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The Expectation Formula: 5 Ways to Improve Customer Satisfaction

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Satisfaction is highly influenced by pre-purchase expectations. Companies can damage their brand and customer loyalty by poorly managing expectations. Instead, learn how to optimize the expectation-satisfaction formula. 

Expectations and Satisfaction 

Several years ago, I boarded a Westjet flight in Calgary. As we began to push back from the gate, the flight attendant made an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Flight 473 to Vancouver. If for any reason, we don’t meet your expectations today, please, lower your expectations.” 

This got a chuckle from passengers, but it also got me thinking about the relationship between expectations and satisfaction. 

There is a psychological basis for the link between what we expect and how satisfied we are with an experience. When we have expectations about something, our brains are primed to evaluate information relative to those expectations; we pay careful attention to how the experience stacks up against what we predicted. 

In addition, our reactions are influenced by something called the principle of contrast. This principle states that when we experience something that is significantly different from our expectations, we are more likely to remember and be influenced by that difference. An experience that highly exceeds what we expect is one that will be highly satisfying, while one that falls short of expectations will be highly dissatisfying. 

In simple terms, satisfaction is the difference between what we expected and what we got. This is the expectation-satisfaction formula. 

Managing Expectations = Managing Satisfaction 

Expectations before a purchase are established in a variety of ways. These include past experiences or purchases, marketing and advertising, recommendations from peers, friends and family, and product or service descriptions. 

For the most part, companies can control the expectations their buyers have. They control the marketing messages, the advertising, and the sales process. They establish quality processes and set prices. They even determine who they hire to interact with customers. Even word-of-mouth and reviews by past buyers is influenced by the quality and post-sale customer service provided by the seller.  

There is a fine balance when establishing expectations with potential buyers. When expectations are set too high, customers may be disappointed even if the product or service is relatively good. On the other hand, when pre-purchase expectations are set too low, customers may choose another option and never experience our offering. The ideal is to have expectations set slightly below what will be delivered. 

Thus, businesses should use these approaches to optimize the expectation-satisfaction formula and improve brand reputation, enhance loyalty, and increase positive word-of-mouth and referrals:  

  1. Accurately and honestly represent the features and benefits of the product or service in all marketing, advertising, and product descriptions. 
  2. Match the promises made in your sales process to the delivery of your offerings. Overpromising can damage a brand through negative word-of-mouth. It’s better to slightly under-promise and over-deliver.
  3. Formalize your customer feedback methodology and continually look for emerging trends. Engage with customers after purchase, both one-on-one and publicly.
  4. Establish post-purchase processes. Give customers ways to be heard, and work with them to solve any issues they have. This could include maintenance, repair, replacement, refund, and warranty processes.
  5. Remember that price is part of how we set expectations of quality. If your offering is higher priced than those of competitors, then buyers will expect higher quality. 

Unleashing the Potential of Your Organization 

Every leader wants to improve their company’s reputation, brand loyalty, and growth. Carefully applying the methods described above can help leverage the expectation-satisfaction formula. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to implement these techniques, or other ways you can take the simpler path to creating a great business, connect with us or consider attending one of our upcoming leadership events.