Setting and meeting customer expectations is crucial, particularly when it comes to promotions.

The trick with customer service is setting up your customers’ expectations correctly. It’s even more important than your actual customer service. You have to be able to meet those expectations of course, because if you can’t meet them, then you’ve instantly got a dissatisfied customer on your hands.

There are many instances of companies providing extremely low levels of customer service and having tons of satisfied customers because those companies still meet their customers’ very low expectations. On the other hand there are loads of examples of companies with great customer service who have a lot of dissatisfied customers because they haven’t met their customers’ very high expectations. It’s true: you’ve probably been to McDonald’s and been really satisfied with your burger and chips, but then also had a disappointing experience with a five-star meal you paid big bucks for? Different expectations.

Customer satisfaction can be thought of as the difference between what your customer got and what they expected. Makes sense right? So you need to make sure you think about setting expectations up front. Now I’m not saying you put a big list together of what you will and won’t be doing in front of customers, but I am saying you need to think about what you are offering and make sure you’re explaining yourself properly.

When we run promotions, it’s tempting to keep it simple i.e. free shipping. Everyone loves free shipping, it’s a great promo: it’s simple and easy to understand, and everyone hates paying for shipping. But what if you’re only offering free shipping within the US, but not internationally? Well, then you need to say so up front. Even better, if it’s a promotion you are running over email, don’t email international customers at all; restrict that email to just customers in the US.

I recently had an interesting exchange with a US-based retailer that sells internationally offering free shipping. I’m a customer; they have my details. I’m in Australia but was looking at buying a gift to be shipped to the UK. I’d left the gift in the cart, un-purchased, because the shipping cost was outrageously high (and I’m from Australia, so I know a thing or two about outrageously high shipping costs).  A day later I get an email saying “Free Shipping for orders over $49”. Great! The timing was good, and the offer was spot on. I clicked through and went to complete my purchase. Only the shipping cost was still there. I searched the site, found nothing, went back to the email, checked the promo code, tried it again (it still didn’t work), checked the email again and found nothing about restrictions. So I emailed them.

“Your email says free shipping but your checkout keeps trying to charge me. How do I get free shipping?”

They emailed back within the hour–impressive.

“Is the order over $49?”

I email back, but by this time I’ve guessed it’s a problem with international shipping.

“Yes but international.”

They reply two hours later, but because we are in different time zones I’m still impressed.

“Unfortunately, the sale is for US deliveries only.  Shipping overseas is extremely costly for us to offer free shipping at any level.”

Now I’m dissatisfied. They sent me an email, they offered me free shipping, and now they are telling me I can’t have it as it’s too costly? I know it’s too costly, that’s why I didn’t purchase the gift in the first place! As a customer I am unhappy with this response: it’s a straight out no with a reason that is ridiculous. They already know shipping costs make people unhappy, that’s why they run special offers to do it for free! Plus they’ve done nothing to say sorry, and offered nothing else in return. Just straight out bad luck.

So I emailed them back

“I know it’s expensive, that’s why I was excited about your offer. Perhaps don’t offer free shipping without saying it’s just in the US.”

No reply.

It’s the no reply that’s actually unforgivable. I get that companies make mistakes; I get that companies don’t want to lose money. But this company made a couple of really big mistakes, so now I’m no longer a customer.
1)    They set me up to have an expectation they couldn’t meet.
2)    When they didn’t meet that expectation they didn’t care.

They could still have saved me as a customer at this point… “Unfortunately the free shipping offer is only for shipments within the US. I can offer you a discount code though, please use XXXX at checkout.”

This response would have been easy and obvious, and potentially even save them a customer. But at the end of the day, even this sort of damage control is unnecessary, if only they had simply set my expectations right at the beginning.