Sometimes the most profound “new” marketing strategies strike you at first as not new at all.  “Hey, I knew that already” doesn’t disqualify something from dramatically changing your business. 

Enter setting expectations.  Or more accurately, setting the right expectations.  Or even more accurately, NOT not setting expectations.  As a small business marketing consultant I pay a lot of attention to this stuff!

Problem: When you install an enterprise software system, the vendor must convert all the user company’s data to conform to the new system.  This is normally cumbersome and takes lots of fine-tuning to get right.  Meanwhile, the decision-makers at the user company start thinking, “Wait a second, this new expensive software can’t even handle the data our crappy current software handles just fine.  What are we getting ourselves into.”  And eveything about the installation after that seems to go a bit rockier.  Why?  Everything is seen through what-are-we-getting-ourselves-into eyes.

Solution: Let me tell you about one part of the installation process that can be frustrating.  Data conversion takes a lot of fine-tuning.  In fact, you may wonder at times why the new software can’t handle data your old system handles just fine.  Don’t worry.  This is a natural part of every installation and nothing to worry about.

Setting the right or more realistic expectations can improve the customer experience even though what actually happens to the customer doesn’t necessarily change.  You’ve experienced this.  You “get off on the wrong foot” with a vendor or customer and then notice every time there is a small glitch in the relationship.  And the glitches reinforce your growing concern about their reliability.  Your frame of reference: the customer or vendor is unreliable.  You “get off on the right foot” and those same small glitches don’t reinforce anything.  Your frame of reference: they can be trusted and a little glitch here or there doesn’t matter.

I don’t mean setting high expectations. 

Problem: When a landscaping contractor remodels your back yard, the place looks awful (all torn up) for about 80% of the time.  During that time the homeowner starts to question whether the contractor knows what he’s doing.  After the homeowner arrives at that conclusion or level of discomfort, they notice every little imperfection.

Solution: Let me tell you how you’re going to feel throughout some of the project.  Your back yard is going to look completely torn up for a long time.  You’ll be thinking hey, they’re supposed to be done is three days and it looks like World War Three out there.  Don’t worry.  Everything comes together during the last few days of the project.  I know it’s hard to imagine, but that’s just the way these projects work.

My experience is that most companies don’t set too high an expectation going into new customer relationships, it’s that they don’t set any expectations.

Problem: When a new patient comes into an Oncology practice (after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer) the first two contacts they have are with a scheduler (appointment setting, forms to fill out, medical information to bring) and a financial counselor (insurance, reimbursement).  Patients can start to feel like the practice is more interested in getting paid than curing them.  This can lead to the patient questioning their quality of care when they experience the little bumps that are part of any healthcare process.

Solution: All of us in the practice are here to help you beat your cancer.  As you come into the practice, you’ll find there will be a lot of paperwork to get past at first.  That’s just part of the system so please bare with us.  We like to get all that handled up front so you and your care team can focus on one thing, your healing.

Without an attempt by the practice to set expectations, the cancer patient is left on his or her own to make sense out of what happens.

Look at the customer experience through the customers’ eyes.  There are typically small “interventions” you can make early in the relationship that can help set realistic expectations.  Realistic expectations foster comfort and a comfortable prospect or customer is a much happier prospect or customer.