About Them Customers’ Expectations

I wrote a blog post at TheSocialCustomer.com trying to define what a Social Business is.  I am quite certain I am far from done with the definition, but there is one part in the post that I want to expand a little bit more: customers’ expectations.

I wrote that for a Social Business (actually, it really means any business with aspirations to leverage social channels) you have to over-deliver to customer expectations.  I did not say you have to meet them, I did say you have to exceed them.  Some of my peers in the #SCRM Accidental Community were not too thrilled with the idea (apparently, not sufficiently upset to comment on the blog post either) of having to exceed expectations, telling me that meeting them should be sufficient as long as it is done in a consistent basis.

I disagree, and here are the three reasons I disagree:

1) Competition – if you only meet your customers’ expectations, then your competitors will find out what they want and take them. It’s very simple, people’s loyalty (in most cases just rational with few exceptions — see next point) are for purchase.  What’s that? You want an extra 10 days to pay your credit card bill and the rigid bills at the your bank won’t allow it?  Well, guess what I got for you — an extra 15-days to pay your credit card every month!  Poof, customer lost — Loyalty can be bought.

2) Loyalty – I wrote before how loyalty becomes an emotional thing over time when you over-delivered to your customers.  The consistent over-delivery is what creates a bond with the experience that makes customers move from rational to emotional loyalty. We are more willing to forgive a bad experience from Beloved Brands than from any other brand.  If the Ritz Carlton screws up (yes, it happens) and they say they will make it up to you, you better believe it till blow your expectations of “making it up to you” out of the water.  If AT&T says they will make it up to you — well, you get the picture.  Which brand generates emotional loyalty in every interaction? Beloved Brands — the ones that are out to exceed customers’ expectations.

3) Long-term Strategy – Interesting thing about Customer Service and Experiences, they are not a destination; it is something you will continue to do until the day you close your business.  Planning for meeting your customers’ expectations, as opposed to exceeding them, is like planning to make it to the end of the month with your paycheck — you can get what you want done in the immediate term, but you cannot prepare for the future or properly accommodate unexpected occurrences.  If something happens that requires you to go beyond your current setup you won’t have the bandwidth or the capacity as your systems and solutions are only set to meet present  needs.  Sounds like it would never happen?  Think again.  When JetBlue was faced with apologizing for keeping people in a locked airplane in the tarmac for some ungodly number of hours (was it eight? 12?) a couple of years ago, they could’ve just said we are sorry, here is a voucher — as most other airlines would’ve done.  Instead, they changed their systems and procedures to make sure it never happened again.  Customers, accustomed to what the airline industry had to offer, never expected that.  As a result, over 90% of them intended to continue flying with JetBlue.  Trust me, JetBlue did not just want to meet expectations – they wanted to blow them our of the water.

Do you want your brand to become a Beloved Brand? To have emotional loyal customer? To have your service commitment work as your marketing campaign?  Your plans should be to exceed your customers’ expectations then.

Am I wrong? What says you?

14 Replies to “About Them Customers’ Expectations”

  1. Esteban – Great post and I have to agree with the majority of it – certainly it’s paramount that understanding customer expectations and perceptions are a critical priority, as is having a clear understanding of what the customer values. And yes, I totally agree that this is a never ending journey.

    However, I wonder about several points. The first is, if exceeding expectations is the goal to build loyalty, doesn’t that mean that the bar has to be continually (at every touchpoint) raised, since each touchpoint created a new minimal level of expectation?
    Also, and I’m sorry to resort to the statistician in me, beloved brands are the cream-de-la-cream – out there – 2 standard deviations away from the norm, but exist BECAUSE of the norm. We all desire to be above the norm, but it’s kind of like the response you get when you ask people about their intelligence – 70% say they are above average – which statistically, can not exist. It is a truly customer-centric thing to have all of us strive to exceed expectations and differentiate ourselves to be above average, but, in reality, that will only more the average up. The customer wins, but the percentage of companies that are beloved, those more than 2 standard deviations above the norm, will still remain unchanged.

    The customer advocate side of me is fully in support of continually raising the bar and striving to exceed expectations, but the rational side of me says that the vast majority of companies will still be at just meeting or striving to meet expectations.


    1. Scott,

      This was the point made by most people so far. If we are constantly over-delivering then we are raising the bad in each interaction so we may never catch up. Which elicited three responses:

      1) what is the difference between then and now? we are always struggling to meet expectations — wouldn’t it be better to do the same and deliver better interactions (see next two points as to how)?
      2) In one of the places where I am syndicated (CustomerThink) Professor Steve Vargos commented and said that it is not usually the case, that raising delivery does not raise expectations. This also correlates to my experience — people are more grateful for the improved and better experiences, but it does not become the expectations — and even if it did (see next point)
      3) you are now prepared to continue to deliver against that new expectations, since you revamped your culture, hierarchies, policies and systems to deal with it.

      The second most common comment was on service recovery vs service delivery, and how delivering above expectations would simply negate the effect of service recovery in instances where things went wrong. Alas, my perspective is that either things won’t go wrong that often, or as it is customary and proven with loyal customers — service recovery won’t need to be excessive to prove effective.

      As for your second point: statistics. Beloved brands are not actually 2 standard deviations from the norm. They are the norm for companies that realized the value of their customers and over-delivering to them Whether by design (Ritz Carlton) or by need (Harley Davidson) these are the brands that realized that customer-centricity and over-delivery has its rewards. And, anyone can do it if they align their tools, processes, and more importantly people behind it.

      Thanks for the read (long week, so sorry for the long delay in replying)


      1. Esteban (and Kathy and Jim) –

        I apologize for the rant and for being misunderstood. I firmly believe that companies should continually strive to delight their customers and to work towards excedding expectations.

        Chalk it up to either jealousy or what sometimes seems like living the life of Sisyphus, when the (same cast of characters, year-after-year) Beloved Brands are brought up. However, my life is devoted to making the place I work one of them!


  2. Esteban,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion here in your blog.

    I hadn’t thought of it before but your paycheck metaphor is outstanding to capture your exceed expecations proposal.


    I agree that many companies will strive to exceed customer expectations and then fail to make the hurdle for any number of reasons. And that’s all the more reason for a company to be one of those who succeed in the jump.

    The big thing for companies to understand is that the sort of customer focus Esteban is advocating won’t happen over night. Smart companies will recognize it will require a progressive change – both within their organization and in the customer’s mind set. Build strategies that will allow for the progression. Employees will need to gain trust in management (that they really, really mean exceed customer expectations). And the organization will need time to absorb the cultural changes needed to support such a philosophy.
    .-= Kathy Herrmann´s last blog ..7 SCRM insights that will change the world – From #SCRMSummit =-.


    1. Thanks Kathy for the kind words… I also like the paycheck metaphor. Will see if it takes 🙂

      And thanks for agreeing with me in regards to the cultural aspects that are necessary to make it as a beloved brand. to me that is the most important part of this discussion.


  3. I think what would help me in discussing social crm and meeting or exceeding customer expectations is some actual examples. My case study would be Verizon and their one bill strategy that was a complete failure.

    I’m a Verizon customer and have FIOS and Verizon wireless services so I was excited about getting a single bill and being able to pay it online. So I signed up and was totally disappointed. Verizon implement the single bill by having their wireless division send their bill to FIOS who then billed me. Sounds OK but it turned out that wireless billed FIOS for services that I paid them directly.

    When I called I discovered that FIOS and Verizon Wireless were operated as completely separate organizations and they could not straighten out the double billing mess. I actually had both organizations on the phone, they understood what happened but their billing systems could not fix the problem.

    What this clearly demonstrates is that management offered what appeared to be a customer focused, web enabled service that their organization was ill equipped to deliver. Organizations need to thoroughly explore their social media strategy and make sure they can at a minimum delivery or exceed expectations of their customers or they’ll make a mess of it.

    Bill Crowell


    1. Bill,

      Thanks for the read and the comment. What Verizon did, and I just read your story – don’t have first hand knowledge of it otherwise – was the same mistake most people make: they “forgot” to align the three elements of delivering a new experience: people, process, and tools. They created a new interface, in response to something that probably customers wanted (I tried that with my provider in the past and quickly realized it was not going to work), but did not align the systems (and more than likely the people) with it. The exceeding customers expectations bit takes the entire organization to change and adapt to the new model. I thought that since we are going in the direction anyway, since we have to change due to the advent of the social customer, it would be a good time to bring it up for consideration.

      I have had customers in the past that tried different iterations and models of the same, and they were very successful and satisfied. The model works — as long as the entire organization is aligned behind it.

      Thanks for the read!


  4. Esteban,

    I agree that one must far exceed a customer’s expectations; that is precisely what makes the everlasting impression and with the intense competition, is what will maintain customer loyalty. One just can not meet expectations as you so aptly explained because the next company will only need to take it just a bit farther, and wham … you lost your customer.

    I don’t think most companies really strive to go the extra mile, and I think mediocrity is what makes Amazon, Nordstrom and the Ritz stand out as they do. Using the example of Jet Blue, they had the foresight to knock the socks off of the competition; a whole lot more customer “pleasing” than the announcement the other day of an airline soon to charge customers for the use of blankets and pillows on domestic flights.


    1. Cheryl,

      Thanks for the read and the comment. I loved your post.

      I totally agree with you that mediocre companies make the good ones stand out. I just wish more people were to see it that way and try to create above average (or even above mediocre) organizations for their customer service initiatives. It would go a very long way towards becoming the ones that capture the customer as opposed to the ones that lose the customers.

      And, yes — it is an iterative process, so there is no rest for the weary.


  5. Esteban:
    I totally agree and furthermore, to support your viewpoint, all we have to do is think about our expectations from our employees and the “exceeds the minimum requirements of the job” category when we evaluate their performance and that is where we would like the average employee to be. We also have the “far exceeds category” for top performers. Who wants to just meet requirements and why should our customers not expect better than that of us???

    My apologies, but I feel that your approach just supports mediocrity and based on where we currently are in the spectrum of paying attention to our customers, mediocrity will not permit us to get to where we need as quickly as we need to. It is all about the customer and we need to keep our focus on that!


    1. Jim,

      Thanks a lot for the comment and the read. That is an excellent point you make— we can apply the same concept to any business process: internal or external, customers or partners or employers. Further, if you were to make the changes necessary to make this model work — you would do that. You would actually become a new culture, focused on over-delivery. I think it is quite interesting to explore the model further — thanks for that point.


  6. I think I have to disagree. As Bruce Temkin says in Customer Experience & the Zen of Branding: “Consistently deliver on brand promises that resonate with customers.” I value consistency when doing business with firms – I want them to meet my expectations. If they do it like clockwork, I will be loyal. An organization that occasionally exceeds my expectations and occasionally dashes them isn’t great competition for my loyalty.


    1. Jeffrey,

      While I have a lot of respect for Bruce — this is an area where we disagree. I do believe that what he writes about is applicable for most organizations that just want to embrace experiences and continue their normal operations. What I am proposing is for those companies that want to leapfrog their competition in the process and want to advance their customer service levels to meet (sorry, exceed) the expectations of their customers as a way to become more profitable and more customer-centric. It takes a lot more than preparing for and delivering against expectations — it takes a very deep analysis of the feedback provided and closer relationships to find out what their expectations are and how we can exceed them, and a complete revamp (in some cases maybe just a lengthy advance) of the corporate culture.

      This will separate you, at great expense of time and changes, from the regular people who just want to do the same they are doing now, with a different experience. Just my thoughts…

      Thanks for the read!


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