Expectation BoardGuest Post by Adam Toporek

All great customer experiences are built upon expectations.

An organization can deliver a customer experience that exceeds industry norms by a factor of 10, but if the customer was expecting one that was 11 times better, the organization has failed.

Image: Roland Tanglao via Flickr, CC 2.0

Expectations are everything in customer service, and PR professionals play an important role in creating customer expectations.

Where do customer expectations come from?

For new customers, the expectations they bring with them to their first interaction with an organization can come from a variety of sources, both in and out of the organization’s control. Marketing, word-of-mouth, and online commentary are just a few examples. Public relations is another.

Back in October 2012, I wrote a post with a similar theme to this piece entitled Tell Marketing: The Customer Experience Begins With Them. In the piece, we discussed some of the influences on customer expectations:

“Just as often though, the first experience a potential customer has with your company is through exposure to your marketing. And that step is within your control.

Obviously, marketing has its own objectives ”” to drive new customers, to establish awareness, etc. Yet, once a marketing strategy is under consideration, an additional layer of analysis is deserved, one that analyzes the way an ad or campaign fits into a holistic view of the customer experience.”

You can easily substitute public relations for marketing in the above excerpt.

Communication Carries Multiple Messages

Imagine a campaign for a new cracker.

Someone in a C-Suite somewhere decides that the product should appeal to 18-29 year olds, and Marketing creates an edgy campaign that includes visuals of big wave surfing, motocross racing, and base jumping. PR creates a messaging strategy to support that.

One problem: the product is not edgy.

It is an unseasoned cracker, and the customers who try it expecting a “radical taste explosion” are immediately disappointed. The expectations being set upstream are not being met downstream, but it does not have to be this way.

PR can have a marked effect on customer satisfaction and loyalty by simply considering the impact its messaging strategy has on customer expectations.

Yet, when was the last time Operations or Customer Service was brought in to help with development of a messaging strategy?

Publicity is only one part of public relations.

But it is an obvious part, so let’s take a hypothetical example from the world of movie publicity.

It’s 1988 and Bruce Willis is doing the rounds on the talk shows to publicize Die Hard, a movie that is now fairly universally lauded as one of the great action films of all time. So, what if Bruce Willis had been told by the film’s PR people that the relationship with the wife was the heart of Die Hard, and Willis went around promoting the film as an epic love story in the tradition of Cleopatra.

Or perhaps the film’s PR team thought the character arc of John McClane was the real strength of the story, and Willis was advised to pitch the movie as a great character study in the vein of Citizen Kane.

Would moviegoers who went to Die Hard with these expectations have been disappointed? Of course. And in this extreme example, we can see what happens with products and services on a more subtle level all the time.

The expectations, either explicit or implicit, that are communicated by PR and Marketing affect customer expectations and customer satisfaction downstream. You need to go no further than the Segway for the textbook example of how expectations set by PR and Marketing could not be met by the product.

What Doesn’t Get Measured Is Still Important.

I will leave how PR is measured to experts like Shonali, but I think we can all agree that PR and Marketing metrics do not usually include customer satisfaction or retention. Sure, the connection between messaging and customer expectations might be too far removed for effective measurement, but the link is undoubtedly there.

Customer expectations are neither controllable nor easily predictable. However, some of the inputs that help create customer expectations are within our control and messaging is one of those.

So, even though the relationship between PR and customer expectations will never be linear, and even though PR will likely never be judged on customer service metrics, PR should still take into account the effect its messaging strategy will have on customer expectations.

After all, a rising balance sheet lifts all departments.

Adam ToporekAdam Toporek is a customer service professional,  franchise developer, and small business owner who runs the popular customer experience blog Customers That Stick. He is the the author of 7 Secret Techniques Every Customer Service Expert Knows and the owner of CTS Service Solutions, a consultancy dedicated to effective, real-world customer experience solutions.