Why Delivering Great Service Isn’t Enough

This week-end I was reminded that a good product and good service aren’t enough. A quick experience with Apple reinforced (in a good way) that a great experience is all about managing client expectations.

What Does Managing Expectations Look Like?

On the home-front my son was desperate to download a new game on his iPad (obviously). For some reason, I was getting an error message that I couldn’t fix so I ultimately resorted to the ‘contact support’ button on the Apple site.

I clicked on the support link and a screen came up to tell me that help was on the way.  Apparently I would hear my phone ring in less than two minutes. Having spent nearly an hour, earlier in the day, trying to find someone to help me at my internet service provider, this was music to my ears. Better still, it actually happened; the phone rang within 60 seconds.

At this point, Kyle (my new best friend) came on the line and immediately put me at ease about what was happening and went about fixing the problem. After some time, he came back on the line with an apology. He had contacted the wrong person and was now on the line with the right person. He didn’t want me to wonder what had happened to him.  At every point of this small interaction, Apple effectively managed my expectations.

I felt better about Apple after the call (and the problem) than I did before.

Why Should You Care?

Here’s what we know from our 2016 study of 1,000 investors.

  • Eighty-four percent of clients, who provided a referral, said their advisor had outlined the service they could expect in the next 12 months, dropping to 68 percent among those who did not.
  • Seventy-eight percent of the most satisfied clients said their advisor had outlined the level of service they could expect in the next 12 months, dropping to 48 percent among dissatisfied clients

4 Things You Can Do Differently

When it comes to managing client expectations, Apple did a lot of things right and I think we can learn something from this simple experience. This example relates to managing around a potential service issue, however the lessons relate to how we manage client expectations more broadly. There were four specific things that made a real impact.

  1. Make a commitment. Apple drew a line in the sand and said they would call within two minutes. Managing expectations effectively means setting the parameters so everyone knows if the experience falls short or is better than expected. In our world this is the difference between saying “we’ll return a call within 2 hours” and saying ‘we’ll get back to you as soon as possible”. Trust me, we all have a different definition of ‘soon’.
  2. Tell them what you’re going to do and then exceed it. Once the parameters have been set, exceed them. If Apple had called within two minutes without telling me that they were going to do that, it would not have felt quite as extraordinary (and I probably wouldn’t be writing about it). And, if they had committed to two minutes and been just 60 seconds late, I would have been mildly disappointed, despite a quick turnaround.
  3. Describe the next experience, not the final outcome. For me, this is the most important point. Notice that Apple told me exactly what I would experience next – the phone would ring. They didn’t jump straight to the ultimate goal (which was to resolve my problem). This is genius. They created a series of small wins that they could actually control. Let’s face it, when I first called they didn’t know if (or how quickly) they could resolve the problem because they didn’t know what it was. Despite that, they made (and made good on) several smaller promises that they knew they could control either way.
  4. Stay in touch. Once you shift from the simple things, like response time, keep the client informed. Kyle came back on the line so I didn’t have to wonder if my call had been dropped. By the way, Apple also gave me a choice of the kind of music I wanted to listen to while on hold. Nice touch.

The Elements of an Effective Plan

Managing expectations is, of course, about more than response times – it relates to the broader relationship. When it comes to managing overall expectations well, I think there are three things we need to do:

  • Define it. Define exactly what a client can expect, ideally linked to client segment. At a minimum that definition should include frequency of contact, other communications (e.g. education), client appreciation and scope of offer.
  • Document it. I’m a big believer in using a written service agreement that maps out what a client can expect. (You can download a sample here.) It’s something that is created and reviewed at the outset of the relationship and then as part of the annual review so you can look back and ensure you have delivered on your promises.
  • Communicate it. Don’t assume that because you have told a client what he or she can expect on the day you met, that they’ll remember. Expectations love a vacuum and they will expand to fill the empty space created by lack of communication. Review your service agreement as part of an annual review to remind clients of what you have done and discuss any gaps

Create a Service Agreement

The reason I love a service agreement is because it goes beyond managing basic expectations. Written well (and reviewed regularly) it can help clients understand: exactly what you provide, their role in an effective relationship and everything that you do to ensure that you are the best possible advisor.

For example, you might include the following in a service agreement:

  • Set the stage. Let them know how important they are and why you feel it’s important to map out what they can expect. Articulate your commitment to your clients.
  • Plan or portfolio reviews. Let them know how often you will meet with them and how (e.g., face to face or telephone).
  • Define the services you provide. Use the opportunity of a service agreement to reinforce the full range of services that you provide.
  • Service standards. Define your commitment to core service issues, such as response time to calls or problem resolution.
  • Team. Reinforce the importance of your team and the individual roles they play in delivering on your commitment to the client.
  • Client Education. Let clients know if and how you will educate them to help them make better decisions.
  • Continuing education. Let clients know how you invest in yourself and your team to stay current on technical or other client issues.
  • Client input. Let clients know if and how you get feedback from your clients to ensure you are delivering what is expected.
  • Your expectations. A service agreement isn’t just about what clients can expect of you. Take the time to explain what you expect of them (e.g., attending meetings) in order to do the best possible work.

If you’re interested in downloading a sample agreement, click the link below. You’ll need to edit to reflect your business, but it’s a good place to start.

Sample Service Agreement

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