Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exceeding expectations don’t just happen!

One of the interesting debates in business forums is whether one should try to ‘exceed’ customer expectations, or should just keep on ‘meeting’ expectations. It’s tempted to participate the debate, but rather adding more confusion I will present some experience on the matter.

If you just google for the topic of ‘exceeding expectations’ you will see hundreds of tips coming up. Despite the topic, almost all of those actually talk about ‘meeting’ expectations. I would say that’s very positive, because ‘meeting’ expectations is the baseline of customer satisfaction. One who’s not meeting expectations, but trying to ‘exceed’ expectations will be seen simply stupid by the customer. This is why a Harvard Business Review article once said ‘Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers’ as it may not really bring much loyalty.

Where does that leave us? does that mean there is nothing called ‘exceeding expectations’? I don’t believe so. In my view, if you are already ‘meeting’ expectations, anything beyond can take you a long way ahead competition.

But there are three extremely important facts one should know before stepping in.
  • Fact 1: The level bar of expectations is on the move and is relative to the circumstances. 
  • Fact 2: Unless consciously does it, it is unlikely you will continuously exceed expectations. 
  • Fact 3: There is always a chain of expectations and you are in the middle of the chain. 
It's because of the fact number one above, one can never continuously exceed expectations by ‘overwork’. If your team overwork this month, you raise the bar of expectations. Next month you will have to work even harder to exceed expectations, and that model is simply not sustainable.

‘Hard work’ isn’t the strategy, but it is ‘smart work’ that helps exceeding expectations. Means that one need to be on the ball all the time, picking smart things that can make a notable impact.Therefore as said in the fact 2, that doesn’t just happen but one should consciously stay well tuned to pick things.

The final fact above tells us where to be focused. You need to empower/help the one above in the chain (commonly the immediate customer) to exceed expectations of his/her customer. One of the most common means of exceeding expectations is to do something that results in total effort reduction in the chain.

I’m tempted to provide some examples, but I won’t since it will hinder the thinking process of the readers. If is not black magic. Sensibly apply above facts in your project context, I’m sure you will find cool things to do time-to-time that will help you to ‘exceed’ expectations.
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