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Exceeding Client Expectations Just Leads to Really Entitled Clients The best way to "manage expectations'' is to honestly tell your customer what you will deliver, when, at what cost, then do it.

By William Bauer Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The ubiquitous cliché "under promise, over deliver" is not how we approach client engagement at at my company because its equally inelegant as it is shortsighted. We sustain client relationships by empowering them with realistic expectations, from accurate price quotes to viable delivery lead times. Subsequently, we may not be perceived as having blown them away with our performance, because it was not benchmarked against a superficially low expectation.

Rather, consistency is our chief guarantee. What you are told is what you get (admittedly, also as inelegant mantra), an extension of a lesson our mother ingrained in us as a youth that your word is your bond. Trust, transparency and integrity, while not nearly as sexy as Excel outputs showing hyperbolic over-performances, demonstrate a business' propensity and capacity for reliability, which is unfortunately much harder to determine with a tangible, mathematical value. Undoubtedly, we are not one to succumb to complacency, and if the order can ship faster or we can further dip into our margins to secure a better price quote, we surely would not be bound by our claim of consistency. Where there is opportunity to surprise and elate, we maximize them.

Therein lies the trap: the creation of a disparity in performance, which catalyzes questions over consistency. Disappointment ensues when I tell customers I cannot go lower on the cost of a SKU despite the additional discount I was able to extend on a previous order or if I said it would ship in 3 days and it did ship in 3 days! At that point, is our word still truly our bond? We set ourselves up for failure because despite what we've promised, our previous results defy that guarantee.

Not only does it undermine our customer value proposition, but it also creates internal turmoil as to what our standards of customer excellence. Does Carlos, our warehouse manager, hold the order for an extra day in the warehouse, despite the pallets being shrink wrapped and ready to ship? Does Lois, our accounting manager, come up with a price quote that parallels the margins on previous orders, despite Maria, in purchasing, being able to shave off a few dollars off the raw materials costs?

A recent example at Dunkin Donuts sheds some clarity through the lens of a client, rather than my outlook as a vendor. There are three Dunkin Donuts near our workshop in Secaucus, NJ that I frequent on behalf of our employees as small tokens of rewarding their hard work. Two are equidistant from the warehouse, so I split my time between both, and with 100% consistency at both locations, despite being under different management operators (I asked for the sake of this article to ensure it did not bias my arising point) when I order four Munchkins, they put six in the bag, when I order ten Munchkins, when put twelve in the bag, etc. When I open that bag, I always relish the magnificent excitement of their business practice of giving me more than I asked, or paid, for. However, one day last week, I was traveling from a different direction and stopped in the third Secaucus location that happened to be closest at the time.

I ordered six Munchkins…and received six. Technically, Dunkin Donuts did nothing wrong; the product was fresh, the price was what had been conveyed on the board, and the quantity ordered matched the quantity received.

That's 100 percent consistency…or is it?

At the micro level, Dunkin Donuts fulfilled its value proposition. The franchise operator acted in its best interest, while simultaneously providing me what I had paid for. However at the macro level, Dunkin Donuts has disappointed me. I had become so accustomed to having my expectations exceeded that when the franchise had "merely" been accurate with meeting my expectations, it diminished my previously resilient belief in the brand. Perhaps other customers would not think twice about it, but, as my girlfriend (who I am sure is perturbed by my behavior) will attest to, I over analyze, if not ruin, retail-shopping experiences.

But if a person's word is their bond, shouldn't the same apply to brands? Of course, it is contingent on where reliability falls on a customers' value perception map, however, as a loyal Dunkin Donuts customer, I felt cheated, not of money, but of delight that I had come to expect. Exceeding expectations compel a universal parallel shift in brand behavior, particularly amongst multinational franchises that are more lax in their approach to standardization. Single moments like the aforementioned one can undermine not just a customer's ephemeral bliss, but also deteriorate perception of brand's level of consistency as a whole.

William Bauer

Managing Director of ROYCE New York

William Bauer is the managing director of ROYCE, a handcrafted American accessories brand based in New York City. His small-business marketing and entrepreneurial acumen have been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, BBC, CNN Money, and other prominent publications.

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