Mission Accomplished: Expectation Managed

I’m writing this sat in a hospital waiting room with a friend.  We’ve possibly been sitting here for a fortnight and I’ve read enough leaflets to feel relatively confident about performing heart surgery, should the need arise.  Indeed, I’m wondering whether the old woman, sitting opposite me reading a 1987 People’s Friend, actually bought it as a current edition from the hospital shop on her way to her appointment.  I’ve also started to question the receptionist’s ability to gauge time; since she clearly stated over an hour ago that “the Doctor will be with you shortly”.  My thoughts have therefore wandered to that whole thing about managing customer expectations.

As a customer, having our expectations managed is one of our fundamental needs.  However, as service providers, do we assign as much value to this critical aspect of customer service as we should?

When my car failed its MOT a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t the biggest surprise.  The mechanic explained he was unable to take it as a job until the following week.  Happy to wait, I dropped it off the following Monday… and then entered what can only be described as a fortnight of darkness (cue dramatic music).  After 2 weeks of phoning only to receive exasperated and vague responses, the mechanic finally explained that my car would need x, y and z.  This was the same x, y and z outlined in the MOT failure document.  The same x, y and z that even I, with my limited experience of setting up a Scaletrix in 1985, could have told him.  Hell, the same x, y and z that the air freshener in my car could have told him by this point in time.  Essentially, it took 10 working days to repeat exactly what was on the MOT paperwork.

Despite the mechanic taking my car almost immediately, clearly his workload was such that he was unable to look at my car for a fortnight.  So why didn’t he manage my expectations?  Chances are that he thought it would lead to me kicking up a fuss or perhaps even going elsewhere with my car.  However, ironically, what he actually managed to accomplish was turning a “chance” of me going elsewhere into a “most definitely”.

As scary as it can be at times, managing a customer’s expectations is critical both to their positive experience and to maintaining the integrity of your business.  Let’s look at what’s happened as a result of the mechanic not managing my expectations:

  • The garage has lost my trust
  • They’ve lost my repeat custom
  • Both sides experienced escalating and avoidable frustration
  • I left dissatisfied and am telling others about it
  • I made a complaint (and chances are, I’m not the only one)

Yet, a simple series of conversations would have avoided this.  If the mechanic had a real fear of losing my custom, then he could have actually managed my expectation with this in mind.  For example:

  • Explained that while he really wanted to fix my car, due to prior commitments he was unfortunately unable to do so for 2 weeks.
  • If I was able to wait, he could guarantee that my car would have his undivided attention; he would get it fixed as quickly as possible, as reasonably as possible and to the highest possible standard, at that point.
  • He understood if I wanted to take it elsewhere and could recommend another garage if that would help me – although he would be sad to lose my custom, he would hope I’d consider using them again in the future as he considered me a valuable customer.

Job done!  And do you know what?  If that had happened, I actually would have happily waited 2 weeks until he was ready.

Managing a customer’s expectations is a simple process of honest communication followed by delivery.  Let your customer know what they can expect, how they can expect it, when and (if needed) any “whys”.  A customer doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of your supplier’s penchant to only distribute on the third Thursday of every month; but they do deserve transparency about the fact the order they’ve just made with you won’t be delivered for 3 weeks.  Even if you think that managing expectations could lose you a customer, don’t avoid it – use it as a platform to work for you.  Manage expectations well and you can expect to see happy, returning customers who trust you as a service provider and recommend you to others.

Disneyland manages the expectations of queuing customers by having signs showing the approximate time left until the person reaches the ride.  Tesco use tickets at the meat counter to clarify a customer’s position in the queue.

How do you manage your customer expectations?


11 Responses to “Mission Accomplished: Expectation Managed”

  1. Ndj

    Once again an excellent blog EJH. Let’s hope all service providers get to read your blogs.

  2. Ange

    Excellent perspective EJH, it was 13 years ago that the importance of managing expectations was first identified to me as being one of the predominant factors that make customer’s feel they have received an excellent customer service..in today’s economic environment, it’s one of the predominant factors required to support the longevity of a business.

  3. Kthomas

    Brilliant again EJH would love to read a book by you. You seem to capture the truth along with wit and intelligence keep blogging! Excellent!

  4. Shaps

    EHJ for president.
    Less wingey than Anne Robinson, but with similar clout and better hair

  5. The Sword

    Managing Expectations, one of the key factors to any successful relationship. Take this blog, LJH always delivers the goods, at such high quality, never disappoints and leaves me always wanting to come back for more.

  6. nathanman

    Spot on Liz.

    It’s not gone unnoticed that customer satisfaction is much to be desired these days. It’s an age old adage but “honesty is always the best policy”. If something is going to take X amount of time I would appreciate being told instead of being arsed about. As you point out, lying about it only endangers the tradesperson by infuriating their potential customers. Working in a customer focused business myself, I have been told by the punters themselves that if X,Y and Z is clearly outlined based on a realistic timescale the pay off is worth the wait. Anything else is met with scorn when the customer is let down, and rightly so.

    Well done Liz. Look forward to the next.

  7. Maria

    Only now got round to reading this, sorry. Brilliant as usual. Can’t wait for next one.

  8. The Happy Shopper

    Excellent blog once again-please keep them coming! Do service providers really care anymore? Those with Key Performance Indicators are often looking to provide service at speed at the expense of quality (as you mentioned last week) and those without targets are only looking after older customers and friends as opposed to trying to secure customers for the future. Both will miss out eventually-mark my words.

  9. Gregla

    EJH – you seem to have captured my attention ! If you want to discuss potential opportunities then please get in touch .

    Looking forward to your next insight .

  10. Mark

    Great blog again, Liz.

    Your story reminds me of the tale of the town with two barbers. One is a messy salon, where the barber has messy hair….the other a spotless facility where the barber is perfectly coiffured. The whole town uses the messy barber (and hence he has no time to be constantly cleaning, or to have his own hair cut), whilst nobody uses the other (and so it remains clean, and he probably also uses the other barber too to get his barnet taken care of).

    Being incredibly busy is a clear indicator of how good a business is at what it does. A full order book or full schedule reflects strong repeat custom and supports sustainable growth, but with that should come a knowledge that:

    a) Your customer loyalty isn’t mindless – it’s not enough to earn it once and then take it for granted that they’ll always come back for more.

    b) Expectation management is an ongoing dialogue – some customers may be smart enough to figure a lot of it out for themselves (a full car park may equate to a long wait at the check-outs, etc), but even ‘being seen to be’ managing expectations helps to foster that loyalty.

    c) Integrity is everything.

    Little frustrates me more when I’m queuing at Tesco than there being an insufficient number of check-outs open. What happened to their ‘never more than one in a queue’ policy? The icing on the cake, however, comes when half a dozen of the supervisor staff huddle at the central pod trying to figure out how to manage the queues – when the fact that there are six of them chatting about it seems to me to be the problem, rather than the solution. Last week a new face appeared at the pod…..older in years, and without five other committee members to help her with her decision she did the unthinkable – sat at a checkout, and served me herself 🙂


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