Exceeding expectations could be a bad idea.


Many companies include “we will exceed your expectations!” or something similar in their marketing material. This is a dangerous statement, because it increases customers ́ expectations thereby making it more difficult to exceed them.

There are two situations in which announcing that you will exceed expectations can be a particularly bad idea. The first is when you have not empowered staff to execute on the promise.

Empty promises.

When my son was only 5 days old he got a high fever in the evening. We immediately took him to the hospital, a private one. They had TVs in the waiting areas with a corporate presentation on repeat. Every few minutes I was reminded that they would go the extra-mile for their customers, and their mission was to exceed expectations.

After a short wait a pediatrician saw our son and told us he had to stay in the hospital for the night. My wife had given birth a few days before, so you can imagine that she was not in the best shape of her life.

The pediatrics section of the hospital was full and they had to spend the night on a stretcher together in ER. My wife was hungry, but the staff could not offer her anything to eat. Rules are rules – my son was the patient not his mom.

They only had a vending machine with candy bars and such. So off I went at 1 am in search of a sandwich, walking past the “exceed expectations promo” on my way out.

The hospital made promises because someone thought they looked good on paper. These promises were empty because their staff was constrained by policies and not empowered to do anything. This is not good for customer satisfaction nor for employee morale.

Repeat business.

The second situation where you should carefully consider if you want to exceed expectations is when you have repeat transactions with the same customer. Airlines are a good example of such a business.

Even if you initially deliver on your promise and exceed expectations, you also raise the bar for the next interaction. This creates a vicious circle of expectations. With each interaction expectations become increasingly difficult to exceed and at some point the customer is inevitably disappointed.

When you run a “repeat business” it makes a lot more sense to manage expectations and then ensure you always meet them.

But no matter what business you are in, think before you promise.

About the author

Ivo Oltmans
By Ivo Oltmans


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