Recently one of my business partners got an email from the yoga studio she’s been patronizing for three years. This place isn’t cheap and she has spent over $2,000 on classes. So when she saw an email from them saying “Happy Anniversary,” she excitedly opened it, expecting something like a $100 gift certificate, a discount on her next year’s membership, or at the very least a free class.

What did she get? Nothing but a message saying “Happy Anniversary! As our client you are very important to us and we greatly value your business. We truly hope that you have enjoyed your experiences at [business name] and will continue to in the future.” “I would have even been happy with a free water bottle,” says my partner, who describes her feelings as going from shock to disbelief to disgust.

In other words, an email that was supposed to make my partner feel better about this business had the exact opposite effect—and I don’t blame her. After all, when we sign up to get emails from a business, we’ve grown to expect that we’ll get something out of the relationship—coupon codes, discounts or special offers that are available to no one else. If you tell a restaurant your birthday, you usually get a free meal or appetizer—not simply an email saying “Have a great birthday!”

Customers have developed certain expectations, and if your business isn’t living up to them, you could be hurting your reputation, your brand and your sales. Expectations aren’t only based on what you deliver—they’re based on what other companies deliver.

How can you make sure your business is living up to expectations? Here are some steps.

  • Watch your competitors. What are other businesses in your industry doing—both big and small? If you sell pizza and everyone else is guaranteeing 30-minute delivery time, that becomes the customer expectation and you’d better meet it. Do your competitors offer free shipping? Are they open on Sundays? Do kids eat free? You get the idea.
  • Think like a customer. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. When you buy products or services, what do you expect? Learn from unpleasant experiences when your own expectations aren’t met, and make sure the same type of thing isn’t happening in your business.
  • Survey your customers. You can use online tools like SurveyMonkey, informal polls through Twitter and Facebook, or email customers to ask their opinions. Develop systems to regularly gather feedback during and after the sales process, whether that’s comment cards at checkout or when your restaurant check is delivered, or survey forms delivered with invoices.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open. Observing your customers—both in the real world in your store or office, and online on social media—is one of the best ways to know whether they’re happy or not (often, they won’t tell you to your face). Check your reviews on rating sites like Yelp! and set Google Alerts on your business name so you know what’s being said about you on social media. That way, you can nip problems in the bud—and make sure you keep meeting expectations.

About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and

CEO, GrowBiz Media
Customer Expectations