We’ve all been trained to think more is always better- that exceeding expectations should be our ultimate performance goal. Tom Peters, and others like him, have made careers out of spewing anecdotes from companies who blew the lid off of their customers’ expectations. Our inclination is to “oooh and ahh” at these types of stories. We’re trained to think ‘ the more ridiculous the story’, the better the company. Well hang on there, Tom- not so fast…
I’ll admit that exceeding customer expectations is a nice thing for a company to do. And sometimes, it can pay big dividends. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy that occasional airline or room upgrade. And when I get one, it usually makes me feel good about the company and reinforces the “buy decision”. Hell, I may even buy more from them if I feel really good about it. At the same time, however, those little upgrades can become expected, and when you don’t get them…well, let’s just say I’d rather not be the agent that has to tell you “NO”.
More often than not, management would be a far better served by placing most of their emphasis on consistency rather than “beating” the expectation or target. After all, isn’t a target something you shoot for ? If you’re firing a gun, don’t you try to hit the target ?… or do you try to shoot beyond it ? OK, maybe that’s a bad metaphor, but then again doesn’t it ring true?
Companies like McDonald’s, Southwest Airlines, and Target, among others place far more emphasis on good old fashioned performance consistency. Utopia for them is to meet expectations 100% of the time. I suspect that far less attention is given to those who exceed expectations, unless they consistently do so. And for most of these organizations, cost is part of those expectations, so you don’t see a lot of dollars going into those fancy frills or wild heroics. (Remember the FedEx employee that rented the helicopter to get a package delivered on time when the scheduled plane had been diverted due to weather?) Case in point- Jet Blue has a commercial out that talks about how excited customers get when the employee says “hello” to them, or serves them a soft drink. The theme in their ads is that they (Jet Blue) have managed to do those “little things” consistently well…you know, those things that most other airlines have forgotten about in lieu of all the other frills they’ve been focusing on during Jet Blue’s rise to stardom. Frills that Jet Blue, through this campaign has quietly but successfully labeled as useless distractions.
So as you manage performance at your company, make sure you are very clear on what the expectation should be, set your targets at those levels, and focus the majority of your efforts on consistently delivering against those expectations. Customer satisfaction and loyalty will follow.
Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org