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Annette Franz

Customer Care

Expectations: The Mother of All Frustrations

Performance – expectations = (dis)satisfaction

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 - 12:01

I recently saw an article with an image that included a quote from Antonio Banderas: “Expectation is the mother of all frustration.”

Honestly, this is true in life, in all relationships. Think about it for a second: Aren’t relationships much easier and much more relaxed when you have no expectations of the other party? Were you waiting for him to bring you flowers? Did you expect her to call your mom to wish her a happy birthday? How did that make you feel when those expectations weren’t met? Frustrated? Disappointed? Unhappy? Not so good, I’m sure. Did it make you question the person and the relationship?

Now think about your customers. Think about what frustrates them. And why.

Expectations, of course.

Customers come to do business with you because they have a set of expectations, including:
• “I heard they have the best [insert product here].”
• “I read reviews and saw that they got five-star ratings.”
• “Their commercial said they guarantee [insert guarantee here].”
• “I've purchased from them before, and had a great experience.”

There are a lot of different ways that customer expectations are formed:
• Your brand promise
• Your marketing and advertising
• You stated something outright, e.g., “We guarantee our work.”
• Customers’ previous experience with your brand or with another brand
• Consistent delivery of a great experience (by your brand)
• Word of mouth or reviews and feedback from other customers
• Based on customers’ own set of morals and values, how they would treat others, or what they would do for them

But expectations can be funny things:
• Customers have them, but they aren’t in control of them and not in control of the outcomes.
• Customers have them, but companies must know them and understand them.
• Companies set them (e.g., brand promise, service delivery, marketing), yet they have trouble delivering against them (consistency/consistently).

Where do you begin?

Obviously, understanding your customers, their needs and jobs to be done, and their expectations (against those needs and jobs to be done) is the first step in being able to deliver to them. When employees know and understand customer expectations, they can develop products and services, provide service and support, and interact with customers in such a way that ensures they meet or exceed said expectations. They also need to do this consistently.

There’s an equation for this: Performance – expectations = (dis)satisfaction

How do you measure expectations?

First, ask what the expectations are. Understand them. Deliver against them. And then ask if they were met. Or you could simply ask a satisfaction/experience question post-interaction to gauge where you stand, since expectations and experience are closely related. Or you can just ask an expectations-met question post-interaction to get the same information. Often, we’ll ask a more detailed diagnostic question to understand what the expectations were; after all, if you only know that they were/weren’t met but don’t know what they were, how helpful is that?

Are expectations the mother of all frustrations? I tend to agree. But expectations are inherently part of all relationships, including those with customers, so companies must learn how to identify, deliver against, and mitigate those frustrations, i.e., unmet expectations.

W. Edwards Deming has an interesting take on expectations:
“Customer expectations? Nonsense. No customer ever asked for the electric light, the pneumatic tire, the VCR, or the CD. All customer expectations are only what you and your competitor have led him to expect. He knows nothing else.”


About The Author

Annette Franz’s picture

Annette Franz

Annette Franz, CCXP is founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. She’s got 25 years of experience in both helping companies understand their employees and customers and identifying what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience – so that, together, we can design a better experience for all constituents. She's an author (she wrote the book on customer understanding!), a speaker, and a customer experience thought leader and influencer. She serves as Vice Chairwoman on the Board of Directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), is an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council, and is an Advisory Board member for CX@Rutgers.


Implicit vs Explicit expectations

there is a sublte nuance missing from your anlaysis.  There are implicit expectations and explicit expectations.

Explicit expectations are the easiest to monitor and should be the easiest to control.  When a company gives a well defined output, "your installation will be between 8am and 9am on Wednesday [insert date]", they create an explicit expecation.  If the installer arrives within the given time, then the expectaion is met. These expectaions can be managed through clear consistent communication. Even if a situation changes, clear communication of an explicit expectation can be managed.  In the installation example, a timely call communicating an extraordinary event (flat tire, traffic emergency, etc.) can go a long way in refining the expectation and keeping the performance in-line with the expectation.

Implicit expectations are much more difficult to address. As each person holds their own interpretation of concpets such as, "5 star rating", "guarantee", claims of "best", etc. Meeting the expecation demands a company first discover each persons expectation for the interaction.  This is a daunting task requiring clear and consistent communication to establish the expecation in language both the business and consumer agree.  Too many times, this step is missed in setting up the relationship between business and consumer and only handled "post event" through things like follow-up surveys.