The Ninja – Power of Expectations

The following is a guest post from Ted Coine.  Ted is an author, speaker and CEO who is passionate about service delivery, culture and leadership.  Ted writes about Five Star Customer Service on his blog at The Savvy Capitalist
You can also follow Ted on Twitter @tedcoine

Charge $599 or more for a hotel room and your guests are going to anticipate phenomenal service. You’re going to be hard-pressed to knock anyone’s socks off, because your customers are already expecting to be wowed.

But what about when you’re only charging $3.99 for an all-you-can-eat buffet? The expectation now is, “Service? You mean the staff doesn’t spit on you as you go through the line?” Lack of spitting in-of-itself becomes a plus.

It’s the undeniable Ninja-Power of Expectation. Like the stealthy Japanese martial-arts masters it’s named after, the Ninja-Power of Expectation will take your customers by surprise and render them helpless to resist you. …Although in this case, they won’t want to resist you, because you’re taking such good care of them.

The Ninja-Power of Expectation is one of the most immutable – and therefore most useful – tools in the arsenal of any but the most upscale firms.

The two preceding examples are from the real world; from two businesses situated only a few miles from one another in my hometown of Naples, Florida.

The first is the Ritz-Carlton, a perennial top-ten among resort destination properties in the United States. And it lives up to its reputation. In terms of service, location, and amenities, our Ritz really is “all that.”

The second example is the Naples branch of CiCi’s Pizza. The décor isn’t fancy in any way. The food isn’t exactly delicious, although the pizza is better than Domino’s, and the salad beats Olive Garden’s.

But if CiCi’s isn’t fancy and its food is far from mouth-watering, its service is shockingly terrific. Seriously. For example:

  • The manager introduces himself by name and welcomes each guest as they pass through the buffet line.
  • He engages your children in conversation as they pass in the aisles. He makes them feel so special they call him “my friend Paul.”
  • He comes by to check on you at your table.
  • His staff asks if they can make you any special orders. You say, “No, I was looking for mushroom, but I’ll take this pepperoni instead,” …and a few minutes later, they deliver three fresh-from-the-oven mushroom slices to your table anyway.
  • They all smile, and really seem to mean it.
  • The manager and some of his staff thank you on the way out, and invite you to come again.

This kind of service happens all the time at the Ritz. So what? At their prices, it’s only what we all expect.

But what about CiCi’s Pizza? The power of surprise, of expectations far exceeded, has customers eager to come back, friends in tow.

…And what about your business? Would you be able to tap into the Ninja-Power of Expectation? Would that have a positive result on your earnings?

Something to think about, isn’t it?


  1. FROM: Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach
    Hi Bary and Ted,
    We all share a deep passion for customer service and your post caught my eye.

    Here's one of my stories:
    Years back I stayed at a very upscale hotel in San Jose, CA. My expectations were quite high. The structure inside and out was auspicious and beautiful. The front desk staff was reserved and focused — on the computer! There was barely any eye contact.

    The feeling was far from welcoming. When I then asked for a particular type of room, the attitude that came back at me was reserved, aloof, and somewhat insulting. I voiced my displeasure and in the end my traveling companion and I were given complimentary dinner in the restaurant.

    I tell this story because the service you describe in CiCi's Pizza was better than what I received that day in a very expensive hotel. Personal connection has application in every service setting — adapted to the customer of course.

    So here's to every service provider in the world who knows how to understand a customer's style and interpersonal expectations from the moment s/he speaks.

    Expectations are quite visible if you listen and adapt. Here's a post that helps all service pro's to learn regional differences that impact customers' expectations and can take your service ratings to the top!

    I will RT your post on Twitter. The stories speak volumes.
    Warmest wishes,
    Kate Nasser

  2. We all at some point are servevants and must in order to be leaders be the most humble servant of our people or those we want to lead, leading by example and teaching them how to make it happen.
    When it comes to customer service experience, our main problem is our ego, our bag of pre-conceived ideas about people in our minds. We need to be absent of ourselves and really be focused with empathy as hard as possible to see everything for the other side eyes, in other words to look at things as how our customer see them.

  3. Kate,
    Thanks much for stopping by and for your comment. I think your story validates Ted's point. Expectations can be a catch 22 for organizations. With a reputation, or luxury brand or price tag comes certain expectations. That makes the satisfaction of customer expectations more challenging. I had an experience at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills two months ago, where, from the look and fee of the lobby, I would have expected a similar experience as you had. However, mine was just the opposite. The staff, while all beautiful and soooo L.A. where extremely attentive.

    thanks again for your comments. I think all companies, regardless of their market positioning, can take lessons from Ted's post.

  4. Juan,
    Wow! Your comment really resonates with me. Its clear you have a passion for leadership and service. At it's most raw, exposed state, I think you hit on the most deep human component of exceptional service. Your words are a lesson from which we can all benefit. We need be self reflective enough to identify our faults in these areas and focus our work on improving those weaknesses.

    Thanks much!

  5. Barry and Ted,

    Your post has struck a nerve. I'm passionate about the idea of meeting expectations and the power of 'surprise and delight'.

    Here is my take on 'meeting expectations'. It's the biggest myth in marketing. There is no such thing as 'meeting expectations'. It's like being on time. No one is ever on time . . . you are either early or you are late. No one arrives exactly at the precise time. Setting out to only meet expectations is a recipe for failure. It's like playing a 'prevent defense' in football. It prevents you from doing only one thing . . . winning.

    Whether you are the Ritz or Cici's you set the bar accordingly to exceed your customers expectations. That's where I love your NINJA reference. I believe the idea of being 'unexpected' is a powerful force. The act of going above and beyond ties into a concept I call marketing lagniappe or a 'purple goldfish'. Giving that little extra at the time of purchase triggers 'surprise and delight'. It gives your customers something to talk, tweet, blog and post to Facebook about.


    'the average distance between the brain and the heart is 9 inches'
    What's Your Purple Goldfish?

  6. Love the Purple Goldfish concept Stan! Thanks much for the comment. Your definition of meeting expectations is right on.

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