Why do customers' expectations change, how do they change, what causes the changes, how can we find out about those changes? These are important questions, which can be answered by organisations only if the people within them observe what customers expect and want.
If they are not answered, then it will be impossible for organisations to define quality or implement a management system designed to ensure that quality.
How do customers' expectations change?
We have suggested that customers’ expectations do not remain static for very long. They are constantly changing. Not only do they change but also they increase over time. For example, customers generally are unlikely to ask a company to reintroduce a product that was withdrawn from the market 15 or more years ago — people are unlikely to want to go back to using computers for which they used an audio cassette to store data and the television as a monitor, for instance.
Customers' expectations change and increase — customers demand more from products over time, not less. Why should this be so? Why are people not satisfied to be offered the same things they once were? Generally, this is because in all walks of life we are led to believe that improvement is not only possible but also desirable.
When organisations set themselves targets, they usually set targets higher than the ones they set the year before. The same targets would not be considered challenging or acceptable; their employees are expected to achieve more than they did the year before.
We live in an environment where this is normal. Similarly, customers expect things to improve. They expect their products to do more than they did before, and they expect more and more choice.
Organisations may feel that they are constantly having to respond to these increased expectations, but they are actually a part of the reason that the expectations are increasing. As soon as organisations improve a product, their customers become accustomed to the improvement and expect it to be standard. They then start to expect further changes and improvements; so their expectations rise again, and the organisations respond again.
If no organisation responded, customers would have to put up with what was available or do without. However, this is unlikely to happen. In the commercial world, organisations are constantly trying to find ways to add value. If they can see a chance to do so ahead of other organisations, they are likely to take this chance.
Other organisations will follow, and the stakes will have risen for everyone. It may be in the organisations' best interests to agree with others that they will make no changes; but this is very unlikely to happen, as all organisations want to gain customers, usually at the expense of others, and taken too far this type of collusion would result in a cartel, which is unacceptable in most economies.
In the public and not-for-profit sectors the situation is different, but customers do have constantly rising expectations. They may accept a difference between what the private and public sectors provide, but their expectations may be influenced by what is happening in the private sector.
People expect computerised appointment and tax collection systems, helpful staff and detailed information from teachers, social workers and other public officials. Increased choice and competition within the public sector means it cannot afford to lag behind what the private sector provides.
All organisations need to know how their customers' expectations are changing. What causes the change in expectations? We have already said that a general desire that things should get better drives people to expect more. Quite often people find it difficult to say exactly what else they expect from a product, but they are sure something is possible.
For example, it is unlikely that drivers specifically asked for airbags in their cars. They expressed the desire for improvement as a desire for increased safety, particularly in the event of an accident. Manufacturers responded to this by developing airbags, along with other changes, such as stronger bodywork, and so on.
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