You buy a product; you expect it to work the first time.
You go to a discount supplier, you expect the quality to be less
than the high end dealer, but you still expect what you buy to
work, first time every time.
When it comes to products, expectations are pretty clear.
People expect a good quality product based on the price they are
willing to pay for it.
When it comes to service, expectations can get a little fuzzy.
When a customer begins a relationship with you he or she already
has a specific set of expectations.
These expectations are based on their perceptions of you, your
company and your industry. They are formed through personal past
experience, and the experience of others with whom the customer
Consider the last time you went into a self-service gas station.
What did you expect? Other than the pump to be working, not much
else right? After all - you are doing all the work. You have the
opportunity to Satisfy, Dissatisfy or Impress–and two of these
Delivering below expectations is obviously bad, but in the
context of creating loyalty, so is simply satisfying customers,
because they are getting nothing more or less than they expect.
If it exceeds your expectations, you’re impressed, and If the
service you receive meets your expectations you are satisfied.
If it is below your expectations…well, you know. Creating
customer value and loyalty comes from consistently exceeding
Prof. Benjamin Schneider and Prof. David E. Bowen published an
article called "Understanding Customer Delight and Outrage".
Delight and outrage?
That may sound a bit melodramatic but this concept is critically
important to providing basic customer service. Consider this
hypothetical bell curve measuring the quality of service
delivery in general: Basically, most service falls into the
median of the curve - the take it or leave it level of service.
If you provide this level of service the customer will be
You at least met their expectations. Schneider and Bowen
actually break the bell curve distribution into four levels
along a continuum:
Customer loyalty is the degree to which customers will patronize
your business and your business alone because you've developed
or created an emotional bond with them. You've gone beyond their
expectations and addressed something more innate - their
emotional needs as a consumer. Customers have come to expect
fast, friendly service. They expect to get an answer to their
questions. They expect you'll answer their call promptly and
return their messages. Do those things well and you'll be in the
But will you win their loyalty? Not necessarily. If you fail,
have you lost them forever? Again, not necessarily.
Research shows customers are willing to accept some failure in
terms of these expectations. Fail continuously and that's a
different story. This is the "ambivalence" part of the model.
Next time they need your product or service they may, if it's
convenient, patronize your business. But they won't seek out
your business purposefully. To do that, they must be delighted
with your service. They must be so impressed with your service
that they become a dedicated follower.
Schneider and Bowen refer to these customers as "apostles". They
will sing the praises of your business to friends, family and
At the other end of the spectrum it's possible to so utterly
offend the basic needs of your customers that they'll wilfully
take every opportunity to sabotage your business. They become a
terrorist according to Benjamin and Bowen. They'll tell every
person who'll listen about the time your business. Each time,
they're likely to embellish the story. So what creates such an
extreme emotional reaction to service in some customers?
According to Schneider and Bowen these reactions occur when you
surpass the needs of a customer (delight) or you offend those
needs. Not just fail to meet them - you (in the mind of the
customer) intentionally deprived them of those needs.
What are these powerful dynamics?
1. Deprived of Equity / Justice
Customers want to be treated fairly. They want to know that the
service and product they receive is as good as that received by
any other customer. Consider a study done by a consumer advocate
group. They asked samples of airline passengers from numerous
airports what they'd paid for their ticket. They found less than
10% of passengers paid the same price for their ticket even
though they flew from the same city. The results incited outrage
among travelers who saw no justification for paying more, when
they had received the same seating and service.
Equity and justice is even more at issue when companies resolve
customer problems. At times service or product experience is so
bad customers will seek compensation for their time, effort and
inconvenience. A participant in one of our customer service
workshops shared the following:
"I purchased a large screen TV from one of those
audio-video-electronics mega stores. The first one just did not
work so we had to bring it back. The second one, which we had to
wait two weeks for, had a large crack along the bottom of the
screen. Again, we didn't know until we unpacked it. I'd already
lost a day of work going to pick it up and unpacking it. When I
brought it back they tried to charge me $37.00 because I
returned it without the box. It was destroyed unpacking it. I
was stunned. Even after explaining the circumstances to the
retail associate he made me talk to the store manager who acted
like he was doing me a favor waiving the charge."
Equity and justice means making customers feel they're getting a
comparable service and product at a fair price. It also means
problems are resolved to their satisfaction and that companies
consider the cost of the customer's time and inconvenience when
2. Lack of Respect
Nothing is more basic and elementary to effective service than
the need for customers to feel respected. In fact, studies show
merely respecting customers does not distinguish your business
or service. That's because customers expect it. It's when they
perceive a lack of respect that things get volatile. For
Rachael brought her car into a repair shop to get new tires put
on. After looking the vehicle over the mechanic recommended new
brakes. Rachael was puzzled since she hadn't noticed any problem
with the brakes. In fact, she had gotten it inspected just two
months earlier. "Well they don't look them over the way we do."
He rattled off some automotive terms to convince her. Rachael
was still hesitant. "Why don't we call your husband," he said.
With that Rachael told him to put the tires back on her vehicle
- she'd be taking her business elsewhere.
Respect means treating customers the same - regardless of
gender, race or age. It means listening to the customer's
problem and responding in an empathic tone. It means your
non-verbal behavior demonstrates concern and attentiveness.
When it comes to service, clearly understand what it is your
customers want, expect and need and shape you people and
processes to deliver a level of service which reflects these.
About the Author
Ray Miller is Managing Partner of
The Training Bank, a Training and Consulting firm
specializing in Customer Focus, Service Improvement, Leadership
and fully customized training solutions. He is also co-author of
That’s Customer Focus which you can download now.