Business Basics Beyond Basics dba Florida Try It Resources


June 25, 2018

Small Business Advice:

Create positive, realistic expectations with customers

Jerry Osteryoung | 10/5/2012

"Nothing sets a person up more than having something turn out just the way it's supposed to be, like falling into a Swiss snowdrift and seeing a big dog come up with a little cask of brandy round its neck." ~ Claud Cockburn

It is so important that you do not create the wrong expectations for your customers. Customers rely on what you tell them, and they hear what you say, not necessarily what you mean, which can sometimes be very different.

So often I hear salespeople tell their customers at parting to let them know if they have any problems with the product. Clearly, their intent is to reassure the customer that they will stand behind them and resolve any issues, but suggesting there is a possibility of problems inadvertently creates the expectation that there will be.

Rather than saying, “If there is a problem, please let us know,” you might say, “I know you are going to enjoy this product.” Notice how the former statement creates doubt, where the second creates the expectation that the customer is going to enjoy the product. Focusing on the positive is so important.

For another example, salespeople often tell their customers that they can expect to receive their product in seven to 10 days. Here, they mean to give the customer hope that they will receive their product sooner, but unfortunately, customers only hear the seven and will frequently get upset when it does not arrive until day nine.

Of course, getting a product or service is a positive thing, but getting it later than expected frustrates the customer. For this reason, it is so important that you always give the customer the outside date so that you meet – maybe even exceed – expectations rather than fail to live up to them.

I am thinking of getting some work done on my house and brought in a designer/builder to develop a project plan and then do the work. He did a reasonable job with the project plan, but when I asked him when he could start, he said he is booked for the next month. If I gave him a 40 percent deposit, however, I would be on the list to have work done sometime after 30 days, as he was booked for the next month. The trouble with that was that I had no idea when I could expect to have the work completed.

It would have been much better for him to say, “I am booked for the next month, but will have your work done no later than two months from today’s date.” This statement lays out an expectation that can easily be attained. It would give the designer/builder plenty of time to get the work done and it would have given me some certainty as to when the job would start.

Now go out and make sure that your staff is always creating expectations that can be met. Just pay attention to what your staff is telling your customers and ensure that the right expectation is being communicated.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

Tags: Florida Small Business

Florida Business News

Ballot Box

Should Florida collect sales tax from all online retailers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure, need to understand issue better

See Results