First, I must attribute the idea for the blog to Doug Fowler, our COO. After one particular frustrating service call with a software provider, he came into my office and said “Let’s look for another vendor. It is just too difficult to deal with this company!”His frustration got me thinking about how customer expectations are always changing.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was when their help desk representative gave him a link to an online troubleshooting article and told him the solution would be in there.  “I shouldn’t have to do that,” said Doug,  His perception was that the provider had shifted the burden of solving the problem onto him.

I don’t think Doug’s reaction is solely a product of his type-A personality. Ten or fifteen years ago, most customers, even demanding ones, would have followed the support person’s instructions and read the article without much complaint. So, are customers’ service expectations changing? I think so in both the B-to-C and in the B-to-B markets, where we work.  Why and how have they changed?

Customers want it easy:

We work with several manufacturers that offer an online portal for ordering parts through their dealer network. The portals typically receive low ratings regarding ease of use, a result that is validated by customer comments. As a result, many customers have returned to the “old-fashioned” way of placing parts orders—by phone or email. When asked, customers say it is easier than using the online system.  If the customer is accustomed to visiting the W.W. Grainger site or another B-to-B site to order things, expectations for ease-of-use are set by these experiences. Even Amazon is getting into the B-to-B market with its Amazon Business service.  Expect the expectations bar to get even higher.

Customers also want it fast:

We have become accustomed to the quick delivery service from Amazon. That is helping to change expectations in the B-to-B world as well.  Especially when it comes to delivering parts, they want it more quickly because if the customer was inventorying parts, they are doing less of it now than in the past.  If they don’t inventory parts, it is even more critical because a piece of critical equipment may be down, thus resulting in a project delay (remember, customers are not keeping extra pieces of equipment in case of a breakdown).

Customers want to feel that someone cares:

Though I did not ask him at the time, I expect Doug felt the help desk representative did not much care if his problem was solved or not.  After all, he did his job by pointing the customer to the current manual. I contrast this with a recent experience I was having with our internet provider (yes, an internet provider). I was setting up a network extender for which they technically had no responsibility to help me. However, the tech stayed on the call until the extender was set up and working as promised.

Are customer expectations changing? Yes. And customers are willing to switch if their expectations aren’t met. According to an Accenture study, “…[A]bout half of the customers who encountered a poor service experience shifted a portion of their spend from existing to new providers.” [i]

The bar is clearly getting higher. Expectations are changing.  Is your company ready to handle this changed environment?

[i] “Customer 2020: Are You Future-Ready or Reliving the Past,” AccentureStrategy, 2014.

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