Customer Service Speed Traps

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Summary:

At the end of a conference I attended, buses lined up to take conference-goers to the airport. Anticipating long lines at the airport, I raced to the first bus, leaping over luggage and zigzagging around people. I handed over my luggage to be stowed in the baggage compartment, hopped on the bus, and began to mentally pace.

Time passed, but the bus didn't depart. I realized that I should have taken a cab, but my suitcase was buried under heaps of luggage. I had no choice but to sit tight.

Managing My Expectations

At the end of a conference I attended, buses lined up to take conference-goers to the airport. Anticipating long lines at the airport, I raced to the first bus, leaping over luggage and zigzagging around people. I handed over my luggage to be stowed in the baggage compartment, hopped on the bus, and began to mentally pace.

Time passed, but the bus didn't depart. I realized that I should have taken a cab, but my suitcase was buried under heaps of luggage. I had no choice but to sit tight.

Managing My Expectations

When the bus driver got on, I asked him whether we'd make it to the airport within an hour. "Unlikely," he said. "The chances are very small. You might as well forget it."

I became anxious; I really didn't want to miss my flight.

As we departed, the bus driver announced that he knew how eager we were to make our flights and he'd get us to the airport as quickly as possible. Fifteen minutes into the trip, he declared that we were entering a speed trap, and he was taking a really big chance, but he knew we were in a rush so he'd risk it.

Twenty minutes later, we reached the airport with time to spare. I was enormously grateful and gave the driver a big tip. Make that a very big tip. It wasn't till later that I realized the driver's clever strategy: He had skillfully (some might say deviously) managed my expectations.

After all, he had told me before we even left that we wouldn't make it within an hour. So if I had gotten off the bus and taken a cab, he'd have been rid of one potentially pesky passenger. On the other hand, if I stayed on the bus and we arrived late, well, he had warned me.

Most important, we arrived with time to spare. And he knew we would. I'm pretty sure of that. He earned himself a big tip from this grateful passenger and probably several others.

In lowering my expectations, the driver had protected himself against the unlikely possibility that something would prevent him from making good time. Such as having to creep through that (alleged) speed trap. Yet, I suspect he was familiar enough with this route to know that when (not if) we arrived sooner than he'd led us to believe, he'd be tipped accordingly for his on-time delivery.

Here's a Tip for You

Unlike this bus driver, many eager-to-please people make overly optimistic commitments to their customers. Is it any surprise that when these people hit their own speed traps and have to adjust their commitments, their customers become upset? After all, from the customer's perspective, a promise was made, but not honored.

Sometimes, it's better to minimize the expectations you create.

Of course, if you exceed expectations, you can be justifiably pleased. Just be aware that you could be setting the stage for customer dissatisfaction because of what I've dubbed the Expectations Norm. That is, expectations quickly adjust to match an increased level of service, and if service then drops from this new high, customer satisfaction plummets. Customers experience a decline in service from that high level as much worse than when that lower level of service was the norm.

So, if I ever run into this bus driver again under similar circumstances, I will expect on-time delivery (of me to the airport). I'll tell him it's necessary if I'm to remain a satisfied customer. That'll be a tip he can count on.

User Comments

4 comments
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

You are totally spot on with this article and on both points. When I first started working I was confident and cocky. If my manager asked me how long something was going to take I'd ALWAYS underestimate the time it would take. So I was always late. Not only was this a disappointment for my manager but it made me feel like I failed.<br><br>Now when a manager asks me how long something will take I think about all the things I will need to do and add 20% because there is ALWAYS something I am not anticipating. Most the time I get the task done on time or a little ahead but now it is never late.<br><br>As to your other point about how 'customers' can grow to expect this high level of service, I was talking with a project manager once and he told me when he first started managing projects the more experienced developers would ALWAYS complete their work ahead of schedule. So now, as a seasoned project manager, when a developer gives him an estimate he immediately subtracts 20%.<br>

March 25, 2010 - 6:01pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Darrell, thanks for your comments. You're right -- that 20% seems pertinent on both sides. As the one carrying out the project, you're wise to add 20% to your estimate to allow for all the things that transpire (and conspire) to make it take longer. And as the manager, you learn when it's appropriate to subtract 20%. ~Naomi

March 25, 2010 - 6:04pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

The ingenuity of the driver are hilarious :) I myself has such kind of experience which I thought I can share with you. Me & one of my friend went for shopping. She is a bit of snobbish. In the market we came across a fruit seller & I thought lets buy some strawberries as my kid like it a lot. This guy was selling strawberries in 2 price range. I bought the cheaper one & my friend, who thinks everything anything costly is good, bought the costliest variety. One day when we met again, during our conversation she started saying how bad the strawberries were. I guess that time also the seller manipulated our expectation to sell his stuffs. But then in all services (as I'm from software testing services industry) we try to manipulate our clients expectation so save ourselves..And if we do-away with our moral issues, this methods save us in lot of time...<br><br>Regards,<br>Tania

April 22, 2010 - 3:00pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Tania, I love your story of your strawberry experience! Yes, the price certainly does influence our reaction to the product or service. And like the bus driver, almost everyone who serves customers looks for ways to influence their expectations, both to save themselves and (hopefully) also to make them satisfied customers. ~Naomi

April 22, 2010 - 3:06pm

About the author

Naomi Karten's picture Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a highly experienced speaker and seminar leader who draws from her psychology and IT backgrounds to help organizations improve customer satisfaction, manage change, and strengthen teamwork. She has delivered seminars and keynotes to more than 100,000 people internationally. Naomi's newest books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Her other books and ebooks include Managing Expectations, Communication Gaps and How to Close Them, and How to Survive, Excel and Advance as an Introvert. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions & Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. She is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com. When not working, Naomi's passion is skiing deep powder. Contact her at naomi@nkarten.com or via her Web site, www.nkarten.com.

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