“I just made a big purchase: a car.  The caveat was that they had to find one with my selected options, so it was a drawn out experience.  And while I was very excited about the final product, the process was really stressful because I never knew what was going on or when things should or would happen.  I don’t think I got a single promised answer when I was told I would get it.”  — Nicole

Certain customer service cases are not simple and straightforward.  Rather, they take extended periods of time and, at times, multiple points of contact before being resolved.  These cases, even when brought to a satisfactory conclusion, are breeding grounds for customer dissatisfaction due to failure in one area: communication.

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Image by Dave Gray

While very few customers want to experience information overload, where the minutiae of every step is detailed for them, customers do expect to know what’s going on with the pursuit of resolution.  So why do we so often fail in the area of communication?  It is mostly due to the blurring of the fine line between being kept up to date and being forgotten.

The irony of the customer experience lies in the expectation that great service should be a given, while also not wanting to appear like a burden to the service point of contact.  Chris wants to know if he’s getting closer to removing x, y, z from his To Do List, but also doesn’t want to pester Larry to check the status of things.  Thus, customers like Chris often choose to forgo checking in with the company and quietly fester, wondering if truly nothing is happening or if their point of contact has forgotten their case and not been actively working towards a resolution.

So how do we prevent this from happening?  The easy answer is to communicate the status of things to our customers, but how often should we do so?  What’s too much or too little?  The easiest way to effectively keep customers apprised of developments is to set realistic expectations for action or further communication.  If we tell Kimberly that we should be able to resolve her refund by Friday – or touch base with her to let her know of any holdups to that process, Kimberly will not have to spend each weekday wondering if she should have received a refund by then.  She can wait patiently until Friday, knowing that the process will take a few days.  Then, with a calendared reminder to check the status of Kimberly’s case on Friday, we can proactively reach out regarding any delays (with a new delivery or check-in date) or confirm the successful resolution of her case.

Communicating a realistic next step or resolution timeline helps to manage customer expectations and this, in turn, helps to maintain customer satisfaction.  What do you do to effectively set customer expectations?  How do you keep your customers in the loop?  Where can you improve?