Customers’ expectations and zone of tolerance
“Customer is King”. An adage that we have all heard time and again! It is no surprise that it is such an oft-used adage since customers are the ones who drive revenues at organisations by making the decision to purchase products or services. Businesses simply cannot continue to exist if they do not have enough customers!
Customers purchase and make buying decisions when they realise the need for a particular product or service. While purchasing, customers are aware of their own needs and requirements and have a very clear idea of the ideal service or product that they are looking for. Once a purchase is done, customers start weighing the time, money and effort put in for making the purchase, with the actual service or product received. It is important for customers to find value when they do this as it could affect subsequent buying decisions.
So, why do customers make purchases from specific service providers or sellers? The fact of the matter is that customers are attracted to the expectation and promise of a superior level of service or a premier product. In the case of service delivery, when customers enter the service process, they do so with preconceived views of what constitutes an acceptable, less than acceptable and more than acceptable level of service. These expectations are based upon the image that the service provider has, prior experiences of the customer, or secondary data sources. Once they sign up for the service, the overall service delivery of the service organisation is judged considering the results versus the expectation.
Let us look at an example here. Before travelling to a new place, when we book a room at a hotel, the basic service that we expect is that the room is ready by the time we reach the hotel and will be neat and clean. Any delay in the allotment of the room even after pre-booking or the cleanliness of the room not meeting our expected standards will no doubt cause a great deal of consternation!
If companies fall short of the expectations that customers have or if the provided service does not lie within the “zone of tolerance”, it will inexorably lead to a negative experience and frustration for the customer. The fallout could be decreased customer loyalty and a decision to move to competitors for better experiences. On the other hand, a service level above the zone of tolerance, leads to customer delight.
So, what is this “zone of tolerance”?
It is a term that is most specifically used in service marketing. Simply put, the zone of tolerance is the gap between two levels of customer expectations – the desired service and adequate service. Adequate service is the minimum criteria that a customer expects from the service received. Desired service is the level of service that can and should be provided and points to the ideal service level that a customer expects. It is, of course, at a level higher than the adequate service.
Primarily, the zone of tolerance provides a range within which customers are willing to accept any variations in the delivery of service. The zone of tolerance varies from customer to customer. It is quite interesting to note that the zone of tolerance can vary based on customers’ involvement in the purchase of the service, lifestyle, profession and even mental condition.
Consider this – at a restaurant, while waiting for food to be delivered a customer might have a higher zone of tolerance at the beginning of the day. This might change at the end of the day when the customer is stressed and tired after a long day’s work.
If the customer expectations are not meeting the zone of tolerance levels, then it could be a time for a relook at the service design. Superlative service design does not just help with providing a great service. It helps organisations become more customer-oriented and in turn, enhance their own business.
Companies need to step up their game and take suitable remedial measures if they find that customer satisfaction levels are low at their organisation. According to Forbes, 83 per cent of companies face moderate to severe revenue and market share risks due to unimproved customer experience. There is no doubt that in order to thrive in today’s uncertain and competitive business environment, organisations need to try their utmost to exceed the zone of tolerance and deliver superior customer value.
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