Two elements of customer communication include: (1) setting expectations of what customers will get from your product/service, and (2) measuring whether you are meeting those expectations.

Part One: Setting Expectations
Customers don’t know what to expect from a company they haven’t done business with before, so tell them what to expect. You can accomplish that via your website text, your email messages, or through your voice message (for example, letting customers know that they can expect a same-day call back).

On the other hand, some companies have their reputations already established. The businesses that competitors envy are those that have best in class reputations and are known for excellent customer service. Since this is my obsession, I choose companies mainly by their service reputation. For example, I recently changed insurance companies and chose Amica for their top-in-service reputation.

Unfortunately, Amica isn’t living up to my expectations. I heard that they offer Nieman Marcus-level service and I’ve not seen that consistently offered. I’ve had one bad experience and two good ones – but the bad one outweighs the positive due to its nature.

The bad experience was filing a claim process via phone – I’d give a low rating to the helpfulness of the filing agent. She provided us with little information that would help us navigate the claim process.

Funny thing is, last week I was going to rate Amica as a superior insurance company because of two positive experiences: online and via phone. One, their website offers the ability to chat with an online agent (my preferred customer-service method). That agent was super friendly and went out of her way to help me. Two, I needed to call Amica to ask further questions (which the online chat agent suggested). And that second contact was positive, too. And then they really let me down when it came to handling the claim once I was ready to begin that process.

Part Two: Measuring Up
The key question for any company is this: Do you know if you are living up to expectations? Once you set the expectations, you surely need to meet or exceed them. Amica has set the bar high and they are known for great service, so I’m disappointed. As you know, over-promising is very dangerous.

In my example, how does Amica know the various levels of service/experience I’ve encountered? Good question. I bet they don’t have ways to measure each of these customer touchpoints. (I wish they did.) I’m also guessing they will send me an email survey to rate their service at the end of the claim process. (We’ll have to see how thorough that survey is.) It’s always better to address issues as they occur, rather than waiting to get that kind of feedback, so I’m already unhappy and it will be weeks before I get the final survey (assuming there is one) and by then I’ve already written this blog and spent time wondering why I’m paying more to be with Amica.

How can you measure if you are meeting customer expectations? A few ideas:

1) Surveys. Of course, email surveys can be used – many companies do this now.

  • If you have on-going service with a customer, I’d suggest a few surveys per year to check how they are doing. Maybe 3 times a year, send the same survey questions and measure any changes. Also, here are a few tips on writing survey questions.
  • If you have a defined service period that is brief, send a survey at the end. If you have a longer service period, check in to get feedback before the end of the project or service.

2) Email. Don’t forget that customers love to send comments via email.

  • Make sure your “contact” form on your website allows for generic feedback and doesn’t restrict the uses of the form with pre-defined options that must be selected. (Amica fell down in this regard too.)

3) Phone.

  • Post a phone feedback line for customers to leave voicemails – this is great if you have a customer base who loves the phone rather than email or the Internet.
  • Of course, if you have a live conversation on the phone with a customer you should ask them directly if you are meeting their expectations.
  • Lastly, you can ask a few brief survey questions at the end of a customer service call –assuming the customer is willing to take it.

Even the best-rated companies don’t always offer top service – which tells me every organization needs to measure the customer experience at as many points as possible.

On the positive side for Amica’s competitors: It looks like there is room for you to come in, offer top notch service and win over new customers here. I’ve always been tempted to call Geico just because the lizard in the ads is so cute – maybe their service is good too – who knows.

ps. Here is a blog I’ve written about Amica’s follow-up based on this blog.