Did THAT Just Happen? Expectation Management When Delivering Service
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Did THAT Just Happen? Expectation Management When Delivering Service

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a physical delivery gone awry. That package, that gift, that letter that you desperately need to arrive by a certain day…that just doesn’t. It might have been because a snowstorm hit two days before Christmas and deliveries are all backed up or that you barely missed UPS with your signature. It could also be that the shipper just simply didn’t deliver as expected.

This concept of “delivery” applies not just to a physical delivery, but also the provision of a service; the delivery of customer service.

In almost all cases, regardless of context, poor delivery is usually associated with late delivery, substandard delivery or no delivery at all. But what about early delivery? Is the delivery of a service or product before it is expected, just as bad as the inverse?

As customer service people, we are taught to under-promise and over-deliver. And while this is typically great advice, it certainly doesn’t always ring true. And this is where expectation management really comes into play.

Managing Customer Expectations


ICMI has identified 10 customer expectations that routinely emerge through customer feedback sessions and surveys. While these aren’t always present in every customer service scenario, they are the most requested and the ones that every organization should strive for in order to best maximize customer satisfaction.

  1. Be accessible
  2. Treat me courteously
  3. Be responsive to what I need and want
  4. Do what I ask promptly
  5. Provide well-trained and informed employees
  6. Be socially responsible and ethical
  7. Tell me what to expect
  8. Meet your commitments and keep your promises
  9. Do it right the first time
  10. Follow up

As Brad Cleveland points out in the latest edition of Call Center Management on Fast Forward, the real challenge often lies in the interpretation and definition of these expectations. It doesn’t do your organization or your customers any good if you are misaligned. In fact, it can make things worse.

Therefore, it’s imperative to understand what being accessible, courteous, responsive, prompt, informed and socially responsible actually means to your customers. You can find this out by listening through social channels, utilizing frequent and detailed surveys, and by reviewing interactions with your agents.  In turn, you as a customer service center need to be open and honest about which of the customer expectations you can consistently deliver. If you have resource or financial constraints that prohibit you from meeting or exceeding something a customer wants, then you need to reset those expectations.

While all ten of the ICMI customer expectations are linked together and impact one another, there are four that are inextricably interrelated – tell me what to expect, meet your commitments and keep your promises, do it right the first time, and follow up. As Cleveland says, “they require that people, processes and technologies work in sync.”

Under-Promise and Over-Deliver


Let’s go back to that widely touted philosophy of under-promise and over-deliver. The idea is to consciously manage the expectations of your clients and customers by setting a comfortable scope and timeline for your service, and then “wow” them by delivering the results ahead of time and under budget.

I’m here to tell you that ‘ahead of time’ has some serious drawbacks.

We’re currently in the midst of relocating from North Carolina to Virginia. Since this was a mandated move by my husband’s employer, we’ve had most of the logistics managed for us. Through all the preliminary assessment, packing, and loading of our worldly possessions I felt that they were fully living up to expectations. I knew what to expect and commitments and promises were being kept. We were told the truck would arrive in VA with our 11,000 pounds of boxes and furniture mid-week and that we’d have a 24-hour notice before they would descend upon our new home. They were obligated to unpack every box, move all furniture to its rightful location and clear away all the debris. That timeline also gave us adequate room to have the floors finished in our upstairs and shutters installed on all the windows. These were expectations that I could manage.

Except that they over-delivered. Literally.

My husband called at 7am on Monday to say that the moving van was 30 minutes away from the new house.

The mad scramble that ensued was both unnecessary and exhausting. The floor and shutter installers had to be called off that day which put them behind schedule, and the movers couldn’t actually place most of the furniture in the correct rooms. Everything had to be piled into the downstairs, the bathrooms and the garage; everything was still boxed and wrapped up. Now I was left with a half-finished house, a mountain of belongings and an uncertainty of how to dispose of all the debris when unpacking eventually took place. Over-delivery killed my expectations.

The Follow-Up


Here’s the good news – while my customer expectations were failed mid-stream, the logistics company did indeed have the other ones well in place. Remember how Cleveland said the customer expectations are linked together?

Almost immediately I received a call from an informed and courteous agent that was empathetic to my plight. She provided me her direct number and promised that she would make things right. And although they didn’t do it right the first time, they are making it right the second time.


A second moving crew has descended upon our newly finished floors and are rapidly hauling boxes upstairs, assembling furniture and organizing rooms. They have even promised me that they will recycle the piles and piles of cardboard boxes and shipping paper. After all this, I did want to ensure that they met all ten of those IMCI customer expectations.



Topics: Customer Experience, People Management

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