If you have a good memory, you may recall a few weeks just before Steve Jobs passed on, Apple stock dropped a good few percentage points.

It wasn’t because of Steve’s death that brought the valuation down, because that was factored into the stock market years ago when he first began to get sick, it was because the market expected something and then didn’t get it.

Each year Apple holds a conference. Every event is exciting because of new product announcements, usually revealed during the CEO presentation, which before his death, was always handled by Steve.

The speculation all those years ago was that the iPhone 5 was going to be announced. Unfortunately for Apple’s stock at the time, instead of the iPhone 5, the news was about an iPhone 4s, an upgrade to the phone already on the market. The industry was less than impressed with this and thus stock was sold.

In this example, the market already factored in one big expectation — the death of a visionary business leader. However, something as small as expecting a phone with a 5 and getting a 4s instead, resulted in a stock price drop.

Managing Expectations When Blogging

I remember one of the very first pieces of advice I gave to bloggers when I started my blog tips newsletter (this was my first email newsletter optin form, so forgive the terrible design!).

I was often asked –

How many blog posts should I write each week?

My typical response was as many as you can, aiming for one per weekday during the start-up phase of your blog. To be truthful, I don’t think it is possible to provide too much good content. The restriction comes from your ability to keep producing. The challenge is figuring out what you can maintain and whether that will be enough to make your blog a success.

The key point I taught was to manage the expectations of your readers.

Humans are very much pattern-based. We form habits easily and don’t like disruption to what we become used to.

If readers see that you publish something new every day, they will visit every day looking for what is new. If you publish every day then start doing it once a week, inevitably disappointment will be the result when they return to your blog and find nothing fresh. It’s important to find a balance and then stick to it.

Early in my blogging career, I published one article a day. I had no problems doing so because I had so much to write from all my previous experience and the time to write about it. As my blogging matured I slowed down my writing schedule, publishing three articles a week on average. Eventually, I dropped down to one per week.

When I transitioned my publication schedule I did it slowly. I didn’t publish five articles in one week, then only one the week after. I slowly adjusted so not to make any big “bumps” in the road disrupting my passengers.

While blog post frequency is important, it’s not nearly as critical as managing expectations when it comes to product delivery. Let’s take a look at how expectations matter in this area of online business…

Managing Expectations In Product Delivery

When people are paying you money for something and they don’t get what they expect, that’s when they reach for the refund button.

Gideon Shalwick and I were talking about one of his product launches. He mentioned that despite making it very clear that this particular product was going to be released sequentially and you would not get access to everything up front, some people bought expecting everything immediately, and consequently sent him emails asking where the rest of the content was.

Gideon and I both use and teach a system of sequential content delivery (usually in an online course model) because it allows you to get to launch quicker. You don’t need to have the entire product ready to go from opening day, you only need the first lot of content. From there you stay one step ahead of your subscribers, creating the next module or lesson the week before they are due to receive it.

I used this exact method for all my flagship programs, short courses and membership site. Gideon also used this method with great success.

So what went wrong this time with Gideon’s training? Communication wasn’t quite clear enough. Despite telling people that it was a course delivered over a period of time, a few people still expected to have the entire course available from day one, rather than receive it sequentially.

This highlights the key challenge with managing expectations.

You may think you are clearly outlining what to expect, including clear descriptions of what is going to happen and how things will be delivered, yet it won’t be enough. Some people will make assumptions and not read your explanations, and then be disappointed when they don’t get what they expect.

So what can you do to minimize the chance of miscommunication and manage the expectations of your customers? Read on and find out…

The Challenge Of Preconceptions

The challenge when managing expectations comes down to two variables –

  1. Communication
  2. Preconceptions

Each person has different preconceptions based on their unique experiences. If they took someone else’s online course and paid a certain price to receive certain information, they are very much using that experience as a benchmark for what they expect from you if they buy your course.

To make things worse, we aren’t even comparing apples to apples. Someone may become your customer with their benchmark for preconceptions coming from what they studied at university or college in the offline world. In this case, they are comparing offline academic training to your online course. Hardly an adequate comparison, but unfortunately impossible for you to control.

Everything including price, format, content, style, length, level of difficulty, to even simple things like what font is used on your webpages, comes with baggage. What people expect is based on what has come before.

The difference between what they expect and what you deliver will determine your level of attrition (cancellations), and whether what you put out there gains traction and succeeds or disappoints and flops.

Success comes down to understanding what people want and making sure they get it exactly how they expect to get it or even better than they expected.

Using Expectations To Your Advantage

Expectation management isn’t just about you avoiding damaging errors from misalignment with preconceptions, it also represents a fantastic opportunity. The most successful products, blogs and even businesses succeed because they exceed expectations in unexpected ways.

If “normal” is standard and you deliver something so much better than normal, you win. Take Apple as an example again. One of the reasons they have done so well is their operating system is so much more reliable than the main operating system they compete against – Microsoft Windows.

Windows, while a capable operating system, has many issues that people have come to accept as normal. The fact that the “blue screen of death” was so common in earlier Windows versions that it became a running joke, demonstrates how far expectations had dropped. This was certainly not desirable but accepted enough that people continued to use the operating system even with the obvious flaws.

Enter Apple OS.

Apple’s operating system had some obvious improvements. It was simple and it was “cool”, but I suspect the main reason people were so impressed was because it worked without errors. No blue screen of death. No viruses or need for virus protection and no regular frozen screens.

These errors were considered normal for computers running Windows, so when something came along that lifted the standard to just error-free that’s already a vast improvement, exceeding expectations.

I noticed something similar to this when it came to providing customer service in my businesses during the early years.

Have you ever tried to contact Paypal or Google via email? Yeah, not an easy thing to do. You tend to get the runaround, redirected to help pages or bulletin boards that no one ever responds to.

I understood when dealing with my customers, people love having an email address they can send to get help from quickly. They love it when the email they send is replied to by a human being in a short period of time, by someone who addresses their unique situation and doesn’t just fire off a template that doesn’t match the question asked.

What I find especially interesting is that the email reply doesn’t need to necessarily solve the problem, it just needs to be some kind of acknowledgment and respect for your customer’s needs. Some kind of reply that demonstrates empathy and shows that actions are being taken is what matters.

For all my products I use a simple email address as the main method of customer support (for over a decade now!). By doing something you think should be normal – responding to emails – my customer service stood out.

So How Can You Apply These Lessons?

There’s a lot you can immediately apply to your business from these ideas I covered thus far. Here in my opinion are the most important applications:

  1. Expectations are based on what has come before. Because of this, it is important you have an awareness of what is accepted practice in your industry and how you can do better.

    Review how people currently solve the problem your business solves and find a better or unique way to do it. Sometimes just being more reliable or simpler than what is currently accepted, even if the outcome is the same, can be enough.

  2. Don’t assume everyone knows what is going to happen next. Managing expectations includes stating what the customer will experience after they buy from you.

    Review how you describe what people receive after making a purchase and ask yourself if you have done a good enough job explaining what is going to happen next. Explain the post-purchase steps in very basic terms.

  3. When feedback starts coming in from your audience/members/customers, it probably points to a difference between what you said was going to be delivered, how that was interpreted, and then what was actually delivered.

    This kind of feedback is incredibly valuable because it challenges your assumptions and highlights your weaknesses. Don’t ignore it, but also be careful not to assume one piece of feedback represents the majority. You can never be certain, so collect enough data before making any changes.

  4. If you are looking for new industries to break into, look for markets where the current businesses, either due to laziness, or a lack of competition, or bureaucracy, have set standards that can easily be improved.

    Richard Branson is fantastic at doing this. He finds markets where expectations are low because all the current businesses do things the same (inferior) way. Virgin enters the market with a more valuable/better/more exciting option to stir things up, and often in a short period of time is a market leader or significant player.

    Don’t be afraid to highlight your strengths by pointing out the competition’s weaknesses. This works for politicians all the time.

  5. Your goal as an entrepreneur is to identify a need, present an offer using the language your target market uses, make sure the offer is delivered how people expect it (and then exceed expectations), and then go to work finding more customers.

    It’s important to manage the offer and delivery of that offer, otherwise any marketing you do is wasted. Do this wrong and it’s like spending money to attract customers who want to buy a new motorcycle when you sell new scooters. The difference may be small, but a person who wants a new motorcycle will not be happy when a scooter turns up.

Don’t Over-Manage Expectations

Despite all my emphasis on managing expectations, it’s important to be relaxed about the process too. We are dealing with the greatest variable ever – human beings – so if you are seeking a perfect understanding of what people expect, you will forever be frustrated.

Needs change. Markets evolve. People wake up in the morning wanting something different from the night before. If you attempt to anticipate all of this you will drive yourself crazy.

All you need to do is know enough and explain enough to keep customers happy.

Manage your own expectations before you begin managing those of others.

Managing Expectations