“Our goal is to meet and exceed customer expectations.” This statement has become a common refrain for businesses building customer loyalty through exemplary customer service. Although many aspire to this noble goal, achieving it is virtually impossible without first discussing, documenting, and understanding what those expectations are. A goal cannot be achieved unless it is first quantified, otherwise how will you know whether or not you achieved it?
If you are a wholesale lender you count brokers and correspondent lenders as your customer base. If you are a broker, you count Realtors, financial planners and borrowers as your customers. Customer service levels are measured on perceived values. As we all know, fact does not matter, perception does. Setting proper expectations is one thing but even more critical is doing so mutually. This key step in the expectation formula is all too often missed. A business relationship, strategic alliance, partnership, whatever you want to call it, is a two-way street. It is a communication between two parties, ostensibly for the mutual benefit of both. Setting expectations should never be a one-way street, but that is how many travel this road.
If you consider your business to be relationship-based, as opposed to transaction-based, identifying and discussing expectations is your job. No one else will do it and why should they? This is your business. As the “president” of your business, it is incumbent upon you to know the baseline against which your customer will measure your service and the value you bring to their business. The bottom line is, if you don’t do this, it will not get done. If this step is ignored, there is no way expectations will be met, because you will not know what they are. Non-quantifiable criteria remain non-quantifiable and therefore a candidate for subjective customer review. This ‘review’ can often result in a failing grade.
In addition, since this is your business, you must realize that it is you who must take the initiative to address this issue with your customer, not the other way around. Unfortunately, self-fulfilling prophecies often become a major stumbling block. If you are uncertain or even remotely hesitant about entering into a mutual discussion about expectations, it will show in your body language and verbal communication skills. Some even go as far as saying they would not be comfortable in having this conversation with their customers, for fear of the negative issues that may arise. If this is your current perception and attitude, it is time to start rethinking it. The upside potential far outweighs the downside risk. Have you considered how impressed your customer might be about your sincere desire to strengthen your working relationship? Have you considered the potential of your customer telling his or her peers about your desire to move your working relationship to a higher level resulting in more success for you both? Identifying and discussing expectations is your job. .
It is never too soon to start discussing expectations. Not discussing expectations or worse yet, doing so after it’s too late, is not the most efficient method of communication. It is critical that expectations be identified in any business relationship as early as possible. If you have established business relationships already, you may not be comfortable in going back to your customer for a “heart to heart.” Get over it. If this is an exercise you have never before contemplated, let alone completed, identify your top ten customers and approach this challenge on an incremental basis. Set a goal. Do three a month for the next three months.
How to Generate Reciprocation
Expectations go both ways. “This is what you can expect of me, and this is what I expect of you.” If expectations are ever discussed, it is too often a one-sided conversation. It never should be. If building a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship is your goal, then mutually sharing expectations is key. Go ahead, put the cards on the table. Be open and honest with each other. Pre-position permission to address difficult issues up front. When they do come up it will be easier to bring them to the table because you have already established that expectation. We all know the value of reciprocation (“you give me a lead and I’ll send you more business”). The value of ‘reciprocate’ also holds true in setting and quantifying expectations. It is also imperative to identify how you will quantify and measure expectations.
How to Begin
- Set an appointment with your “customer”—this could be a Realtor if you are an originator, a broker if you’re a wholesale lender, and so on. Tell them up front that you are moving your business to the next level of professional value and service and would like a few minutes of their time to mutually discuss strengthening your existing relationship.
- Do not blind-side your customers. Give them ample opportunity to think about your meeting. You may even say, “I’d like to commit to three things I can do to help your business be more successful and if you are willing, I’d like you to reciprocate and commit to three things you can do at your end to help me be more successful. I’m committed to the success of this business relationship and I want it to grow—and it won’t unless we work on it together.”
- Don’t belabor the issue. Get in and get out. Make the focus of your meeting forward not the past. If you achieved nothing more than identify five critical issues that seem to be stumbling blocks or obstacles to your business you have succeeded. Building relationships is about opening up channels of communications, not shutting them down.
Stepping to the plate and mutually discussing specific expectations, how they will be achieved and measured are the actions that will earn trust and lead to successful partnerships for lenders and brokers, originators and customers or Realtors—or any other “team” you may be a part of.
By Bill Evans