Tips on Managing Unrealistic Expectations in Customers

Published: 18th February 2011
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To your customer, the sales force represents the company. It is a customer's first point of contact with the company. That is why regular sales training and re-training is so important. Your sales executives' behaviour influences the satisfaction of your customers, just as much as the quality of your products or services does. This fact is as true of the pre-sales period as it is for the after-sales period

Each of your customers has certain expectations when purchasing your product These expectations were formed in the pre-sales period: through previous experience with the product or company, advertising or a recommendation. These expectations are then fulfilled to varying degrees:

The product is better than expected (positive surprise). The product is in accordance with the customer's expectations (confirmation). The product is worse than expected (negative surprise).

Positive surprises naturally have a particularly highly influential effect on customer satisfaction.

Every successful sales person must try to determine the prospect's expectations during the sales negotiation. If the sales person feels that the expectations are too high, she/he should try to adjust them so as to avoid negative surprises and dissatisfaction.

If, on the other hand, the sales person feels that the prospect's expectations are too low, she/he must try to emphasise the merits of the product, otherwise, you run the risk of the customer purchasing from the competition.

A common error seen in inexperienced sales people on sales training courses is when the client's expectations are too high. In these situations many sales people are tempted not to try and lower them (for fear of losing the order). This may well lead to increased turnover in the short term, but in the long term it destroys the customer's trust in the sales force and your company.

So, to ensure long-term customer satisfaction, it is critical that the sales force builds up realistic customer expectations during the pre-sales period.

The customer demands high standards of your presentation as well as of your product. On the one hand, your sales force can make its presentation very one-sided, drawing the customer's attention to the positive aspects of the product. On the other hand, your sales team can give an "honest" presentation, emphasising both the positive and negative aspects of the product.

The lasting effect a presentation has on the customer depends, in the first instance, on the arguments that the sales person chooses. Strong arguments are tangible and practical - sales people could cite technical data, performance figures, etc. Weak arguments, on the other hand, are difficult for the client to understand and are based on image and design. Strong arguments usually raise the client's expectations, weak arguments lower them.

If you have to convey as much information as possible about a new product, your sales force should decide on stressing the advantages and disadvantages. This recommendation only comes, however, with the proviso that the sales representative has really strong arguments in favour of the product. If your offer centers on a weak "me-too" product, a one-sided presentation is more promising!

Your client's commitment has a significant influence on his/her satisfaction. The more intensively a client has looked into a product before purchasing it, the more satisfied she/he will be later on. The reason for this lies in the client's psyche - if the product or offer had been extensively tested, she/he would have to admit that she/he had made a mistake if she/he was later dissatisfied. She/He will terefore perceive the positive aspects of your product and suppress any negative impressions (a phenomenon known as selective perception).

Whenever possible, the sales force should have to hand samples, or demonstration products which can be given to the client on a trial basis. Presentation videos and client seminars that help to initiate greater contact between the client and your product are also helpful.

By far the most usual cause of client satisfaction during the after-sales period is the handling of complaints. Numerous studies have shown that complaints offer the good salesperson an excellent opportunity to increase customer satisfaction. If a complaint is handled sensibly by your Sales Staff, the customer is highly satisfied and in most cases will stay with the company for a long time. This is why sales training should handle complaint handling techniques.


Richard Stone is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that runs management and sales training courses that improve business performance.

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