How to Understand and Meet Your Customer Expectations (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Potential customers who visit your site have very specific expectations you must meet before attempting to convert them.

When potential customers browse your site, they have very specific expectations.

They expect their online shopping experience to look and feel a certain way, and if they have an unpleasant experience, you can count on never seeing them again.

A recent Salesforce study showed that a staggering 80 percent of customers believe that the experience provided by a company is just as important as the products and services themselves.

In other words, if you’re selling the world’s greatest invention since the lightbulb but can’t provide a great customer experience, you’re losing out on significant revenue.

The same study revealed that 67 percent of customers have higher expectations than ever when it comes to customer experiences.

In the words of the study:

“The ripple effect of a single bad experience goes beyond one lost sale. Fifty-seven percent of customers have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience. What’s more, 62 percent of customers say they share bad experiences with others. With the proliferation of peer review sites and social media, this practice can inflict widespread reputational damage.”

The bottom line is that now more than ever, it is absolutely critical to meet the expectations of people browsing your site. There is a direct connection between your revenue and their digital experience. If you fail to meet expectations, you fail to make sales, you damage your reputation, and you lose customers to competitors.

So what’s the solution?

“Personalization,” has been the buzzword of the year when it comes to creating optimal online experiences. The idea is that the more you can personalize a shopping experience, the happier the customer will be and the more they’ll buy.

And while that sounds great, it misses out on one, enormous, fundamental point: a bad experience can’t be fixed by personalization.

Take Starbucks, for example. No matter how much they “personalize” your drink (no foam, half-caf, double soy, etc.), if it takes them 20 minutes to make it, you’re going to be really unhappy. You could care less about personalization in that context. You just want your darn coffee.

The same goes for your website. If the overall shopping experience is confusing, clunky, or difficult, personalization won’t help you. You’ve got a much bigger problem. Before you can think about personalization, you need to optimize your site to provide a seamless customer experience.

In other words, conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the foundation upon which personalization is built.

In this article, we’re going to show you what your customers expect these days and how you can work to meet those expectations.

Your Customer Expectations: Spoiled By Amazon and Google

Your customers have been completely spoiled by Amazon and Google. The two companies are like the rich grandparents that come into town, give the kids whatever they want, and then leave you to deal with the fallout.

When visitors browse your site, they expect it to be as easy and pleasant as shopping on Amazon. When they search your site, they want it to be as good as Google. When they order, they often want free and fast shipping, thanks to Amazon Prime. And if you don’t have a generous return policy and easy checkout, they’re going to be a bit peeved.

For better or worse, this is the reality of ecommerce. You can complain all you want about the enormity of Amazon’s resources (Jeff Bezos literally plays with rockets for fun), but they have set the bar for online shopping. And Google has set the bar for “finding things” online.

Your customers have been spoiled by smooth, high-quality, easy online experiences, and they’ll go somewhere else if they don’t have a similar experience on your site. In other words, you’ll either measure up or you won’t, and if you don’t you’re going to have trouble keeping up with your competition.

Writing for IBM, Michael Rasmussen notes:

“It’s simply no longer enough for a brand to provide the basics of eCommerce. In fact, it can be argued that a properly tuned, streamlined eCommerce experience is the minimum expectation your customers have today. Customers are not tolerant of non-standard eCommerce flows. They want to search, view, add to their carts, and checkout, as quickly and painlessly as possible.”

The eCommerce process has become a commodity of sorts, everyone has it, and almost every company’s experience looks the same. For most, it is a standard script: search/browse, display product, add to cart, buy. With most eCommerce platforms, this approach is tightly coupled to templates or pages, making it hard to innovate, and forcing a cookie cutter experience.

Don’t despair, however. There’s some good news here. The Salesforce study mentioned above also noted that 51 percent of customers believe most businesses fall short of their expectations.

This presents you with a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog over your competition. Once you know the expectations of your customers, you can begin to optimize your site to meet each level of those expectations. With each level of optimization, you’ll capture more of your target market and increase your overall conversion rate.

Rasmussen underlines this point when he says:

“However, when the [eCommerce] script is fully separated from the experience, this very dilemma presents a significant opportunity to stand out from the crowd. When the platform provides flawless execution of the script, your team is free to spend time working on what really matters, crafting unique and memorable experiences for your customers.”

In other words, if you can optimize your eCommerce site so that it provide customers with a “flawless” shopping experience, you can then focus on other ways to improve the experiences of your customers (like personalization).

Yes, optimizing your site to meet expectations is challenging. However, the payoff is immense . If you can provide your customers with seamless, easy, even pleasant online experiences, you can generate significant customer loyalty.

So how do you get started meeting the expectations of your visitors? The key is to learn as much as you can about your consumers and their behavior on your site so you can tailor the experience to their needs.

How To Understand And Meet Customer Expectations (Step-By-Step)

Understanding and meeting the expectations of your customers isn’t overly complicated. It can be boiled down to three basic steps.

Step #1: Listen and Respond When Your Customers Speak

First and foremost, listen to your customers early and often. Use surveys to get customer feedback on different aspects of their online experience.

Provide numerous avenues for customers to get in touch with you, such as email, chat, and phone. Few things are more frustrating than not being able to easily communicate with a company when there’s a problem.

If your customers have to go spelunking deep into your menus to find contact information, they’re going to come away feeling frustrated.

If they contact your company and nothing is done about their problem, they’re going to feel even more frustrated and will probably communicate their experience to others.

You need to have a systematic process in place to escalate issues raised by customers.

Step #2: Talk Regularly To Customer Service

In addition to listening to your customers, get input from your customer service reps. They’re the ones interacting with customers on a daily basis, and they probably have the best sense regarding the expectations of your customers.

After all, when a customer registers a complaint with customer service, it’s because an expectation or need wasn’t met.

Additionally, the more communication there is between customer service and the rest of the team, the more likely it is that you can fix inefficiencies.

Fixing the inefficiencies will make customers happy, which, in turn, makes your support reps happy; and ultimately, when it helps increase conversions, makes your revenue happy.

Step #3: Improve Upon Problem Areas

By consistently listening to your customers and your customer support reps, you create feedback loops that allow you to identify both the areas in which you’re doing well and the ones that tend to cause problems for your customers.

Once you’ve identified the problem areas, you can begin systematically and strategically using CRO methods to make improvements.

By focusing first and foremost on reducing friction and increasing conversions in the most problematic areas, you can make a significant impact relatively quickly.

How To Meet Customer Expectations Online

Once you’ve identified key areas where you’re failing to meet consumer expectations, you’ll probably want to try to fix them all at once. This is a mistake and can actually hurt you. If you try to randomly or haphazardly implement changes without relying on CRO best practices, you can cause your conversion rate to fall.

Instead of trying to fix everything at once, roll out the fixes in phases. Think of it like exercise. If you tried to go straight from a sedentary lifestyle to running a marathon, you’d probably injure yourself.

The same applies to optimizing your site to meet customer expectations. With each optimization phase, you’ll meet the needs and desires of a different segment of your customers.

Each improvement will build upon the previous one, which creates compounding increases for your conversion rate. It’s a virtuous cycle that can lead to significant increases in your bottom line.

Here are the six phases of optimizing your site to meet customer expectations.

Phase #1: Your Core Audience

Every brand, including yours, has a core group of customers who trust them. These are the people who love your product and are willing to put up with a less than optimal experience as long as they get what they need.

In this phase, your primary goal is to address the most obvious bugs in your site. We’re talking things like very slow page loads, errors that occur when adding items to the shopping cart, etc. This is the absolute lowest hanging fruit. At a minimum, you want to improve the shopping experience of your most loyal customers.

However, if you stop at this phase, you’re neglecting about 90% of your potential customers and leaving a huge amount of money on the table.

Phase #2: Frustrated Fans

In addition to your core audience, there is a second group of people who want to buy from you, but get frustrated by usability issues on your site. Maybe they find your navigation menus confusing. Maybe the checkout process is too laborious, or they have trouble finding the products they want.

By using data analysis tools (traffic analytics, heat maps, user surveys, etc.), you can identify the points of friction on your site. Then, you can deploy strategic A/B testing to eliminate points of friction and tailor the shopping experience to your customers.

Data is the key element here. If you begin A/B testing based on best guesses or intuition, there’s a good chance you’ll create even more usability problems.

Phase #3: The Researchers

After fixing usability issues on your site, you can begin to meet the expectations of those potential customers who simply want information. These individuals aren’t having a bad shopping experience per se, they just need more convincing to make their purchase.

Remember, unlike brick-and-mortar shopping, your customers can’t touch or physically see your product. This distance from your products can cause them to hesitate before buying. By providing additional high-quality photos and videos, product specifications, and customer reviews, you can help this audience make informed purchases.

Phase #4: The Hand Holders

There will be a percentage of potential customers who, for whatever reason, need a guided path through the shopping experience. Maybe they’re not heavy online shoppers (think older individuals). Or maybe they tend to get overwhelmed by the variety of choices offered by online shopping. In any case, this group needs a guided shopping path to follow.

Using CRO best practices, you can work to simplify the customer journey. This may involve making it easier to compare products, decluttering your product pages, or any number of changes.

Phase #5: The Skeptics

Some shoppers are naturally skeptical. Maybe they’ve been burned in the past by offers that have been too good to be true. Or maybe they’ve had bad experiences with companies similar to yours.

Whatever the case, these shoppers require some serious convincing to buy. They need a reason to click the “Purchase” button, and if you don’t give them one, they’ll walk away.

At this phase, you can begin testing variations of your web copy that may improve the overall persuasiveness of your site. Things like improving your headlines, focusing on benefits more than features, and addressing pain points, can go a long way toward overcoming the potential objections of these customers.

Phase #6: The Untapped Audience

If you properly implement the previous five phases, you’ll inevitably discover an untapped group of customers. The catch is that you won’t identify this pool of customers until you address the first five groups of customers. In other words, you won’t know the expectations and needs of this group unless you meet the expectations of your other customers.

Discovering this untapped group of customers (and revenue source) is the reward for strategically and systematically working to meet the expectations of every segment of your customers.

Personalization Is College, Expectations Are High School

While it’s true that your customers expect a personalized shopping experience, personalization isn’t the silver bullet that will solve all your problems.

Think of personalization like attending college and meeting customer expectations like high school. If you tried to go straight from grade school to college, it would be a disaster. A high school education is the prerequisite for college.

And yet many eCommerce brands do the equivalent of a grade school to college jump. They try to implement personalization without addressing the fundamental expectations of their customers. As a result, they waste valuable time and resources with very little improvement in conversion rate or revenue.

Conversion rate optimization is the foundation upon which personalization is built. First, you need to segment your audience at a high level and determine their desires, needs, and expectations. Then you must optimize the shopping experience for each segment of your customers, removing points of friction and working to create the ideal experience. Only then can you begin adding the finer points of personalization.

Trying to implement personalization before using CRO to meet customer expectations is like building a house without laying a foundation. It simply doesn’t work. However, if you start with the fundamentals, you truly can use personalization to create seamless customer experiences.

And when you do that, you’ll create customers for life.

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