Identifying customer needs and expectations

How To Identify Customer Needs and Expectations

29th July 2020, 2:02pm in Business by Eva Malpass

Whether you are releasing a new product or maintaining an existing brand; assessing your customer needs and expectations is key to achieving long-lasting loyalty and success. We've all heard brands say 'we put the customer first' but how often are they actually doing this? And how do you ensure that your brand really does prioritise your customers?

Hubspot have done the research and found that a whopping 42% of businesses don't actively listen to customers, haven't conducted surveys, some don't even collect customer feedback! We think this is a missed opportunity, getting customer feedback will give you the competitive edge in the market place and enable you to know exactly what your customers want to buy and when.

If a business fails to understand their customers how can they know what consumers want to spend their money on?!

What is the difference between customer needs and expectations?

Customer needs and expectations

There's often some overlap between 'customer expectations' and 'customer needs', if left ill-defined by businesses, they may get the wrong idea of what they are looking for.

Customer expectations

These expectations are simply what the shopper expects to experience in regards to services or business interactions. This does not, however, mean that this expectation is what the individual would ideally want.

For example, if someone was to approach a staff member inside a local library, they would expect to be spoken to in a hushed, low voice. The visitor may not want to speak in this tone, but it is to be expected.

If you are running a luxury goods store then your customers will likely expect to pay a higher price than if purchasing from a budget goods store. Equally your customers will expect a higher level of attention to detail, perhaps with bespoke packaging, personalised after care etc.

Customer needs

These needs are often what the shopper is looking for to solve a certain problem or simply what they desire.

Sometimes the consumer may have an idea of what they want but may reach out to you for advice. This is a great opportunity for you to identify the customers 'needs', not just their 'wants', so you can best advise them and get that sale! Explore what the customer is looking for, ask them questions like:

  • What are you planning on using the product for? Every day use, special occasion, a gift etc...
  • What are your expectations?Organic materials, high end specification etc...
  • What would the 'perfect' solution look like to you?
  • What is your budget?

Studies have shown that 76% of UK customer service professionals agree that shoppers are much more informed today about products and services before they buy. The age and convenience of the internet means that shoppers can research This can make managing customer expectations harder as the choice and convenience of the internet they are of a much higher standard today and marketing becomes difficult.

So businesses of all sizes need to be putting in the work to make sure their products and services are matching customers' basic needs and expectations. Pricing is often a big factor in this, so learning how to price a product to match consumer expectations and support customer loyalty is key. But how you may ask, how do you identify all of the other factors and start moving toward improving?

When shopping online, a customers' expectation of a brand are of a higher standard as the information they require to get what they need is usually at the click of a button. Often shoppers need to see brands posting social proof, product information, regular discounts and product photographs to decide whether your products are what they need. Let's look at these in a bit more depth...

  • Social proof - online shoppers expect and need customer feedback, social media promotions and general proof that your products/services are worth purchasing
  • Product info - online shoppers will always need product information before buying, this info can also be useful when managing expectations to pitch products as items that match their needs
  • Discounts - in this day and age discounts are everywhere, customers expect and need these to warm to new brands
  • Product photographs - shopping online requires visual aids as products cannot be physically inspected, so product pictures that are enticing are key!

Businesses need to be providing most of these elements to match what individuals are expecting and looking for. Often brands have trouble improving services or products because they aren't sure what their clinets are liking and disliking - so how can that problem be solved? By listening!

How can I start listening to customers?

Listening to customers

Communicating directly with shoppers and asking questions about their customer experience with your business, is an effective way to manage expectations. By doing this you can start learning how you can improve your brand by meeting their needs, (and selling more we hope!)

The best way to do this is to open up listening channels that allow your customer's to communicate with you. Let's have a look at a few ways you can start doing this -

Have a chat

Chatbots and live chat agent features have become more and more popular with eCommerce websites. And this is simply due to the real-time convenience of it, allowing consumers quick and easy answers to questions.

You shouldn't underestimate how happy a fast reply can make someone! So by using this communication channel to collect customer experience data, you can also ask for a quick review (which is sure to be positive!)

At Interparcel, we listened to our customer's and added our live chat feature as we understand the sometimes urgent nature of parcel delivery. Our Parcel Experts are now on hand from 8 am - 8 pm Monday to Friday to instantly answer any of our customer's queries!


This may seem a little time consuming, but consumer expectations surveys can be a great way to collect qualitative customer feedback about products and services. Shoppers may be a little reluctant to fill out a lengthy survey initially, but if you offer them a discount or free shipping in return it's a win-win situation!

Make your questions concise and easy to answer, like these:

  • Out of 5 how well would you rate our service?
  • Are there any improvements to our products or services that you would like to suggest?
  • Would you buy from this brand again? If no, why?

You might not need hundreds of participants to answer your survey, as long as you have a decent amount of answers you can see if there's a pattern of likes and dislikes to assess what you should improve on.

Social media

If you're a small business just starting out, there's no shame in directly asking for opinions of your brand. Striking up conversations via social media can be a great way to gauge customer expectations and discover ways to improve your brand.

Incentivise followers to get involved by asking for feedback in return for a discount code - this way you are gaining valuable customer needs and expectation examples so you can improve, whilst your followers purchase for slightly less!

By communicating with consumers directly, you're also working towards a brand persona that cares about their clients thoughts, and activley uses this in your descision-making process to deliver results and manage customer expectations.

Focus groups

This needn't be a group of strangers that you've gathered together to grill about your business. If you're a new brand, start by inviting a group of friends or recent buyers to a quick Zoom call or face-to-face meeting, to ask them about their experience.

Make this a lighthearted discussion about the ins and outs of their customer service expectations and how these were met (or not met) when they purchased from you. From their answers, make a customer service expectations list to go back to whenever you're unsure of what to remember!

Use this opportunity of constructive criticism to shape your strategy for future eCommerce improvements - we know sometimes it's hard to take criticism but in the long run you'll be better off!

Exceeding customer expectations

Exceed customer expectations

Trying hard to meet customer expectations can often seem like a difficult, but worthwhile process - remember that while it's a great idea to try to exceed expectations, they are not reflections of what the consumer actually needs, they are simply what they expect to encounter. So set a goal to 'meet' expectations not necessarily 'exceed' them... at least to start with!

Shoppers can be tricky to figure out, in one BBC study they found that after rude hotel staff had aired on a program, they received 20% more bookings! Managing client expectations can be hard, so all you can really do is provide the best service possible! What's that they say about 'There's no such thing as bad publicity?!'

In general though you would do well to try and make sure you're providing quality above all; ensuring you have quality products and services is the first step to becoming a stand-out business. Try doing that little bit extra:

  • Including a hand-written thank- you note with each order
  • Take note of shoppers' birthdays when they sign up to your email list (then offer then a discount on the day!)
  • Create giveaways to get customers excited about products and trying new things
  • Create a unique packaging experience that will wow
  • Make sure you're offering a range of shipping options to suit all their needs

At Interparcel we listened to our customer's needs and created our Shipping Manager to ensure our services exceeded expectations and over-delivered on great customer service(pardon the pun). Our cheap, reliable, and easy to use services have helped many small businesses offer great shipping solutions that keep their clients happy! Integrating with all major marketplaces, you can be reassured that we'll be able to help your business deliver well.

If you would like to hear more about how Interparcel can help your business exceed customer expectations and meet any and all of their needs, remember you can contact us via email, telephone, or live chat from 8 am - 8 pm Monday to Friday and at weekends too 9-1pm!

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