How to Manage Unrealistic Customer Expectations

By Deeksha Dadu

Ask any customer service representative about challenging calls, and they’ll have much to share. Chances are at least one example will be about dealing with a customer’s unreasonable demands. The first instinct is to simply deny the customer when they make an unrealistic request. However, doing so risks upsetting the customer and losing their business. 

Managing customer expectation is an art, but to decode this you must first understand why customers make unrealistic demands. This usually happens when they aren’t aware of your rules, policies, and practices. They don’t understand what your limitations are and what you can or cannot do for them. 

Often their expectations hinge on an overpromising sales pitch, which is why they ordered your product or service without spending much time reading your policies. Or it could be they know your policies but still try to take advantage of you.

Be Transparent

Being up front about your policies is an essential step to build trust with your customers. If your sales team makes unrealistic promises and the product team fails to live up to those promises, customer service is bound to encounter that gap in expectations. If they can’t bridge that gap skillfully, customers will stop using your services and leave a negative review, making your company look bad in front of potential customers. 

That’s why it’s essential that your sales team set realistic expectations. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. Clearly state your exchange and return policies, product features, and so forth. Publish those on the website and social media pages. Communicate them through pamphlets and company literature as well. 

Most importantly, train customer service representatives to be up front with customers instead of fabricating stories or playing the blame game. They should explain why they’re handling an issue in a certain way and patiently educate customers on what to expect. This will help set reasonable expectations and avoid such conflicts.

Empower Employees 

Arm your customer support representatives with alternative solutions when customers ask for something that is not feasible to give. This is equally applicable if a call center outsourcing partner provides your customer support. These employees are the first point of contact for customers when they have an issue. Support must provide a direct or indirect resolution to the problem and counter any unrealistic expectations the customer might have. The response could range from providing a replacement of the product or offering an extended warranty.

Know Your Ideal Customer

Any company that sets out to sell a product or service, needs to conduct thorough research first. Here are a few steps:

  • Try to understand the product through the customer’s lenses. Which needs does it cater to? How does the product add value to their life?
  • Know your target market. What is the age group of your customers? What is their income? Are they entrepreneurs or students? Where does your ideal customer reside? Where does he or she work?
  • Figure out in which season or at what time the customer buys your product.
  • Determine the decision-making process of your customer. Which part do they focus on before making the purchase?

Communicate with Empathy

Every customer service manager will want employees to understand what the customer is trying to convey. It is hard unless you are deeply empathetic toward what a customer needs. Listen to what the customer is trying to say rather than take a hard line with them. Then the customer will open up to you and trust you to solve their problem. 

For this to be effective, you must talk with the customer and listen to every detail of their experience. Be empathetic and show emotions ranging from surprise, sorrow, anger, and shock to being apologetic. Ask them questions rather than just be another customer service representative answering with a mild “OK.” 

What if the customer has already made up their mind about stopping use of your services? What if they had huge expectations and quietly left when you were unable to meet them? How do you ensure that you meet your standards each time and live up to the customer’s expectations too?

First, to understand a customer’s psychology, review old emails and chats. Try to find what irked them in the first place and what made them calm down. Was it your mistake? 

As you do this, seek to understand what the customer is going through. Realize that a customer decided to place their trust in you. If your company made the error, be apologetic with the intent of retaining that customer. If you come across as uncaring, you will lose the customer.

Ask pointed questions to address their fears. For example: “Are you worried about our service quality?” or “I get a feeling that you’re skeptical of our company. Is there anything I can do to alleviate your fears?”

This will help you to understand what the customer is going through. After that, you can tell them how your product is going to solve their problems, along with its limitations. Being transparent in your communication will reduce unrealistic customer expectations.

Establish Realistic Goals

A customer service manager must be clear about their methodologies and set measurable targets for both parties. For example, a customer might demand, “I want both the laser printer and the printing paper delivered tomorrow.” You know it isn’t a realistic expectation, so you tone down their demands. You come up with a measurable target and say, “I will get you the perfect size of paper delivered by tomorrow and the printer one day after that. I will also help you set up the printer and install its drivers.”

This sounds like an attainable goal if you have done your research and know your strengths. If the customer approves of this, you will have countered unrealistic expectations and set reasonable goals for your company at the same time.

Share Expectations

A company must provide customers with the timeline of their processes. Let’s assume that a customer paid for premium membership to a job portal. It’s the company’s responsibility to provide details about the strategy they will implement, the number of companies they will send the customer’s resume to, the length of time involved, and the likelihood of landing a job. 

The company must delve into its client history and product escalations to make sure they come up with attainable targets and set reasonable expectations. It’s important that a company keeps clients informed. Moreover, it’s important to listen to the client’s suggestions, remembering that it is their money you are working for.

Connect as Requested

Be honest and transparent when communicating with the customer. If a customer wants regular contact and progress updates, provide this. Contact them through email, phone, and chat to alleviate their concerns. If the customer trusts you, they won’t challenge every part of the process. This will establish goodwill.


Customer service representatives must address apprehensive clients. It can get tricky if they hold unrealistic expectations. Follow these steps to successfully address client concerns.

Deeksha Dadu is the co-founder and marketing head for LiveSalesman, a multilingual call center offering support in over thirty European and Asian languages, all delivered by native and bilingual agents. 

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