Marketing Hype Mars the Customer Relationship: Meeting Expectations Is the Greatest Challenge to Customer Service

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Sales and marketing representatives often overstate their companies' strong points, and while it's an accepted--if not officially sanctioned--practice at most businesses, it's among the top customer complaints cited in a recent survey by the American Society for Quality (ASQ).

In its survey of 600 quality and customer service professionals worldwide, ASQ found that managing customer expectations was the top challenge facing customer service departments. It was cited by 29 percent of respondents worldwide, 31.7 percent of respondents in the United States, and 45.5 percent of respondents in Mexico. Other concerns included communicating with customers (20 percent), educating customers about their products and services (16 percent), providing customers with timely service (13 percent), and training and retaining good staff (12 percent).

"Companies are starting to realize that they are not meeting customer expectations because they are not setting realistic expectations up front," says John Goodman, ASQ customer service expert and vice chairman of customer care measurement and consulting.

And while it might seem harmless at first, the ASQ survey found that feeling misled by sales or marketing is four times more damaging to customer satisfaction than product defects.

"Setting realistic expectations is a real challenge," Goodman says.

Most sales or marketing people do not want to talk about the negatives, but doing so in the right context can go a long way, Goodman says. For a tech company, for example, "it shows a customer that you care enough to warn him about potential bugs in the system and how to avoid them," he adds.

The really smart vendors, Goodman continues, "are the ones that not only sell products, but educate their customers on how to use them."

This, he adds, can best be done by proactive outreach. "If you want to have better margins, you need to prevent problems with proactive outreach. If I can anticipate your needs before you reach out to me, I can do great things to protect the brand and avoid phone calls."

Conversely, the more a customer has to call the company, the greater his dissatisfaction with its products or services, Goodman asserts. …