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Customer Service: Expectations vs. Reality

Customer Service Expectations vs Reality

It’s a familiar experience in the eCommerce industry; you get a horrible review for circumstances out of your control—or worse, you get a chargeback. Your customer leaves a negative review, talking about how their experience didn’t match their expectations and how it’s all your fault. Now, that negative review is out there for all to see. 

This is a retailer’s worst nightmare, and it’s something customer service teams are constantly working to avoid. 

As a brand good customer service is fundamental to your customer’s overall experience. Sometimes, though, your customer’s expectations of those services don’t match reality.

Here, we’ll talk about what causes this divide and how to manage (and meet) your customer’s expectations with the exemplary customer service best practices and internal processes.

Customer Expectations: The GAP

The customer experience is the overall perception your customers have of your brand. Your consumers build that perception over interactions with your company throughout their customer journey. This involves everything from initial awareness to the support services you offer after purchase.

The customer experience is also partially defined by their expectations of a brand and their level of satisfaction following their interaction with it.

Created by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1985, the “GAP Model” helps companies understand customer expectations and satisfaction. Specifically, it helps find where the customer experience (CX) can break down and cause a divide between expectations and reality.

The CX Gap

There are five categories to the GAP Model. Each type analyzes a specific “gap” between the customer and the company, where a flaw in the system might exist.


Knowledge gaps can come about from a lack of front-facing customer services. This leads to a misunderstanding of the voice of the customer (VoC). Your VoC helps you understand your customers’ needs—without it, a knowledge gap happens.

This generally occurs when the brand is unaware of what their customer expects and wants from their interactions with the brand. When a business is out of touch with its consumer base, it creates a gap between how it thinks its customers perceive them and how the customer perceives them. That’s why prioritizing customer-facing services, collecting and analyzing data from customer communications, and conducting surveys are essential for meeting your customer’s expectations.


Several factors can cause disruptions in the communication between a brand and its intended audience. And one of the most common is misleading marketing and advertising. 

When a company projects a false idea of their product through marketing, they communicate ineffectively with their customer base. This can damage a brand’s credibility and image not just in the short term but also in the long term.


Sometimes, customers can misunderstand a brand’s product and service purchases policies. If a brand’s team cannot successfully outline and communicate all its policies to its customers—or if it cannot clarify when questioned—this causes a divide.

Make sure your policies are written clearly and are somewhere easily accessible. 


Customers build up expectations and perceptions of your brand by interacting with your marketing campaigns, social media, and third-party reviews. But when they have a poor experience around a transaction, this can cause a gap between that perception and their lived experience.

This experience surrounding the transaction includes the customer service provided by a company. Your customers expect excellent service from your brand from the get-go. So, when a customer has a bad interaction with your customer service department, this creates a negative perception.


Finally, your company sets expectations regarding its product quality and its delivery. When it fails to meet these expectations or cannot justify them, it also damages the customer’s view of the brand. So, you need to ensure that your lead times are accurate and that your product arrives when you say it will.

How Customer Service Defines the Customer Experience

Customer service is just one defining touchpoint in the overall customer experience. Yet, it remains a significant touchpoint and can cloud the rest of the CX. 

Your customers expect good service every time they interact with your brand, from discovery to sales to follow-on support, and falling short in just one area can negatively impact their overall perception of your company.

Customer service is largely reactive—the customer has to initiate the interaction, after which point the customer service team takes action. This interaction often occurs when a gap exists between customers’ expectations and their reality, such as a poor product experience. The consumer then engages with your customer service team to try to fix the problem.

Your customer service team ideally responds promptly and directly, providing a solution to the consumer’s problem or escalating the issue to someone who can handle it. By efficiently managing the issue at hand, they create a positive experience for the consumer. This positive experience then encourages customer loyalty and retention.

On the other hand, if customer service fails to respond satisfactorily—if they fail to address the consumer’s issue or do not entirely resolve it—that creates a negative experience. And roughly half of the customers leave a brand after a single poor experience.

But this process doesn’t have to be completely reactive. Suppose you understand your customers’ expectations and proactively communicate with them regarding things that could impact those expectations. In that case, you can get out in front of customer service issues before they arise.

5 Ways to Create a Positive Customer Service Experience

You can improve the overall customer service experience by providing quality customer service so their expectations match their reality. Here are some ways to improve your customer service delivery and improve customer satisfaction.

1. Understand your customer & Fill the knowledge gap 

The simplest way to understand your customer is by interacting with them. Thankfully, there are more tools and means to engage with your buyers today than there were just ten years ago. You can do this with different tools like:

  • Surveys & NPS scores 
  • Exit surveys for bounced customers
  • Tools that record customer behaviors on your site
  • Reviews or having text and sentiment analytics
  • Ensuring your CS teams share customer data with all departments
  • Tracking and using call metrics

All of the above gives you insight into what customers actually do (vs what you THINK their behaviors or issues are). Once you know that, the next step is…

2. Fix problems before they’re an issue

Are people bouncing off your checkout page? Maybe your payment info requirements are too long, and no one has that kind of patience. To solve it, you can remove unnecessary steps to reduce cart abandonment. One study showed that the fewer form fields you require at checkout, the higher your conversion rates will be.

When you eliminate sales barriers and simplify them, you improve the customer experience drastically. Of course, incidents happen (especially with recent supply chain issues). So, you need to be on the ball if problems arise, which brings us to the next point.

3. Communicate about any issues immediately

The sooner you communicate—the better. Whether it’s delayed shipping, service outages, or other fulfilment issues, you want to be proactive and tell them first. Don’t let them come to you and complain about it after the fact. It would be best if you managed their expectations before they take to social media and announce their experience to the world. 

4. Train your CS team well 

Finally, you need to ensure your team is competent and can deliver on what you set out to do. If you’re promising to get the order in their hands in 3 days—your team needs to be doing their best to meet those lead times. 

And if they’re not, you need to find out why.

You need to ensure they know what customers want and how to deliver that. If they’re not meeting those customer expectations, it’s likely a more significant issue that you need to address with more training and team member development. 

5. Don’t forget the follow-up

Finally, a considerable gap that too many brands fail to consider is the follow-up. Don’t just deliver the product and forget about them. You need to go above and beyond to foster customer loyalty and build up your brand reputation. 

You can do this in tons of ways, like through:

  • Abandoned cart emails
  • Asking for referrals or reviews
  • Inviting them to a private group for early access to deals
  • Sending personalized thank you cards or messages
  • Other gestures of appreciation 

Take Zappos, the shoe company, as an example. One customer was looking to return pairs of shoes that the customer said didn’t work for her due to a recent medical treatment. That CS team accepted the return and decided to mail the customer a bouquet of flowers. Naturally, the gesture went viral around the world. 

Remember: You don’t want just to manage expectations; you want to exceed them.

Improving the CX for Happy Customers

Customer service is just one aspect of the entire customer experience, but it’s significant. The end goal of any eCommerce store is to create consistently positive interactions with every customer by understanding, meeting, and ideally exceeding their expectations.

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