Are Your Customers’ Expectations Too High?

BizAge Interview Team
Moaning customers

In order to keep customers happy, you need to meet their expectations. However, sometimes it’s important to manage your customer’s expectations so that they are not banking on something that is utterly far-fetched. This post explains more on how to identify overly high customer expectations and how to manage them.

Unrealistic expectations vs poor quality service

It’s important to understand the difference between unrealistic expectations and poor quality service. It all comes down to what your competitors are able to achieve for the same rates as you. 

For example, it takes the average app development company 3 to 6 months to develop an app of moderate complexity. If a client is asking you to develop a moderately complex app for them in 4 weeks, it would be fair to dismiss their expectations as unrealistic, as pretty much no app developer can achieve that. However, if you are claiming that you cannot do it in less than 10 months, that could be considered poor customer service, because you are not meeting the standard of your competitors. 

It is worth checking exactly what other companies are charging and providing to give you an idea of whether you are trying to deliver too much or too little. If customers are expecting a certain level of service and competitors are providing this, it is up to you to find a way of upping your game so that you can match the quality of your competitors (which could include investing in new technology, training or an extra pair of helping hands). It’s important to note that customer service quality expectations are constantly changing, and what may have been acceptable 5 years ago may not be acceptable now. 

The problem with unrealistic expectations

If a customer has unrealistically high expectations, it will be impossible for you to truly satisfy them. This could have many negative effects on your business such as:

  • Overexerted staff: You and your staff will have to physically/mentally work to the limits of their ability to have any chance of achieving their expectations, which could result in high levels of stress and potentially even sickness/injury.
  • Complaints: Customers are likely to complain no matter how hard you have worked - which will further damage your morale and the morale of your staff. 
  • Refunds and chargebacks: Customers may demand money back for not meeting expectations. They may ask you directly for a refund, or even file a chargeback with a credit card company if they paid by card (resulting in extra fees)
  • Negative reviews: You could also end up receiving negative online reviews. These could affect your public reputation and your ability to attract business.
  • Loss of return business: If customers feel that their expectations have not been met, it is unlikely that they will return to you for future business. If you are a company that relies heavily on return/loyal customers (such as a restaurant, car repair centre, subscription box company, gym etc.), this could have a major negative impact on your earnings. 

How to manage customer expectations

Managing customer expectations is a key skill that many business owners can benefit from learning. Even if you pride yourself as being the best of the best and deliberately strive to achieve what other companies cannot, you need to understand that there are limits as to what can possibly be achieved. 

Lofty expectations can sometimes be due to customers having false assumptions, however they can also sometimes be due to companies instilling false beliefs into customers. Below are some of the things you can do to manage customers’ expectations.

Understand what customers are looking for

It’s important that you understand exactly what customers are looking for so that you can ensure that their goals are feasible. This involves running over every detail with customers at the beginning. By being thorough, you can ensure that the customer isn’t incorrectly assuming anything.

If you are communicating in person or over the phone, you can directly ask questions to assess what customers are looking for. Alternatively, if customers are buying your product online or ordering from an app, consider getting them to answer questions via a form. 

Educate customers from the get-go

There could be some cases where customers do not fully understand what the work entails. By helping customers to understand the level of work that needs to be carried out, you can help them to see why a certain price/time frame/result may not be feasible.

For example, if you run an SEO company and a client wants to rank number one on Google for a certain keyword, it could be necessary to explain the lengths necessary to achieve this ranking (this guide explains more to managing SEO clients). By being transparent and helping customers understand the process required to achieve this result, you can help them understand why their expectations may be too high.

You may be able to explain the process in person or over the phone. Alternatively, for customers shopping online, it could be important to educate customers through online text guides, infographics or explainer videos. 

Be careful what you promise

You need to be particularly careful about what you promise customers - especially if you promise it in writing. A broken promise can be grounds for a lawsuit, which could make things really messy. As a result, you should only ever promise things that you know 100% you can achieve.

Be careful about how you answer questions from clients. If a customer asks you if you will be able to complete a project by a certain deadline and you are unsure whether you can achieve this, it is better to respond ‘it may not be possible but we will try our best’ rather than ‘we should be able to do it by then’. This is particularly important if you are replying by email or text, as such promises can be more easily referenced back and used as hard evidence.

Avoid false advertising

Some companies set the expectations too high by advertising a product or service as being better than it actually is. While the point of advertising is to make your company as attractive as possible, you need to be careful of going too far.

A prime example is using product photos that have been edited to make them look more attractive - or worse, using photos of other products. This could include a restaurant putting up a poster of a gourmet burger that looks nothing like the burger you actually serve. It is better to use original photos of your product and use minimal editing, insteading relying on lighting and camerawork to make a product look more attractive (something you can do with the help of a product photographer).

Using the right terminology in your adverts is important too. If you run a restaurant and you falsely tell people that you are the ‘best rated’ restaurant or that food is ‘Michelin star level’, you will set expectations very high and be left with some very unhappy customers if you cannot deliver the best culinary experience they’ve ever had. 

Avoid overly technical jargon

Misunderstandings can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations too. This is why you need to be careful of using overly technical jargon - as you could confuse some customers into thinking a product is better than it is. 

If you are marketing a high end product to a niche, technical jargon is generally acceptable to use as customers will know these terms or be prepared to do their research. You should limit this jargon when marketing a mid-range product to everyday customers.

Explicitly state what your product/service does not include

Sometimes it’s worth advertising exactly what your product/service does not include to ensure that customers are not disappointed. An example of this could be if you are a mattress seller that is willing to deliver mattresses to customers - but is not willing to dispose of their old mattress. Make it clear that you will not be responsible for getting rid of  customers’ old mattresses so that customers do not assume this is part of the service. You can tell customers this face-to-face/over the phone or include it in writing on a website or within an order confirmation email

With products, you can usually write such information on the packaging (i.e. ‘batteries not included). If they are ordering the product online, make sure to put some information in the product description. 


Customer expectations should only be considered ‘unrealistic’ if they are expecting more than your competitors can provide for the same rates. It is important to understand that unrealistic customer expectations can have many negative effects if you do not take steps to manage them. Yes, you may lose some customers by saying that you cannot achieve certain things - however the damage could be greater if you take these customers on and disappoint them. 

Most customers are understanding and are willing to compromise if something is not possible and they’re otherwise being charged a fair price. You cannot let customers demand the impossible - the customer is not always right, and setting limitations is important for you and your staff. 

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Written by
BizAge Interview Team
March 21, 2024
Written by
March 21, 2024