Managing the gap between the expectations of customers and what businesses can actually provide can be a challenging task. Let us take a look at how we can replicate Airbnb’s customer-centric business model for the growth of our businesses.
In the competitive business environment of today, customer experience management is among the most important investments a brand can make. These days, as customers, we are on an overdrive when it comes to our expectations. We are satisfied when brands not only meet, but exceed our expectations. However, most often, there is a gap between what customers expect from you as a business and what you think they expect from you. How can you, as a business, overcome this gap and meet the expectations of your customers? First, let us take a look at some of the challenges that we are likely to face in the process, and then let us study how Airbnb, a company that has built its entire business model centered on the ideas and preferences of customers, deals with the same.
- It is a well-known fact that for your brand to be successful, you need to understand the wants and needs of your customers and make sure that you meet them. This boils down to the five factors listed below:
- Understanding the accepted practice or expected norm and doing better
- Telling people explicitly what to expect – do not assume that they already know
- Listening to feedback and learning from it – it can not only make you aware of your strengths and weaknesses, but also challenge your assumptions
- Clear understanding about the needs of your customers, presenting your brand in a language that they understand, and delivering what they expect
- Being realistic about what you can deliver. Do not over-manage the expectations of your customers, and yet strive to create a positive experience. Also, try and provide a personalized customer experience.
- The Customer Gap:
The Customer Gap was identified by Parasuraman, Zeithalm and Berry in 1985 as a part of a model developed by them for the measurement of the quality of service offered by various industries. It led to the identification of five different categories of gaps between the perceptions of customers and businesses:
- The Customer gap – the gap between customer expectations and perceptions
- The Knowledge gap – the gap between the perceptions of brand management and customer expectations
- The Policy gap – the gap between the specifications of service quality and brand management perceptions
- The Delivery gap – the gap between specifications regarding the quality of service and actual service delivery
- The Communication gap – the gap between actual service delivery and external communication and advertising.
One of the most popular methods of overcoming the abovementioned gaps is the usage of customized Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software or Help Desk Software, which helps businesses keep track of their customers, encourage them to provide feedback, track their purchasing history, and seek referrals, among others.
- Serving Customers On-Demand:
According to an article published on Forbes, customers could communicate with companies in only three ways. They could visit the business in person, write a letter or call customer support. This was followed by faxing and email. Nowadays, there are even more ways for customers to connect with their service providers. They use, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and more. When they connect with you, they expect to be known and served “on demand” regardless of the channel they are using. However, businesses have effective tools at their fingertips, which include CRM software, Help Desk Software, Email Automation, and other solutions that can be customized to ensure the on-demand availability of support for customers.
Now that we have taken a look at the three main issues faced by companies while dealing with the expectations of their customers, let us take a look at how Airbnb, one of the world’s most customer-centric business models, not only manages expectations, but also provides a personalized customer experience.
- Airbnb Understands the Power of Word-of-Mouth Advertising:
Whenever people make travel plans, they are more likely to seek advice from friends and family about their choice of places to stay, visit, etc. as online reviews are likely to be misleading and big brands do not necessarily guarantee a good travel experience. Moreover, people almost always discuss their travel experiences with their friends, colleagues, and the people around them. Hence, it is obvious that customers trust the opinions of other people more than other channels when it comes to planning their holidays. Airbnb has identified this long ago, which is why the company treats customer feedback and experience with utmost experience. It believes in using its existing customers to attract new ones, and has been successful in doing so since the past several years. In 2014, the company introduced a referrals program that offered USD 25 travel credit to the recipient as well as the sender upon the successful completion of the recipient’s first trip. In the same year, the company reported 25% growth in certain markets.
- Building Trust About the Platform:
As we all know, trust can make or break a business. One way for businesses to build trust is through customer reviews, however, they can be tricky or fake. Moreover, in case of travel, even if Airbnb compensates a customer for a bad travel experience, the holiday that is ruined is ruined. In addition, when companies offer referral bonuses, people are likely to post fake feedback to capitalize on the opportunity. The reputation of fake reviews can ruin any business. To safeguard itself against the above-mentioned factors, the company strives to build trust among customers and potential customers in the following ways:
- The company moderates all the reviews
- It ensures that the reviews are posted by real people – actual hosts and guests
- These reviews are posted on the website only when both sides have had their say
- Reviews are easily accessible
- Guests can share reviews with their hosts privately
According to the company’s data analyst Lisa Qian, “The best information we can gather about the offline experience is from the review that guests complete on Airbnb.com after their trip ends.”
In this manner, Airbnb has shown the world how it can leverage the reviews of its customers to build trust as well as grow its business.
- Airbnb Prioritizes its Operations Keeping Customers in Mind:
Due to its customer-centric model, the entire company is focused on providing customer support, not just a dedicated team/department. It has become a cornerstone of Airbnb’s culture. Though the process can be complicated to implement, here are a few pointers:
- Promote awareness among employees regarding the past experiences of customers that have used your services
- Provide easy access to original reviews of customers from the area assigned to them
- Spread awareness within the organization about your key strengths as well as weaknesses
- Make use of different software tools available to track customer metrics, behavior, feedback, etc. Buy customized software to identify your key areas of strength and weaknesses and study the data regularly
- Make use of customer experience impact for the prioritization of projects
- Identify the teams worthy of rewards and recognition based on customer experience
Thus, we can see that AirBnb has set a new standard when it comes to managing customer expectations, as well as paved the way for new businesses to achieve the same.