Is exceeding customer expectations always good?

One morning recently I tried contacting a government agency.  Things must have been very busy for them because…


Their phone was not being answered by a live human being.


Neither was it answered by one of those messages that directs you to press different numbers for different departments.


And neither was it possible to even leave a message.  No messages were being accepted.


And their answering message said to phone back in the afternoon.


How about that!


So things weren’t getting off to a very positive start!


However, because I was in a rush, I decided to email them – just on the off-chance that emails were being monitored even though phone-calls were not being answered.


I got an automated reply to that email that included the statement that they “endeavour to respond to 100% of emails within 30 working days”.


No – that’s not a typo – that’s 30 working days – or 6 weeks to most people!


But there’s more…  Just in case I’d get this crazy idea that the 6 weeks was a worst case scenario, the reply also said that “delivery of this service can vary during peak periods and we appreciate your patience”.


So it might even be more than 6 weeks.


Someone somewhere designed that auto-reply.  And it’s probable that someone senior to them approved it.


Why?  The background may have been depleted or over-stretched resources.  And their motive was presumably to set expectations that they would then try and exceed.


What do you do in terms of setting expectations for your customers?  Do you deliberately err on the side of caution to give yourself a cushion?  Or are you aggressive with your intended delivery time?  Or does it depend on the situation?  Both approaches can have merit.  It’s realistic to build in contingencies but giving yourself a real deadline can also be a motivator.


Whatever you do be pragmatic – don’t back yourself into a corner on aggression and don’t be too lax either to the point of inviting ridicule like the government agency.


And measure – ask your customers what their expectations are – and use their answers to help guide you.


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