High Flying Customer Expectations

[From my post on Salesforce.com blog]

imagesI had an experience with one of those in-flight Wi-Fi services a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking of the concept of meeting customer expectations versus exceeding them. And, is continually exceeding customer expectations sustainable?

I’ve been in the thick of enough Twitter chats, hangouts and customer experience think-tank kind of events to realize that the popular rhetoric is to stand on the desktop and revolt against any notion that contradicts exceeding customer expectations by a long shot; knocking their socks off; giving them x times the value they were actually seeking; and so on.

And, in fact, a friend of mine Stan Phelps has spent the better part of the past several years documenting little surprise acts of customer delight through his work at the Purple Goldfish Project. The stories of lagniappe he tells are truly special. Check them out.

Unintentional Customer Delight

But what happens when a customer is delighted in such a way that was unintentional? When a product or service was rendered that was the result of some error or an unsustainable process?

This is what happened to me with the Wi-Fi service. I’d used the service several times. And I was able to do pretty much whatever I wanted online, including stream Netflix to catch up on my obsession – The Walking Dead. This last time though, all that changed.

I proceeded with my online session like the times before. But this time, the service was poor. It was very slow. And several minutes into my session, the browser on my iPad froze. And, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, having your stream freeze in mid zombie attack stinks worse than the rotting flesh of those pesky walkers.

I logged off and back on and engaged in a customer service chat session where the agent, politely enough, noted that how I was using the service was not advisable. And, these activities, like streaming shows or YouTube, would cause the precise problems I was experiencing. It’s all right there on the login page, you know. Like I read that.

Ok, fine. But I was able to do all these things on my last trip, I explained. In response to which, I was told essentially that I got lucky. It was an anomaly. Unintentional. Unexpected.

Well, the problem is that this was now my expectation going in. I expected this level of service. This experience. Intentional or not. Sustainable or not. This was the bar that had been set. Now that was being taken away.

Now I get the fact that sometimes crazy errors happen. Like when your bank credits your checking account with a few million that isn’t yours. In those circumstances, it’s a reasonable person that would not expect to benefit from such an glitch. But, when the error is within the realm of reality but unsustainable, when it creates an expectation that a reasonable person would believe to be probable, and then is taken away, what then?

Managing vs Exceeding Customer Expectations

Here’s the thing about expectations. Human nature dictates that the more you provide, the more is generally expected. Forget about the erroneous benefits like I had in-flight. Are companies in fact training customers to expect more and more for the same or lower price? Is this a sustainable business model? In fact, is this a sustainable foundation for any relationship?

So, what’s the right answer? Continue to deliver experiences that are unexpected? Or, manage expectations? Under promise and over deliver? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

How Individuals Personally Impact Customer Experience

imgresI really relish the moments when the cosmos work in my favor, when the planets align.  This is one of those times.

I had an experience last night that I thought would make for a good story here.  But, I was struggling with the title.  What was the message?  Then, I saw a tweet from my friend Roy Atkinson announcing the topic for tonight’s #custserv twitter chat.  “How Do You (personally) Make a Real Difference with Customer Service”.  Worlds collided (in a good way).  Planets aligned.

I had my story.  I had my message.

So, how can individuals, whether they be employees or soloists, really impact the customer experience?  First of all, in my opinion, that’s the only way.  Customer experience is a person to person endeavor.  At any and all touch points along the customer/buyer journey, the connection between people is what the experience is based upon.  And, this is regardless of what function that individual is performing as part of the customer experience journey.  So, that being said, on with the story.

I usually end these types of posts with a question.  This time, lets start with a question.  Have you ever thought about how your hours of operation impact your customers’ experience?  More to the point, have you considered how much this constraint can negatively impact your customers’ experiences?  Even more, what criteria do you use to set your hours of operation?  And finally, how are your employees implementing that policy?  (ok, that’s four questions)

Here’s the point.  I was out and about with my family last night.  And after dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, we were on a mission to get long overdue haircuts for my son and my father-in-law.  We drove up to the place my son usually gets his style on, a national chain that will go nameless.  We saw that it was open until eight pm.  As it was currently 7:50, we parked the car and headed in.

Setting the scene.  Two stylists working, each with a customer in her chair.  As we walked in, they both looked up with clear expressions of displeasure on their faces.  As we made our way back to the reception counter, one of the employees left her styling post and quickly informed us that they were closing in ten minutes.  And, we could not be served.

Ten minutes.  They were closing in ten minutes.  Which means, according to my simple logic, they were still open for business.  Hours of operation were until eight o’clock.  It was ten minutes until eight.  Are you with me?  I don’t need to spell it out.  But, to complete the equation, what this encounter equalled was that we will not be returning to that particular establishment in the future.  And, while I’m not going to bash the national brand here, if a local should ask me, they will get my opinion.  Oh, and I can only assume, because hair stylists typically depend on tips for a portion of their income, that these two particular employees do what they do for the altruistic benefit of their unkempt fellow man.

So, when one thinks about how individuals can personally impact the customer experience, how about this?  They can put the customer at the center of everything they do.  They can give a hoot.  They can, at the very least, provide your customers the minimum service and value to which you have committed.

It’s not that complicated.