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Managing the Curve of Expectation

Expectations are almost everything. Meet them and people are mostly happy. Exceed them and they are mostly overjoyed. Fail to meet them and sometimes nothing else matters.

curveThe key of course lies in properly setting them in the first place.

I had a client years ago that wanted a project by Friday. I knew that would be no problem so I said, in fact, I think we can get it to you by Wednesday. Then one thing led to another and we didn’t deliver until Thursday. We were still ahead of their initial schedule, but they thought we had let them down.

A year or so later I remember being in the exact same situation. A client said, “we need it by Friday.” This time I simply said, we’ll see if we can make that happen. When we delivered it on Thursday, we were heroes.

Exact same results, very different outcome

The common thread was expectations set and met.

Marketers can go a very long way in pleasing and retaining customers when they focus on setting the proper expectations.

You can do this in a variety of ways. You can start by making sure you communicate very clearly and consistently what you are going to do. You can make sure all your policies are spelled out clearly. You can make sure that you have a system that allows you to meet your promises.

But, more than anything, you can tell the customer precisely what to expect – even when what to expect isn’t very fun.

The good and the bad

I had a remodeling contractor years ago that was very focused on their total customer experience. Instead of selling on price, they sold on the process.

They knew that their competitors were out selling how wonderful the project would be and how proud a customer would be to show off their new kitchen.

My client, on the other hand, knew that a remodeling job can be pretty awful at times. You come into someone’s home for months at a time and disrupt their routine, trash their living space and make all kinds of noise.

Sure, they knew the end product would be awesome, but they also knew that they needed to set the proper expectation for how you get there.

For this we created a visual tool we called “The Remodeling Curve.”

The document included all of the core stages of a remodeling process and followed an S shaped curve that implied how most customers felt during the phase.

So, while customers were ecstatic the day the plans arrived, they were ready to kill each other during the drywall sanding phase. The curve showed the highs and lows in the entire process and ended back on a very high note when the job was completed.

By communicating these stages and setting the proper expectations during the sales phase they were able to shine throughout and create a clear point of differentiation from those just talking price and project.

Saving at risk customers

I worked with a music and dance studio recently that noted they seemed to lose about 18% of their students each year. When they drilled down further they found that 76% of those that dropped, did so in the first year and over half of them did it in the month of December.

Practicing music and dance is a hard thing to keep at. They knew that and their teachers knew that but in the rush to get the enrollment they neglected to set the proper expectations for many of their new parents.

They decided to go to work on their own S curve expectation chart to use as a sales and education tool right up front. Their intention was to get parents to understand when it gets boring and the common sticking points that students end up pushing through.

They also created some fun events and motivational gifts that they intentionally sprinkled into the November and December months. By helping the parents understand what to expect, and that it was normal, they were able to significantly reduce their dropped students.

So, what does your expectation cycle look like? What do you need to create to help piece together your customer’s entire journey from high to low to high

The Most Highly Achievable Business Resolution of All

Look, it’s the last day of 2012 and you are likely either thinking about what you’re gonna do to make next year better or you’re sick of hearing people talk about what you should do to make next year better.

Either way, the notion of resolutions has surely occurred at some level. But, here’s the deal, and we all know this by now, resolutions are a sucker’s game. The minute most of us make a resolution to change something, we’ve actually cemented any chance of actually doing it somewhere deep into a place nobody wants to go.

Resolutions

photo credit: bulliver via photopin cc

Resolutions are made up of the stuff we kind of know we should do better, but have no real resolve to do – basically dooming ourselves to failure.

But there is a secret to success in the resolution business – aim lower. That’s right, lower your expectations to something highly achievable and you’ll never be disappointed again.

Here’s a list of highly achievable resolutions that I plan to adopt to get my new year started down the road to success. Feel free to steal any of these as you own.

  • I will spell check the red underlined words in my emails before I hit send
  • I will almost never Tweet while standing at a urinal
  • I will not try to sneak a souvenir snow globe on an International flight
  • I will never put a QR code on a highway billboard sign
  • I will ignore friend requests from high school classmates (unless they have become reality TV stars)
  • I will punch any form of communication with the word synergy in it in the face
  • I will not eat any food that is served in an airport (French fries of course don’t count as they are served in other places too)

Hopefully, my mild attempt at humor will still allow me to make my real point.

Don’t make resolutions, change your game entirely.

Raise your expectations. Expect more from everything. Expect more from yourself. Expect more from and for others. Expect greater results for your customers, personal growth for your staff and even expect more positive interaction with the people and things you currently find difficult.

That’s the real secret to success – simply expect more of it every day. This is perhaps the most highly achievable resolution of all.

Happy New Year!