The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Managing Expectations May Be The Most Important Part Of Your Customers' Experience 

Wikipedia notes, "Disappointment is the feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest."

Are you good at setting expectations? Do your expectations and your customers' expectations align? Managing expectations may be the most important part of your customers' experience.

How many times have you been disappointed with your own experience as a consumer? At the root of a bad customer experience is often a failure to meet a core expectation. Common expectations consumers have across products and services often concern reliability, durability, cleanliness, safety or ease of use.

However, when a customer's expectations are missed, which can often happen due to unanticipated events like weather, staffing shortages or missed deliveries, is the loyalty game over? It really shouldn't be, as this is often where the rubber meets the road, and many brands forget this critical point: with failure brings the opportunity to recover. And how a brand recovers, is what matters at these moments of truth.

During a recent visit to a 4 star hotel, I noticed long brown hairs plastered on the back of the bathroom door, right after I had checked in. I mentioned them to the front desk staff, who appeared dutifully upset, and assured me that housekeeping would re-inspect and clean the room. I mentioned that while I certainly understood that other people have used the room before me, in a 4 star property it was my expectation that I should see no physical evidence that they had. They wholeheartedly agreed.

We returned to the room later that day after the regular cleaning time and found the hair still there, evidence my complaint had not been addressed. (This is why I didn't remove it when I initially reported the problem.) When we checked out of our room the next day, I told the front desk manager, who was not there when I made the first report, that the cleaning crew had not been informed or had not acted on the complaint, but as a result, I was disappointed in either event with my stay.

At this point, seeing how badly my expectations had been serviced, the man behind the front desk recognized the moment of truth he faced on behalf of his employer. There was little to indicate I would return, and even more to fear that I might write a bad review on TripAdvisor or tweet a picture of the offending hair and door. So he acted decisively, removing the second room night from my bill, and in the process he communicated ample indignation at the failure of his colleagues to materialize results. The next day, a personal note from the head of housekeeping landed in my inbox, indicating that my picture and experience will be part of employee training going forward. I was impressed with the follow through and grateful for the acknowledgement I had been heard.

Now contrast that response with another hotel experience at a high end luxury chain. Our room at this hotel was blessed with an Eco friendly lighting system that was intended to shut down AC and lights when the room was vacant. During our stay, however, the system failed often in properly detecting our presence, frequently shutting down when we remained in the room but were quietly settled in to read or watch TV. The lack of motion tricked the system into thinking the room was empty. So to recover the AC or lights we had to constantly wave our arms to wake the system.

Upon checking out, the front desk attendant mechanically asked how we enjoyed our stay. We informed him things were ok, but the nuisance of the faulty system would probably keep us from considering a return visit. His reply? "Sorry about that! I'll take off the valet parking charge for your inconvenience." And that was that.

Whether it is a free dessert, a discount off a future purchase, a complementary meal, or a free room night, the act of recovery should be more compelling than a simple mea culpa, and it must deftly communicate that the brand understands the importance of those customer expectations which have been missed. Brands must also train and empower employees to recognize these moments of truth and act upon them with authority.

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