Don’t Surprise your Customers

So yesterday, I had a small printing job that I uploaded to Kinko’s. (It will always be Kinko’s to me, no matter what FedEx decides to call it.) I’ll spare you all of the details, but – when I went to pick it up, I found out that they had printed my black and white document on their color printer and my bill was over $100.  (I was expecting it to be about $15.)  Surprise!

We haggled a little bit, she knocked some off the bill, I paid and left the store irritated. As I drove home, irritated turned to mad. I realized I was much madder than the situation actually called for, but that didn’t change how mad I was.  It reminded of something Seth Godin wrote here about being disrespected – “Looking back, I’m really sort of amazed by two things: First, how visceral the feeling is when I feel as though I’ve been disrespected, and second, how easy it would be to avoid.”  Visceral was a perfect adjective for how mad I was.

I thought about it a little more and came up with more reasons why I was right and she was wrong.  I called back, made my point and she said “What if I just refund your money?”  I agreed and hung up the phone.  I was still irritated.  She had done exactly what I wanted – hadn’t she?  Why didn’t I feel victorious?

Apparently, I didn’t just want the money back. I wanted to be right and I wanted her to acknowledge that I was right, which of course would entail her admitting that she was wrong.  I guess the reason that I wanted that was – when I paid and left the store in the first place – in a way, that was me admitting that she was right and I was wrong. I had suffered an injustice and someone needed to pay!

If this sounds ridiculous and over the top – it is.  But it’s how I felt, and it’s how customers feel when things don’t go the way they expected them to go. When the customer is surprised, there’s an argument. In an argument, someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose. Seth’s article talks about ways to deal with this after it has happened, but it occurs to me that it would be a whole lot easier if we just worked harder to be aware of our customer’s expectations and manage them ahead of time.

Years ago, a client of mine told me “As I get older, I’ve decided that 90% of success in life is just managing expectations.”  At the time, I’m sure I nodded in agreement while thinking “that’s a ridiculous thing to say.”  As I get older, I’ve decided I think he was right.