‘If you don’t appreciate your customers, someone else will.’ (Jason Langella)
The restaurant came highly recommended and, as it was a special treat to eat out on this occasion, we had high hopes and expectations. The food was reasonable but the drinks were flat. We paid the bill and left, determined not to go there again. And therein lies one of the challenges for retailers in the UK. Many people are too polite to complain but they simply don’t return. ‘Was everything OK with the meal?’ ‘Yes, thank you.’ Big mistake. How about, ‘We hope you enjoyed your meal. In fact, we’ll give you a £5 discount off off your bill if you could suggest just 1 improvement for next time?’
That’s the way to do it. Take seriously the customer experience, elicit useful suggestions and increase the likelihood of a return. This resonates with what I heard at a Balanced Scorecards and Strategy Maps workshop. We were told that the CEO of supermarket giant Tesco doesn’t ask for reports on how many customers visit the stores, but how many come back. Repeat business. That’s the idea and it’s one of the purposes of loyalty cards: to see who returns. Remember too that just 1 unhappy customer can spread the news of a bad experience to other potential customers like wildfire.
‘Expectation is a belief that is centred on the future.’ (Wiki)
You may recall the now-famous words of Tom Peters: ‘It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver.’ It’s a bit like the parable in Matthew’s gospel: a man has two sons and asks them do something. One says ‘No’ and does it; the other says ‘Yes’ and doesn’t. It signals that expectation is linked to relationship – and trust. If we expect something to happen, it’s as if, for us, it will happen. If it doesn’t, we may experience surprise, disappointment or relief.
Relief, of course, because it’s possible to expect the worst as well as the best. If our fears are unjustified, we call this catastrophizing. Conversely, if our hopes are unfounded, we call it naivety. Both indicate a disconnect between what is imagined and what is real – although we may not be aware of it at the time. That said, our expectations may be entirely realistic, based on firm predictability. Such expectations represent promise, certainty and, where positive, hope.
If our hopes and expectations are high and fulfilled, it can increase our sense of satisfaction, delight and confidence for the future. If not, we are likely to feel frustrated, hurt or disillusioned – and to lose trust. This is why, instead of aiming high, some parents, teachers or managers encourage their children, pupils or staff to ‘lower their expectations’. The intention is to reduce stress by avoiding the risk of disappointment. (This raises interesting questions vis a vis managing customer expectations!)
Alternatively, we may take positive steps to increase the probability of high expectations being met. We may pray hard, sign binding contracts, plan in detail, identify and address critical success factors, prepare contingencies, mitigate the effects of sub-optimal performance etc. Or, psychologically, we may practise mindfulness, increase resilience, learn to handle expectations and disappointments differently. As leader, OD or coach, how do you handle expectations and enable others to do so too?
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