You may recall a few weeks just before Steve Jobs passed on, Apple stock dropped a good few percentage points.
It wasn’t because of Steve’s death that brought the valuation down (it was factored into the stock market years ago when he first began to get sick), it was because the market expected something and then didn’t get it.
Each year Apple holds a conference. Every event is exciting because of new product announcements, usually revealed during the CEO presentation, which before his death, was always handled by Steve.
The speculation this time around was the expectation of the announcement of the iPhone 5. Unfortunately for Apple’s stock, instead of the iPhone 5, they received the iPhone 4s, an upgrade to the phone already on the market. The industry was less than impressed with this and thus stock was sold.
Only Apple insiders will know how much Steve’s pending passing impacted what announcements they made at that particular conference. Maybe they didn’t want to release a big announcement like a completely new iPhone knowing that Steve was going to die soon. Then again, knowing when someone is going to die is not easy to plan for in your schedule.
Whatever the case, the market expected something and got something else. Disappointment was the result.
Managing Expectations When Blogging
I remember one of the very first pieces of advice I gave to bloggers when I first started my blog tips newsletter. I was often asked –
How many blog posts should I write each week?
My typical response was as many as you can, aiming for one per weekday during the start-up phase of your blog. To be truthful, I don’t think it is possible to provide too much good content. The restrictions usually come from people’s abilities to keep producing. The challenge is figuring out what you can maintain and whether that will be enough to make your blog a success.
The key point I passed on was to manage the expectations of your readers. Humans are very much pattern based. We form habits easily and don’t like disruptions to what we become used to.
If readers learn from you that you will publish something new every day, they will visit every day looking for what is new. If you publish every day then start doing it once a week, inevitably disappointment will be the result. It’s important to find a balance and then stick to it.
Early in my blogging I stuck to one article a day and I had no problems doing so because I had so much to write from all my previous experiences, and the time to write it. As my blogging matured I slowed down my writing schedule, publishing three articles a week on average. Eventually I dropped down to one per week.
When I transitioned I did it slowly. I didn’t publish five articles in one week, then only one the week after. I slowly adjusted so not to make any “bumps” in the road disrupting my passengers.
While blog post frequency is important, it’s not nearly as critical as managing expectations when it comes to product delivery. Let’s take a look at how expectations matter in this area of online business…
Managing Expectations In Product Delivery
When people are paying you money for something and they don’t get what they expect, that’s when they reach for the refund button.
Gideon Shalwick and I were talking about one of his recent product launches. He mentioned that despite making it very clear that this particular product was going to be released sequentially and you would not get access to everything up front, some people bought expecting everything immediately, and consequently sent him emails asking where the rest of the content was.
Gideon and I both use and teach a system of sequential content delivery (usually in an online course model) because it allows you to get to launch quicker. You don’t need to have the entire product ready to go from opening day, you only need the first lot of content. From there you stay one step ahead of your members, creating the next module or lesson the week before they are due to receive it.
I use this exact method for all my programs and it works well. Gideon also uses this method with great success.
So what went wrong this time? Communication wasn’t quite clear enough. Despite telling people that it was a course delivered over a period of time, a few people still expected to have the entire course available to them from day one, rather than receive it sequentially.
This highlights the key challenge with managing expectations. You may think you are clearly outlining what to expect, including clear descriptions of what is going to happen and how things will be delivered, yet it won’t necessarily be enough. Some people will make assumptions and not read your explanations, and then be disappointed when they don’t get what they expect.
So what can you do to minimize the chance of mis-communication and manage the expectations of your customers? Read on and find out…
The Challenge Of Preconceptions
The challenge when managing expectations comes down to two variables –
To make things especially challenging, each person has different preconceptions based on their unique experiences. If they took an online course and paid a certain price to receive certain information, they are very much using that experience as a benchmark for what they expect from you if they buy your course.
To make things worse, we aren’t even necessarily comparing apples to apples. Someone may become your customer with their benchmark for preconceptions coming from what they studied at university or college in the offline world. In this case they are comparing offline academic training to your online course. Hardly an adequate comparison, but unfortunately impossible for you to control.
Everything including price, format, content, style, length, level of difficulty, to even simple things like what font is used on your webpages, comes with baggage. What people expect is based on what has come before.
The difference between what they expect and what you deliver will determine your level of attrition, and whether what you put out there gains traction and succeeds or disappoints and flops. Success really comes down to understanding what people want and making sure they get it exactly how they expect to get it.
Using Expectations To Your Advantage
Expectation management isn’t just about you avoiding damaging errors, it also represents a fantastic opportunity. The most successful products, blogs and even businesses succeed because they exceed expectations in unexpected ways.
If “normal” is standard and you deliver something so much better than normal, you win. Taking Apple as an example again, one of the reasons they have done so well is their operating system is so much more reliable than the main operating system that people use – Windows.
Windows, while a capable operating system, has many issues that people have come to accept as normal. The fact that the “blue screen of death” was so common in earlier Windows versions that it became a running joke, demonstrates how much people’s expectations had dropped, to the point where consistent errors were considered normal. This was certainly not desirable, but accepted enough that people continued to use the operating system even with the obvious flaws.
Enter Apple OS.
Apple’s operating system had some obvious improvements. It was simpler and it was “cooler”, but I suspect the main reason people were so impressed was because it worked without the errors that Windows had. No blue screen of death. No viruses or need for virus protection and no regular frozen screens. These things were considered “normal” for computers running Windows, so when something came along that lifted the standard to just “error free” that’s already a vast improvement, exceeding expectations.
I noticed something similar to this when it came to providing customer service in my businesses. Thanks to the proliferation of online companies that are so big and so reliant on using FAQs as customer service, simply having someone respond to an email is better than normal.
Ever tried to contact Paypal or Google via email? Yeah, not an easy thing to do. You tend to get the runaround, redirections to help pages or bulletin boards that no one on staff ever responds to.
I understood that when dealing with customers, people love having an email they can send to get help from. They also love it when the email they send is replied to (go figure!). What is interesting is that the email reply doesn’t need to necessarily solve their problem, it just needs to be some kind of acknowledgement. Someone saying we know you exist and have this problem and we are going to help you.
That’s why for all my products I’ve used a simple email address as the main method of support. By doing something you think should be “normal” – responding to emails, my customer service stood out.
So How Can You Apply These Lessons?
There’s a lot you can immediately apply to your business from the ideas presented in this article. Here in my opinion are the most important applications:
- Expectations are based on what has come before. Because of this it is important you have an awareness of what is accepted practice in your industry and how you can do better. Review how people currently solve the problem your business solves, and find a better or unique way to do it. Sometimes just being more reliable or simpler than what is currently accepted, even if the outcome is the same, can be enough.
- Don’t assume everyone knows what is going to happen next. Managing expectations is about saying what the customer will experience after they buy from you, or what people will receive when they join your newsletter, or pretty much any variable where you present something and invite people to participate. Review how you describe what people will receive and ask yourself if you have done a good enough job explaining what is going to happen next.
- When feedback starts coming in from your audience/members/customers, it probably points to a difference between what you said was going to be delivered, how that was interpreted, and then what was delivered. This kind of feedback is incredibly valuable because it challenges your assumptions and spots your weaknesses. Don’t ignore it, but also be careful not to assume one piece of feedback represents the majority. You can never be certain, so collect enough data before making any changes.
- If you are looking for new industries to break into, look for markets where the current businesses, either due to laziness, or a lack of competition, or bureaucracy, have set standards that can easily be improved.
Richard Branson is fantastic at doing this. He finds markets where expectations are kept low because all the current options do things the same (inferior) way. Virgin enters the market with a more valuable/better/more exciting option to stir things up, and often in a short period of time is a market leader or significant player. Don’t be afraid to highlight your strengths by pointing out the competitions weaknesses. This works for politicians all the time.
- Your goal as an entrepreneur is to identify a need, present an offer using the language your target market uses, make sure the offer is delivered how people expect it to be, and then go to work finding more customers. It’s important to manage the offer and deliverability of that offer, otherwise any marketing you do is wasted.
Do this wrong and it’s like spending money to buy traffic consisting of people who want to buy a new motorcycle, when you sell new scooters. The difference may be considered subtle, but I doubt a person wanting a new motorcycle will be happy when a scooter turns up.
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Don’t Over-Manage Expectations
Despite all this emphasis on managing expectations, it’s important to be relaxed about the process. We are dealing with the greatest variable ever – human beings – so if you are seeking a perfect understanding of what people expect, you will forever be frustrated.
Needs change. Markets evolve. People wake up in the morning wanting something different from the night before. If you attempt to anticipate all of this you will drive yourself crazy.
All you need to do is know enough and explain enough to keep customers happy, or keep your email list or blog growing, or meet whatever goal you have. There is always room for improvement, so know what is “enough” for your own needs.
In other words, manage your own expectations before you begin managing those of others.