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Why Exceeding Expectations Is Essential to the Long-Term Success of Your Business

If you really want your business to be around for the long haul, you've got to do more than meet your customers' expectations.
Why Exceeding Expectations Is Essential to the Long-Term Success of Your Business
Image credit: poba | Getty Images

The following excerpt is from Glenn Llopis’s book The Innovation Mentality. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Editor's Note: With competition growing increasingly harsh, business owners can no longer offer “bare minimum” customer service. Find out why “exceeding expectations” is the new order of the day with customers everywhere.

Leaders and employees are trained that the most important person in their ecosystem is the customer or client, and they strive to have a team that’s reflective of the guests who walk into their stores or want to do business with them. But even when they aren’t reflective of that guest, they can evolve to see their job as more than just a responsibility to do what needs to be done and instead have the expectation to get their hands dirty and help.

Consider how a few Target team members went above and beyond to help one customer. The story serves as a lesson on expectation to leadership and employees at any level of any business.

Related: Why Generating Business Momentum Is More Important Than Making Progress

Yasir Moore, a 15-year-old boy from Raleigh, North Carolina, had landed an interview at a Chick-fil-A for his first job. His mom told him to wear a tie, but he didn’t know how to tie one. So he went to Target to find a clip-on and couldn’t find one. That’s when a team member on the floor, Cathy Scott, spotted him. She walked over and asked Yasir if he needed help. Yasir said he needed a clip-on tie, and Cathy explained they didn’t have any.

At that point, Cathy’s basic responsibility to the guest ended. She could have just said, “I’m sorry, can I be of any other assistance?” and walked away if Yasir said, “No.” But Cathy had an expectation to do more. She said, “We don’t have any clip-on ties, but why do you need a tie?” Yasir told her about the interview and that neither he nor his mom knew how to tie a tie. Enter Dennis Roberts, another floor team member. Dennis, the father of four grown sons, had plenty of experience teaching teens to tie ties. He proceeded to show Yasir how to do it and stayed with him until he could do it on his own.

The story doesn’t end there. As Yasir worked on his knot, Cathy and Dennis gave him interview advice: Talk slowly, sit up, have a firm handshake. Dennis told him, “It’s time for you to raise the roof, tell these people exactly who you are, what you’re made of and that you’re the right person for the job.” Yasir listened and nailed the interview. He was called back a second time and got the job.

I learned all this not through my client, Target, but from CNN and ABC News. ABC even made Dennis, Cathy and Yasir their “People of the Week.” But it wasn’t because Target pitched them. There were no cameras rolling in the store that day. In fact, the only reason anyone learned about this was a Target customer, Audrey Marsh, who saw Yasir, Dennis and Cathy from across the store, thought it was a terrific moment, and snapped a candid picture on her phone. She never spoke to them. Later, she posted it to her Facebook page and tagged Target, which picked it up. It had more than 60,000 likes by that evening, and the story went viral from there.

When asked why she took and posted the picture, Marsh told ABC, “You certainly don’t expect that to happen. Certainly not in a big-box store. Certainly not down aisle 11.”

Related: How to Turn Company Values Into Shared Employee Beliefs

Do you expect that? You don’t expect that if you just feel responsibility to your job description and what you are told to do. You do expect that if you have an expectation of accountability to do more -- to do what your gut tells you and act. That’s how you anticipate the unexpected and lead to leave a legacy to move from responsibility to expectation.

Expectation is about getting your hands dirty and taking a greater level of ownership. This just doesn’t happen enough in our workplaces when we’re detached from the day-to-day of the marketplace.

As Caroline Wanga, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Target Corp., explained to me when we discussed the story of Yasir, Dennis and Cathy, “Headquarters works nothing like the stores. We don’t have the day-to-day interaction that impacts the transaction or changes somebody’s life. But that’s the environment the people at the store level live every single day. It didn’t matter that the workers were white and the customer was black. And I’m willing to bet that there wasn’t some big conversation about it before they approached about how do we get along? It started with, ‘This kid needs help with a tie.’ At headquarters, we would overanalyze that to death: ‘Well, what if he doesn’t want help with this tie?’ or ‘What if it’s offensive?’ or ‘Will the kid be threatened because the worker is a white male?’ But at store level, they’re at the center of the Cultural Demographic Shift and have an expectation to be accountable to much more. They don’t get to opt out.”

Exactly! So why are these stories newsworthy? Because most of us are stuck in responsibility and are touched by these human interest stories. I just wish that more leaders took interest in the humans in our workplaces and marketplaces and helped everyone be accountable to the expectation of doing more in operationalizing the power of the individual defining the business at all levels of business.

This is exactly what a health care provider senior executive, the head of a division that employs more than 300 people, faced when she started her new job. Her predecessor had a leadership style and approach that created silos within and across departments. She wanted to transform the division by guiding her employees to evolve their thinking, attitudes and overall approach. So she opted to act and led the transformation.

In this pursuit, she desired to create an environment that fuels clarity and understanding, and demands direct and honest feedback. One of her priorities was to be more intentional about defining and communicating the expectations for her own leadership -- and encouraging her immediate direct reports to do the same. She wanted to create an operating culture that promotes collaboration so they could organically propel innovation and initiative. Leadership expected her and her team to achieve measurable results in six months. To succeed by that measure, this leader needed every characteristic in her innovation mentality arsenal and needed her direct reports to take greater levels of ownership -- to be courageous enough to move from responsibility to expectation and anticipate the unexpected to avoid any problems that would affect their timeline.

Leading through the lens of expectation puts the onus of evolution on individuals, not on the business. That’s how you establish that team-first mentality and collaborative environment. That’s how you eliminate silos and replace them with communication and feedback across teams, departments and the entire company.

Related: Embrace Your Employees' Differences to Become a Stronger Business Leader

What is the legacy that your promise has created for those around you? Do your customers, clients and partners feel that the workplace is an environment where everyone treats each other like family? Do your employees believe their jobs are opportunities to shape the legacies of themselves and everyone they touch? Do your customers, clients and partners believe that you do?

Yasir Moore does. The ABC cameras were actually rolling at his second interview, hidden until he got the job he interviewed for. Who was waiting to congratulate him when he did? Dennis and Cathy from Target.

As Yasir said, “It’s more than just a tie.”