Don't Risk Losing That Spark. Set Realistic Expectations With Customers Early On. Your service, offers and selection that you put forth when you first interact with a prospective customer will be what they expect to be the norm.

By Carol Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's amazing how much you can learn about what to do and not to do in business from personal relationships. One of the biggest lessons is that setting authentic expectations up front is the key to the foundation of a relationship's longevity.

If you meet a guy or gal, the way you behave on the first few dates sets the tone for the entire relationship. The same goes for business. Your service, offers and selection that you put forth when you first interact with a prospective customer will be what they expect to be the norm.

If you decide you no longer can or want to provide that level of service, offer the the same deals or narrow your selection, then you risk making that customer angry.

Related: 6 Ways to Turn Every Customer Interaction Into an Opportunity

For example, I used to buy a lot online from a particular cosmetics retailer. While its products were pricey, the company initially won me over with a number of sexy offers, from free shipping and free samples to a points program and free gift packaging.

More than a year into our customer relationship, the retailer took away the free gift packaging online. It now ranges from $2 to $4 if you want an item packaged in your order. While $2 to $4 isn't a lot of money and it theoretically shouldn't matter as I buy more for myself than I do as gifts there, it did matter. I felt cheated. Why? The company set the expectation that free gift packaging was part of its shopping experience, and as a customer, while I was loyal to the retailer, it changed the deal on me.

A big lesson here is that it didn't need to create this situation. The company should have never offered free packaging if it wasn't financially viable. It wasn't necessary for our relationship. Its other offers were enough to win me over as a customer. But the retailer went too far, offering something that it couldn't fulfill long term, and now it is a deficiency in my customer relationship. That feeling of being let down has over time led me to shop with that company much less frequently.

There are plenty of other businesses that are affected by setting the wrong expectations. There's a spa chain that my friends frequent that usually offers a coupon, so my friends won't go if they can't get the discount. I know many more women who won't buy high-end beauty products if it is not "bonus time," because it is almost always bonus time somewhere.

If you make something the norm, your customers will expect it.

Related: 4 Customer-Service Mistakes You're Already Making -- and How to Correct Them

People do this all of the time in personal relationships too. A woman may show off her domestic skills early in a relationship by cooking and doing housework and a man may try to woo a woman by bringing her flowers weekly. That becomes the expectation. However, if you can't authentically keep that up over time, when you stop, it becomes viewed as a loss.

When I met my husband, I was very clear that I don't cook, I don't clean and I really don't do much of anything that would be considered "domestic." Now, I had to bring something of value to the relationship, so I was clear about all of the things that he would find valuable, such as the fact that I love sports ranging from pro football to hockey, that I am independent (financially and otherwise), that I am fairly low maintenance (personally, not professionally) and also a few other things that my husband would not be pleased if I wrote about, but add value to a marriage. These are all things authentic to who I am and not something that I struggle with fulfilling.

Now, if I ever do anything domestic (which is very rare, but does happen once in a great while), I become a hero because it is out of the ordinary. This creates a very different situation than if I had pretended up front that I love to iron and then couldn't keep up that charade.

Your business needs to do this as well. You need to offer an outstanding value proposition to the customer, but it has to be something that you can keep up for the long term. The online cosmetics retailer never needed to offer the free gift packaging as a staple. It could have made it a special offer with orders over a certain amount or if you reach a certain level in a loyalty program. Then, it would have been a benefit, not an eventual deficiency.

Think hard about the expectations you set with your customers, and everyone else as well. Nothing good ever comes from someone saying, "You don't bring me flowers anymore."

Wavy Line
Carol Roth

Entrepreneur, TV host and small business expert

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.

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