and of course popular “dumb” phones like the Razr. Each year manufacturers would iterate a bit to meet consumer expectations, churning out a new batch of phones to keep the gadget blogs busy.
Then the iPhone came out and changed everything.
It’s worth rewatching the first 10 minutes of Steve Jobs’ 2007 presentation where Apple launched the iPhone. It’s a master class in resetting expectations. Pretty much everything we take for granted now in a smartphone is in that presentation, and the old smartphone technology from before the iPhone has been mostly forgotten. It’s easy to see the iPhone’s success it hindsight—it completely reset consumer expectations for what to look for in a phone—but at the time, not everyone believed the iPhone would be successful. Many experts in the mobile phone space looked on it with doubt. Why couldn’t they see it?
Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 on Unsplash. My daughter said this newsletter needed more unicorns.
Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 on Unsplash. My daughter said this newsletter needed more unicorns.
Why tech experts got it wrong
This article is a great time capsule of negative iPhone press. Here’s one from TechCrunch:
That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone.
Apple’s much-anticipated iPhone, which goes on sale in the US today, will struggle to break into the mainstream because of a lack of a 3G connection and low demand for converged devices, according to research.
There are several versions of Mp3 player phones out there and none of them are big sellers. The reason? The market does not want them together.
The virtual keyboard! No 3G! MP3 players! These of course were the types of features that everyone was talking about in 2007. You simply couldn’t imagine a smart phone with a good virtual keyboard. You couldn’t imagine a flagship phone without 3G. You couldn’t imagine an “MP3 player phone” actually being successful. It’s all talk about meeting consumer expectations when it comes to individual features. If you were going to release a new smartphone in 2007, it had to have a nice physical keyboard, 3G, Wifi, and integration with your corporate IT system.
The iPhone completely reset expectations for consumers. It turns out you can have a virtual keyboard that’s actually useful, and when coupled with revolutionary pinch-to-zoom, it completely changes your experience with the device. Pundits were focused on individual features, while Apple was focused on the entire experience.
When to set, meet, or reset customer expectations
When we talked a few weeks ago about walking back the customer journey, we did so by starting with a problem at a particular stage in the customer journey and then working backwards to see how we might prevent the problem in the future by setting better expectations. But that doesn’t always work, which is why last week we talked about taking the extra step to meet customer expectations. And of course this week we’re looking at resetting expectations. But which one should you choose?
Set expectations when you’re confident that what you’re doing as a business is correct, but that you could have done a better job in communicating your intentions at an earlier stage of the customer journey. Work backward along the customer journey to make sure information is showing up in the right places. No surprises. Setting expectations is often about doing a better job communicating what you’re already doing.
Meet expectations when what you’re doing as a business isn’t fulfilling customer needs. A good sign you need to do a better job meeting expectations is when your attempts to do a better job setting expectations fall flat. “Thanks for clarifying that’s how the product works—we’ll need to go with a different solution.” Meeting expectations is about doing something new in line with what the customer expects.
Reset expectations when the market as a whole is doing a poor job addressing a customer problem and there is an opportunity to completely rethink the entire customer journey to address that problem. Start-ups basically exist to do this exact thing. Innovative companies that ship entirely new market-defining products are also resetting customer expectations. Resetting expectations is about doing something completely unexpected that the customer isn’t necessarily asking for, but which you believe the customer will ultimately want.
I’m tempted to keep writing tons of examples about when you should set, meet, or reset expectations, but I think we’ve got enough from the past few weeks go give us a good start. If you haven’t done so already, make a simple customer journey map and identify the priority touchpoints where your business will connect with customers. You can’t walk back the customer journey if you don’t have a map, so make one. Your journey map is the foundation from which you can decide whether a given problem compels you to set, meet, or reset customer expectations.
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Ben McCormack

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