Always exceed your customers’ expectations. It’s not one of the 9 Characteristics of Great Experiences but it probably should be. So let’s add a 10th.
And the reason why you want to exceed your customers’ expectation is that you want to reset them. You want to show them how it is really done. That’s what makes an experience memorable. And as an added benefit - memorable experiences build loyalty.
Expectations are learned.
We are born not really expecting anything. I think a baby expects someone will feed it and care for it, but there is no expectation for how that happens. Many of us grow up in dysfunctional households and don’t question them until we are older because we don’t know what a healthy family looks like when we are born. It’s not part of our innate or intuitive knowledge. To us, our immediate family is our reality. It’s all we know and it’s perfectly fine. We later learn how to appreciate our family (or see how ridiculous it is) by comparing to others and seeing how they work.
Expectations work the same way for consumers
Let’s consider expectations people have for companies regarding product quality, service, and sales materials. What we expect as a customer experience with a company is defined by other companies. We learn how to interact with companies based on past experiences with companies we know. Some companies “ruined” it for others in the industry. Consumers now expect 2-day free delivery because of Amazon Prime. Google made searching on the Web easy - enter a phrase into a textbox and find what you want and need in less than a second.
If you think about expectations and how they are established, they don’t really come from us. They come from all around us. And they are based on those experiences that we remember (good or bad).
Exceeding expectations leads to loyalty.
Let’s talk a bit about Stephen Covey’s bank of trust or emotional bank account. You make a deposit into someone’s bank of trust account through actions and deeds. That person starts to build trust with you. Then if you do something damaging - say the wrong words, do the wrong action - there is sentiment available to rebuild a relationship. The person will see the damaging event as an isolated or unique incident. However, if the balance continues heading towards the negative, well, you get the idea.
Loyalty occurs when a company deposits into your bank of trust. But not just any amount of good deeds and keeping their word - it has to be significant. Over the top. Loyalty is built when customer expectations are exceeded at least once. Exceed expectations more often, and loyalty is further established and cemented. Brand loyalty comes from consistent behavior. But the switch for being loyal happens faster and deeper when somehow the brand experience exceeds expectations.
Here are 3 examples of where companies exceeded expectations and I feel greater loyalty to them.
I had to wait a long time at Apple Computer to pickup a pre-ordered $30 cable. It was to charge my phone and tablet. And I really needed a new cable. My existing cable looked like a small mouse had a snack. I had a lot going on with work and school, so it took me a week to pick it up from the Apple Store. I got to the Apple store and told one of the greeters that I needed to pick up my $30 cable. I figured I’d be in an out of the store in seconds.
I got to the desk for pickup and two people were picking up computers, so the wait took a while. Like 15-20 minutes. For a $30 cable.
I was close to leaving and coming back when it was less busy. I didn’t blame the Apple employees. They were busy being focused on the existing customers and providing them the type of service that Apple typically gives customers. They were great! I didn’t blame the customers. They were buying new computers - they were super excited and wanted the help. However, I tend to get impatient in these situations and fantasize about better ways to fix these situations. I started to wonder if Apple should have a pickup counter so I could get a product and scan out quickly. I could see it now - you can go to a counter, wait to pickup your item, get it scanned and go.
As I was considering logistics in detail, I finally got to the counter. And who did I find? A lovely young man who helped me a few weeks earlier. We remembered each other because we had an awesome conversation about customer experiences and relationships.
He mentioned to me that he was doing something different. I was puzzled but we were catching up and having a great conversation, so no matter.
A few minutes later he told me he refunded my original order and got me a cable for free. He said I shouldn’t have had to wait 15 minute to get a $30 cable.
Believe it or not, I fell in love with Apple again. More loyal than ever. I didn’t expect that.
Massachusetts Secretary of State exceeded expectations
I had to get my diplomas Apostilled for school. Attending a university outside of the US teaches you a lot not just about other cultures, but how other cultures approach systems like school. An official university degree from Spain includes a signature from the king. To get that, you needed to provide your diplomas, but you need to submit authentic diplomas. Because I had a US diploma and because of various agreements and treaties, I needed to submitted an Apostilled diploma.
The thought of doing this made me shudder because I’d have to deal with the mail and government agencies. And in the US at least, they tend not to move quickly. When I thought about the USPS, waiting in line, waiting for documents, needing to track these documents when standard mail doesn’t do that - I was scared. Then I read about the Apostille process in the Massachusetts Secretary of State and saw it took 2-3 weeks. Ugh. To me, it was a lot of paperwork that could take months.
I procrastinated starting this process because I was afraid of the bureaucracy. But there was the appeal of an official degree. That had a higher priority for me. I realized I had some time and possibly could make the deadline, so I tried to make the deadline.
I was confident that I’d get copies of my Simmons diploma notarized to use in time. That wasn’t a problem. I wasn’t confident of the Massachusetts Secretary of State.
But they surprised me.
They post on their site that they have a 2-3 week turnaround time for these documents. It was in a rush so I sent it via 2 day mail UPS. They received my document and returned it in a single day. A single day.
I was so surprised!
Then, because I got a copy of my diploma rather than Apostille my existing diploma, I could send it directly to the school and get my official university degree. And yes, I am getting that degree in April 2018.
Part of my Apostille story includes UPS as well. I worked through them because I didn’t want to wait in long times at the USPS or FedEx or pay the ridiculous rates of FedEx.
Why I love UPS? They are a little cheaper than FedEx in my opinion. And they have a 2-day option. We have been brainwashed to believe that overnight is the only way to go. But is it? I realized quickly that a 2-day option usually does the trick, especially if you are mailing something on a Thursday or over a long weekend. People tend not to work on Fridays anyway; Monday works just as well.
And they were able to find me a great rate for shipping to Spain when I had all of the paperwork together. Yes, I decided to ship thru UPS to track my package to Spain. It worked like a charm. I didn’t just get my documents to Spain in time - I got them there with 4 days to spare.
Why is this so surprising for UPS? Shouldn't this be normal UPS? Not for me. I had a VERY negative perspective of UPS about 6-7 years ago. I lived in an apartment that had a front door and no concierge desk. If I order from an online retailer and if they shipped it via UPS, and I wasn't home to receive the package, UPS would hold the package for me. This meant that I'd have to pick up the item at a UPS delivery location that was not conveniently located near my home. And I had to pick it up within 2 weeks. That doesn't sound like too much of a hassle, but it can be if you can only pick up a package between 9am and 5pm weekdays. Most people work during those times. And with the 20 minute commute each way, the errand took an hour. As a consultant, that's an hour I couldn't charge a client during business hours. Getting a package delivered via UPS wasn't convenient at all. I tried to avoid it at all costs.
UPS and Amazon
A great innovation has been developed between UPS and Amazon regarding Amazon’s returns. You no longer need to print anything for an Amazon return. Go to your local UPS store with a QBR code, let them scan it, and UPS will print a sticker for you to return your goods. It costs a dollar. Soon, I see this being the free option. It’s so easy! The challenge is the mobile connectivity in the store, but I’m sure that will change over time.
Amazon and UPS keeps working to make returns easier. This is why I shop with them.
What do all of these experiences have in common?
They didn’t only exceeded expectations - they reset my expectations. No lines. Single day turnaround vs 2-3 weeks stated on a Web site. Free items when I had excessive wait times for something small. None of these occurrences were anticipated or expected. They were a surprise. I doubt I will expect these events to happen again. They were unique experiences. However, there is the possibility that it could happen again in extreme circumstances. And they demonstrated how a company should be treating me and my business.
It's beyond convenient. It's about being friendly. Why not print a label at UPS? Why not turnaround stamping a document in a day? Why not be a friend and make sure that a letter gets to its destination quickly. In those experiences, I felt like the companies were being allies in my goals and activities. They were part of my success.
They built loyalty immediately because they exceeded expectations and deposited warm feelings into the bank of trust. They exceeded expectations in all cases.
I guess exceeding expectations - and resetting what I should expect from companies - worked.