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Letters to a Young Manager

Expectations, #414
LTYM > Service

Dear Sophie,
Managing expectations is one of the fundamental building blocks of service. And we are all in the service business.

A dozen years ago, before the airline passenger bill of rights, examples of long flight delays without explanation or recourse made the news [1]. I was on a flight once where the pilot came on the intercom saying they needed to return the plane to the gate because a faulty part was discovered. I was glad the problem was discovered before the flight took off.

The pilot said it should be short delay. He then went silent for two hours, while worries about missed connections and getting home late mounted. After the first hour, our patience was wearing thin, and some passengers began to pressure the flight attendants for some answers. When the work was done, the pilot announced the problem was fixed and we would be pushing back. "So please take your seats." He apologized for the delay, but it was too little, too late.

What went wrong? We all expected the delay was going to be "short" as announced. That meant far less than the two hours that expired. The pilot committed a cardinal sin of service, not being candid with us and not keeping us informed.

I contrast this with a recent flight where during a similar maintenance issue, the pilot gave us 15 minute updates, whether or not he had new information. He also told us that connecting flights would wait wherever possible and agents were standing by to help us. It's hard to be angry when you're being informed and feel involved in the process.

Things don't always go right on projects and assignments, and delays occur. But how you manage expectations is critical to customer satisfaction, whether inside or outride the organization. In fact, the brand of your organization may be a stake.
Sincerely yours,

[1] See the European passenger rights regulation, 261/204 here


Managing expectations starts with keeping your customers informed.

Discussion Questions:

1) What situations have you encountered where expectations were not met? How did you or the person in charge handle it?
2) Watch the entertaining video "United Breaks Guitars"[2] and ask yourself how United Airlines brand was tarnished? What could they have done differently?
3) How important is it to your brand to provide customers information on things going well and not so well?
4) What role does reluctance to deliver bad news play? Was the pilot waiting to report that the repair was done, until it was good news?

For Further Reading:

[2] See "Singer gets his revenge on United Airlines and soars to fame," The Guardian, July 23, 2009,
[3] Also see "Your car will be ready at noon" [Story #86]

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