Managing Customer Expectations
How to establish—and keep—their trust
It’s a fact: A dental laboratory, like any business, can’t make money without customers. It’s also true that customers can, at times, be challenging, especially in terms of what they expect from you. The concept of “managing customer expectations” speaks to dealing with customer needs in a more planned and thoughtful manner so as to minimize the amount of disruption caused by mismatched expectations—by you, the customer, or both.
The Institute of Customer Service in the UK found that many customers are unwilling to accept poor customer service in exchange for lower prices. But they also said that 60 percent of customers favor a balance of price and service.1 So it follows that laboratory customers too want the best of both worlds, with lower prices and great customer service.
Managing customer expectations begins with your laboratory’s value proposition. What is it that you offer your customer that no other laboratory offers? Peter Sandeen, a social media marketing expert, says a more useful definition of value proposition is “a believable collection of the most persuasive reasons [potential customers] should notice you and take the action you’re asking for.”2 Being clear at the outset on what you are offering and what the customer can expect sets the foundation for managing the future relationship.
It is much, much easier to establish expectations in the planning stages of the process than to try to implement them mid-stream. Laboratories can set themselves up for success by employing these five simple tips that can easily be linked to your value proposition. But if they are not followed and the customer is disappointed, he or she may become a detractor, rather than a promoter, of your business.
1. Set expectations both ways for the relationship.
Everyone should be on the same page with regard to what the client expects of the business and what the laboratory can promise to deliver. What exactly do you want your customer to do to ensure you can do your best job for them? Some of the most obvious things are to provide good impressions on a consistent basis; be available and listen to potential issues that you are encountering with the case and your proposed solutions; know how and when invoices are to be paid; and to treat your staff courteously and professionally. Ask the customer what they expect from the business relationship. Be sure to communicate your business and personal philosophies. Having a customer who asks you to violate your moral or ethical beliefs will only hurt you and the business. Customers have plenty of influences guiding them toward unrealistic expectations; you need to make sure your team is not one of them.
2. Communicate for clarity.
Communication is key to managing customers’ expectations. Explain good news and bad news with equal confidence and enthusiasm. Tell them when they have made a mistake, just as when he or she has done a good job. Paint a clear picture of possible results to avoid unrealistic expectations. Keep your client in the loop to avoid potential problems that could arise from not being communicative enough. Listen to what the customer is objecting about (often price, quality, or time) and confirm the validity of each concern and offer a solution. Above all, be transparent and honest. Transparency is absolutely crucial to managing customer expectations effectively. A mistake may not be a deal-breaker if you own up to it and communicate an effective solution with the client; in fact, it is a great way to establish trust.
3. Know and articulate your limits.
It’s okay to be optimistic, but be realistic as well. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your customer. It is important to explain your answer and the reasoning behind it. You may want to offer alternatives that can help both clinician and patient, but don’t agree to take on a job that is beyond your capabilities. The complexities of certain requests and the workload of your team members, combined with the time investment required, can quickly conspire to derail your best intentions. While it can be uncomfortable and upsetting to tell a customer an issue or request will take longer than expected, it is more important to be realistic than set expectations that can't be met. When in doubt, under-promise and over-deliver, rather than let your client down when you can't turn those promises into reality.
4. Ensure the consistency of your messages and actions.
Consistency is something that all customers expect and deserve. When service, production, or quality are not consistent, the customer can be left feeling confused and frustrated. It is also a surefire way to lose any trust that has already been established. Maintaining consistency is another way to manage expectations because the customer will always know what to expect. Consistency builds trust and trust leads to a lasting business relationship.
5. Follow up regularly.
Listen to customer complaints; you may learn something about your product or service that you can improve. Let customers know that you appreciate feedback and follow up on both positive and negative feedback. If the client’s expectations are not something you can successfully meet, then you need to do your best to reset and recalibrate those expectations. After you communicate with your customer (receiving good news or bad), follow up with them via email or phone call to reiterate what was discussed, decided, and/or follow-up on any open questions. Provide this recap to let the customer know you accurately received their concerns, and ensure any next steps they need to take, what you may need from them and when, and when they can expect a resolution.
There are many other ways laboratories can optimize their ability to meet customer expectations. However, the first step to delivering excellence is to manage expectations effectively from the get-go. Keep in mind that if you continue struggling with a customer regarding their expectations—even after you’ve communicated with them and accommodated them reasonably—then it may be time to evaluate the viability of the business relationship.
1. “UKCSI: The state of customer satisfaction in the UK - January 2016.” Available at: instituteofcustomerservice.com/research-insight/research-library/ics-ukcsi-exec-summary-jan16-final. Accessed February 18, 2017.
2. Sandeen P. “What is Your Value Proposition.” Available at: petersandeen.com/what-is-your-value-proposition/. Accessed February 18, 2017.
About the Author
Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvements located in Higganum, Connecticut.