If you ever received Christmas or birthday gifts when you were growing up, you almost certainly had this experience. Your heart was set on a certain gift, whether it was a specific toy or perhaps the newest, coolest article of clothing that all the kids were wearing.
You dropped enough hints, and even more importantly got a vibe from your family that you were going to love your gift, but when it was finally time and you ripped the package open, it was something else.
Kids don’t know anything about managing their expectations, but the adults who run companies should have a good understanding of the concept and always be working to make sure that they don’t drive up customer or client expectations to unachievable levels or allow performance to drop below expectations.
It can happen at virtually any level of business. I remember being in the Dallas airport one day. I was in a hurry, but wanted to grab something to eat. I went into a restaurant, pointed at one of the pictures they displayed to illustrate their food and said, “I want that picture!”
The guy taking my order sheepishly confessed, “I’m sorry. We don’t have anything that looks like that.”
Not a good way to begin a customer experience.
Expectations come packaged in a variety of boxes. In the case of the airport restaurant, a simple picture on display triggered an expectation in me. For some companies, their reputation triggers expectations in their customers. It could also be the conduct of individuals within your company that creates expectations.
A good exercise would be to list all the things your company does that creates expectations within your base of clients or customers. Then ask yourself, “How are we managing the items on the list to make sure that the expectations we’re creating match reality.” Of course, it’s always wise to follow the old advice of “under promising and over delivering.”
Here are a few examples. First, with the airport food: Hello!!! Either take a new picture or make your food better!
It can be more difficult to manage expectations based on the longstanding reputation your company has created for itself over the years. I think we’re seeing a little bit of that with Apple Computer right now. When Tim Cook introduced the new Apple Watch, he set cyberspace on fire. People couldn’t wait to try it out.
However, while the watch seems to nail all the features Cook talked about and is a beauty to behold, some users are finding it more difficult to operate than (here it comes) other Apple products. Apple wisely responded by outfitting its retail store employees with watches and gave them the training they need to work well with their customers. Nonetheless, the rollout demonstrates that even a great product can create some negative press.
By the way, Steve Jobs is famous for saying that he was proud of all the innovations he said “no” to. I suspect he was very reluctant to have a go at any products that he felt might fall short of the standards the company had set with its Macs, iPods and iPhones.
I think that Ace Hardware illustrates how individuals within a company can create those expectations. They have developed the good habit of asking the extra questions of their customers. Because of this, I’ve walked out of Ace Hardware stores with items different than those on my original shopping list. Why? Because if I had stuck with my “do-it-yourself” scheme, my projects wouldn’t have gone so well.
Not that I want to get a melody stuck in your head, but Ace Hardware has that jingle that ends with “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.” That slogan creates an expectation in customers, so it’s extremely important that Ace Hardware management create a culture of “helpful” employees who deliver on their brand promise. And, based on eight years in a row of winning the JD Power Award for highest levels of customer satisfaction, I’d say they have accomplished their goal.
It’s a fact of human nature that we immediately notice something that “doesn’t fit,” and it sticks in our minds. If a customer has an experience with your business that doesn’t fit his or her expectations, it’s hard to erase the memory. While we may try to create an expectation, which is another way of saying brand promise, we must always remember that it’s the customer who defines your brand. It’s the customer who decides if you have met (or not met) the expectation.
Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert and New York Times bestselling author. Find more information at www.Hyken.com.
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This article was written by Shep Hyken from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.