I encourage you to meditate on the above sentence for a few minutes. How true has this statement been in your personal life? How about in your business interactions, with peers, supervisors, and/or customers?
I have witnessed people struggle for years with personal relationships, family relationships, and business relationships for one simple reason: The expectations they had created for the behavior of others — followed by those individuals’ subsequent “failure” to meet these expectations — were mostly unrealistic, untenable, and more importantly, usually unspoken. No one can meet an unspoken expectation no matter how noble the intent!
Meeting “Unset” Expectations
Professionally speaking, the opening sentence could even be reworded to state: “An unset expectation is a premeditated resentment.” From the beginning, some relationships have little chance of succeeding. These doomed relationships have characteristics in common – especially the lack of communication about expectations. You have heard the term “set-up to fail”? This article from the Harvard Business Review discusses employee-manager relationships, making the universal point that “set-up-to-fail” relationships are both self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing, a vicious cycle indeed.
The first three years I worked at the Charlotte, NC campus. I was one of the guys on the other end of the line when the company’s internal IT experts couldn’t figure out the problem. I was very successful at this position for some important reasons:
- I learned how to set customer expectations early, and properly.
- I was always honest with my customers, regardless of the consequences. My experience has been, and continues to be, that customers value honestly above all else.
Going Beyond — Exceeding Customer Expectations
The entrepreneur Richard Branson, in this recent article, has some insightful words on expectations and how exceeding them can build your brand. He explains, “The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways. Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff, from product development to marketing, works in harmony with your brand image.”
Tips for Building Reputation and Avoiding Resentments
Trust is a key element of any relationship. A reputation over an extended period of time garners trust. So how can we continue to build on this reputation and further exceed our customer expectations while avoiding the creation of resentments?
- We communicate expectations clearly and lucidly at the beginning of the customer relationship.
- We continue to communicate throughout the process, both with the customer, and internally.
- We acknowledge challenging areas with honesty and integrity at the onset, and whenever needed, as the relationships move forward and develop.
- We not only deliver on those expectations, but we exceed them, and we are able to do this because those expectations have been set appropriately from the beginning.
- If we fail to meet a customer expectation, we own that failure as a team and as a company. We take responsibility. We then do whatever is necessary to reset, and then deliver, with honest communication throughout this process as well.
To make this advice memorable, think MINT:
- Maintain open and honest communication with the customer from the onset.
- Investigate potential challenges early and often.
- Never assume the mint is already in place. Assign responsibilities at the onset and maintain accountability for those responsibilities.
- Take responsibility for shortcomings and failures, as well as the successes!
The Power of Commitment
Will you be perfect with every deliverable and exceed every expectation? No. Any endeavor involving the human element will be flawed at times, but what you can do is commit, both individually and as a company, to this level of attention and ownership while striving to improve every day.