Tell Me, What Were You Expecting?

I fully embrace a Next Generation mentality.

Rapid changes in technology have created incredible new ways to connect, communicate, and collaborate not just locally, but globally … and beyond.

Change, though, has come with a heavy price. The success of music streaming apps and other digital media options has rendered one of my favorite Development “Lead-in” questions obsolete. For years I would prompt a discussion around Customer Expectations with the following question:

“How many songs on a CD do you have to like to make you feel satisfied with your purchase?”

Responses to the question would run the gamut of perspectives, even among smaller groups. While some were satisfied with one good song (Low Expectations), others expected every song to be of high quality (High Expectations) to validate their purchase.

My personal preference was three . . . if I really enjoyed three of the songs on a CD, I was satisfied with the value of my selection.

While CDs have become yesterday’s news, thus rendering my favorite exercise outdated and irrelevant, there remain two beliefs at the forefront of any discussion related to customer expectations:

Belief #1 is that customers will have varying levels of expectations leading into a service experience. Depending on what inspired their original choice, expectations could range from High to Low, or a sampling  of all points in between.

Belief #2 reminds us that customers expect interaction between their arrival and departure. These service “touchpoints” contribute to a collective impression of a service experience. While some touchpoints seem more significant than others, each contribute to the memories a guest will carry forward.

Belief #1 – Expect The Unexpected

We were shopping for a suite of new kitchen appliances. While the individual items had been located on-line, processing them to be shipped and delivered as a collective order proved to be too much of a challenge.

Since these were being ordered through a Home Improvement Center, with some being shipped from International locations, we decided to visit a local store and seek their assistance. This, admittedly, was my first opportunity to see the individual items and their respective price tags. I offered a simple inquiry as to “Why do these cost so much?”, which prompted a response from Anna, “Its because they’re worth that much.” I had been enlightened.

We were approached by a Sales Associate who began to sort through the details of our order. It was clear from the beginning that this was no ordinary process. Friendly and casual exchanges quickly turned into frustrating stares into the computer screen, the shuffling of papers, and repeated assurances of “This will only take a minute.

Just then, a Supervisor from the department walked by our desk. The gentleman wore jeans, a red vest, and had a name badge hanging at the bottom of a lanyard. He might as well have been dressed in flowing robes and carried a large wooden staff because he became the savior of this most challenging exercise.

Seldom have I seen the level of Empathic Sensing displayed by this individual, not only on behalf of the customer, but for his sales associate, as well. While he just happened by our station, he read the situation immediately . . . and correctly . . . and began assisting in the process, seizing the moment as a learning opportunity for his teammate. 

Given the complexity of our order, the Supervisor stayed glued to the process, acting as a personal Concierge until the final “T” was crossed. We felt valued, we felt nurtured, and were completely satisfied with the overall service received.

Our expectations heading into this experience? Low. We expected to find a semi-friendly member of the staff to help us sort through the purchasing process. Instead, we found a superstar that not only created a memory but had a positive impact on our loyalty to his Brand. Service Experienced: Excellent.

Buoyed in spirit by our rather successful endeavor, we decided to stay in the area and have lunch. Our choice was a popular destination, a chain restaurant with a reputation for consistent service and food quality.

One step in the door reminded us that it was just after Noon on a Sunday, prime Lunch and Brunch business hours. Following a quick huddle, we decided that since we were already there, we could survive the wait.

Working my way through the crowd toward the Hostess Stand, I could see there were two associates, plus a Manager staring intently at the seating chart. I made it all the way to the front of the podium without a single attempt on behalf of the three employees to connect with me . . . no eye contact, no smile, no nada.

Over their shoulders I could see action in the dining area. Frantic would best describe the pace of service, few smiles, a lot of very direct exchanges between servers and their support staff. Warning bells were sounding in the distance.

The group at the podium continued to study their chart, and converse amongst themselves. I politely said, “Good Morning”, careful not to communicate my growing concern.

One of the ladies looked up from the chart and replied “Yes?”

In class, this is when I would call a Tall Tim Timeout to begin a discussion around Tone. Not the tone in which the hostess replied, which was disinterested at best, but setting the tone for the overall customer experience. In this case, a warm, congenial welcome would provide me hope that beyond physical appearances, I just might enjoy my lunch and consider returning in the future.

The tone that was set by the rude, one-word reply to my proactive greeting set the stage for disappointment, highlighted by a lack of trust that we would receive any thing close to personalized service.

More shocking was the member of the management team in the middle of it all. If you are an Air Traffic Controller or Radar Technician on a ship, I can understanded your undivided attention to the screen in front of you. Working the seating chart at the Hostess Stand in a restaurant?  There is no excuse.

Our expectations heading into this experience? High. The chain had a decent reputation for service. Though peak business on a Sunday afternoon, we expected to wait in exchange for personalized, if even slightly rushed service. What we received was an unfriendly welcome, which set the tone for a miserable service experience, and a negative impact on our loyalty to that Brand. Service Experienced: Poor.

Belief #2 – collective impression

A guest’s memory of their experience reflects a collective impression formed over multiple service opportunities, or touchpoints. While some opportunities may have a greater impact than others, they all contribute to the emotional imprint, feelings a guest will rekindle once the experience has passed.

The following are touchpoints to focus on when evaluating the potential of your service experience:


What do you expect when you arrive at a place of business, a medical office, or spa?

Do your expectations differ from those when arriving at a restaurant or hotel?

If you answered “Yes” to the second question, you have identified our greatest opportunity to learn and grow as a Service Society. For if a business caters to guests, customers, clients, or patients, their existence depends on a Personal Choice . . . someone has chosen your service from among many other options and competitors.

That’s something to celebrate and be grateful for. Which is exactly where you should begin to design your customer arrival experience.

We’ll borrow learnings from the Hospitality Industry: Guests expect a warm welcome when they arrive at a hotel or restaurant. Being greeted with a genuine smile and by name, confirmation of reservation details, solicitation of preferences and an offer of additional assistance have become standard across those industries.

The question is how can we adopt these standards across more clinical applications, such as a physician’s office? To be perfectly honest, service expectations heading into those opportunities are Low. The answer to improving expectations may involve staffing and budgeting options we have yet to consider.

For example, my dental group runs a busy operation, and my arrival experience consists of signing in on a clipboard, then reading a periodical or watching television until I’m called into a treatment room. I’m considering making a change.

Imagine the impact if that Dental Group employed a Customer Service Technician. The experience would probably sound something like this:

“Good Morning, Mr. Shamrell, and welcome back! Thank you for choosing us.  I see that we’re in for our semi-annual check-up today. Hard to believe its been six months already. Is there anything that I can pass along to Dr. Smith on your behalf? Excellent. Thank you once again for choosing We Pull’em Dental, we really appreciate your loyalty.”

I’m not saying that would reduce my need for Novocain, but it would certainly make me feel good about my choice and my loyalty.

Gettin’ In Tune

We can agree that a great Arrival Experience will set a positive tone for the overall experience. Now, it is the responsibility of the entire staff to ensure they remain “In Tune” with those heightened expectations.

The most effective technique to develop among your team is the Empathic Sensing that was demonstrated by our Supervisor at the Home Improvement Center. While not a difficult technique to master, it does require a unique perspective: Treat the business like you own it.

I’m referring to viewing each customer interaction through a proprietary lens, as if paying your rent or mortgage depended on it. That is the type of investment required to set the customer as the #1 priority, to establish the mindset of “I will do whatever it takes to make sure my customer is satisfied”.

From a practical application, this involves monitoring a customer’s verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, if you approach a customer and they say they are “Fine”, what does that mean? Do you feel satisfied with the response, or do you realize that Fine translates into “Feelings Inside Not Expressed”?

Or perhaps you notice a happy or joyful demeanor. Ask the guest if there is a reason to celebrate, or why they seem to be in such good spirits.

Remember this treasured Service Excellence Rule of Thumb: Interest = Value.

I have coached many service professionals who stated quite confidently that they connected with their guest. My probing questions would almost certainly ask “What did they say?”, and more importantly “What did you sense they were feeling?” Stopping short at a simple inquiry is like leaving money on the table . . . and from an owner’s perspective, every penny counts.


We have now arrived at the critical Last Impression. Not the time to take your foot off the gas, a lot of sweet can turn sour without the proper focus and intention.

Considering this is your last opportunity to interact with a customer, you want to ensure two feelings are communicated without question:  Gratitude and an Invitation to Return.

Continue to approach this from an ownership perspective. You are grateful that the customer chose to employ your services. So, let that shine through, don’t be shy. A simple statement to the effect of “Thank you for choosing us” will linger with the guest, making them feel appreciated and valued.

Next, include an invitation to return. This may involve a natural portion of the process, like scheduling a routine check-up or appointment. In that case, choose to include a personalized wish, such as enjoying an upcoming holiday, or something you have discovered that is truly unique to the customer.

Returning to the example of my dental group, my standard departure experience consists of being numbed to the hilt, reviewing and paying my bill, then setting another appointment if necessary. I leave the clinical area and stumble into the daylight.

An improved departure experience would involve the recently employed Customer Service Technician. Once I have departed the clinical area, my last impression would be of a warm, genuine smile, thanking me for being a great patient, asking me if there was anything else I needed, and wishing me a safe drive home.

Simple, but impactful steps to ensure that the collective efforts of your team are captured as pleasant, positive memories for your customer.

A Soul Proprietorship

Exceeding your customer’s expectations requires an extreme commitment from every member of the team. You may not be aware of a Customer’s expectations in advance or know when an opportunity to create a positive impression will present itself . . . that’s why your Empathic Sensing must be turned on and tuned into 24/7.

If you owned the business, would you accept “Fine”? Most likely not, so let that influence your approach.

Pay close attention to the bookends of an experience, both Arrival and Departure. A lot can happen on the pages in between, but those two opportunities are within your ability to influence. Make it personal, and make it memorable.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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