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Expectations: Yours or Theirs?

Businesswoman shaking hands with a man

Customer service often finds its way into conversations I have with family, friends and colleagues.  Whether it’s fabulous, good or deplorable, it ‘s something we all notice and we freely share our experiences with others.

Good service means doing what the customer expects, and while this sounds simple, it isn’t. Why? Because we often act based on our own expectations, not our customers’. In fact, a lot of the time we aren’t even aware what our customer is expecting. Yikes!

The word “expectation” comes from Middle French and Latin, and orginally meant “anticipation”. As customers, we create, in our mind’s eye, a preview of what we will experience  with a graphic designer, real estate agent, restaurant, hotel, etc. When the actual experience falls short of our preview … .

Here’s a recent example: A few weeks ago I had the delightful task of ordering a cake. In searching bakery websites, a very specific cake caught my eye. For years I’ve looked longingly at this cake in one of my favorite cookbooks, but I’ve never had the courage to create one – Sachertorte.

With the photo of this delicious cake in view, I called the bakery. A young man answered the phone. It could be that I’d interrrupted him, although I didn’t hear other voices nearby. It could be that, since the bakery is also a cafe, it was very busy. But I didn’t hear that in the background either. What I did hear very clearly was a lack of interest in my call.

I began my questions about cakes, asking his advice on choosing between the Sachertorte and another chocolate cake that was pictured on the website. Thoughout the call his responses were monotone … until he yelled at someone in the background to confirm the cake would be ready for the next day.

While none of this behaviour was dreadful, it was completely contrary to my expectations. As a customer ordering something I consider to be one of life’s greatest treasures – cake – I was expecting friendly, happy, interested. I was expecting an experience that I would want to repeat, that the bakery would entice me to order cake more often. (It reminded me of planning my wedding 8 years ago and phoning a high-profile local venue only to be greeted by the owner’s  complete and utter boredom at having to speak with me. I was expecting someone who’d be excited for and with me. Needless to say, that phone call ended very quickly.)

Back to the cake … the Sachertore did not disappoint. It was absolutely delicious. But the experience of buying it had an impact. Next time I want to order cake, I’ll likely call a different bakery first. I’ll look for the experience I’m anticipating. If I find it, and the cake is equally as delicious …  .

So the question is … do you know your clients expectations? If you aren’t sure, ask. For example, “What are three key skills you want your staff to own by the end of our workshop?” or  “What type of updates would you like to receive while your property is on the market?” or  “Are you looking for a sweet and light chocolate cake, or one that has a deeper, rich flavour?”

Creating this clarity allows us to not only deliver what is expected, but to exceed those expectations. The result?  Referrals and repeat business come our way.

Enjoy your phonework everyone!

0 thoughts on “Expectations: Yours or Theirs?”

  1. This says a lot about the bakery and I hope they discover it before it’s too late. The story is absolutely bizarre and I agree in terms of not going back. Self awareness is a gift that requires continuous monitoring, discipline and maturity. While I know you don’t feel like it, you owe it to them to let them know.

    • Thanks, Steve, for this insight. In most cases, I do let companies know not only where service falls short of expectations but also where it exceeded. But I also encounter companies that simply aren’t interested in that information. Unfortunately, this bakery falls into the latter category.

  2. Next time, call me as I love to have any excuse to bake! And will have my best telephone answering skills in place too.


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