What does exceeding expectations even mean? Earlier this week, a customer caught in the terrible floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey needed to evacuate. So they did what any of us would do and called their local Chick-fil-A. Houston resident JC Spencer ordered “two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg and a boat.”

And Chick-fil-A delivered.

The manager of the Chick-fil-A happened to have access to a boat, so she sent her husband to go pick up her regulars and tow them to safety.

Talk about exceeding expectations!

While the opportunity to literally save lives might not arise very often for some of us, the opportunity to exceed customer expectations does. Every day we get the chance to go above and beyond for customers.

But should we? In this post we explore the benefits and risks of aiming to exceed customer expectations – and why that might not be the best strategy for everyone.

Does exceptional customer service mean exceeding expectations?

Exceeding expectations of your customers causes happy feelings in the same way surprises do. Customers aren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary when they call in. Receiving better-than-average support gives customers a moment of surprise, that leaves them feeling happy.

Taryn Hillin at Splinter News explains this perfectly: “Being surprised activates the pleasure centers in our brain and gives us a nice shot of dopamine, which makes experiences more enjoyable.”

Surprises are great! But imagine walking into a surprise birthday party after crashing your car. Surprises don’t have a positive effect if you’re not already in a good mood. This is true in customer service as well. As Adam Toporek says, moments of delight “are the cherry on top; they are not the cake.” It’s important to focus first on solving problems, before delighting customers.

Moments of delight “are the cherry on top; they are not the cake.” - Adam Toporek Click To Tweet

So should exceeding expectations of your customers be your top priority? Leaving your customers delighted and happy sounds like a great goal. But it’s actually really difficult to do consistently. Any time you put into wow-ing one customer, means taking time away from helping others. And that extra effort might not even be appreciated.

Scientists found that the effort put into exceeding a promise might not be worth it. In a study where participants were promised concert tickets, then given worse, equal or better seats than they were promised, participants were no happier or more likely to recommend the company when given better seats. They were much more upset when they were given worse seats.

So while doing something nice for customers is fine, it’s much more important meeting customer expectations for everyone instead of exceeding them for a few.

It’s more important to meet expectations for everyone instead of exceeding them for a few Click To Tweet

The Kano Model of Customer Satisfaction

In the 1980’s Professor Noriaki Kano came up with a theory on customer satisfaction that recognized the need to focus on meeting a basic set of customer expectations first. The Kano Model states that there are five qualities of customer satisfaction. We’ll go over three here:

Must-Have Quality (Thresholds) – these attributes are the basic threshold for a product or service to even be considered in the market. In customer support it might be something as simple as having a place for customers to contact you, and then responding to those concerns. Other must-haves are polite responses, a reliable product uptime or delivering a purchased product in good condition.  A minimum viable product must meet all market thresholds.

One-Dimensional Quality (Dissatisfiers) – these attributes result in satisfaction when fulfilled and dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. Think of them as promises to customers. They’re qualities that companies advertise and compete on, like responding quickly. Imagine a company promised a 2 hour reply time, but didn’t get back to you for 2 days. That would make you pretty frustrated!

Attractive Quality (Delighters) – these attributes aren’t advertised, but if fulfilled provide a sense of awe or delight for customers. It might be a handwritten thank you letter or a credit for a free month. Beware – delighters can become dissatisfiers if they are used too frequently. You customers will start expecting these attributes and take them for granted.

Beware - delighters can become dissatisfiers if they are used too frequently Click To Tweet

What does this all mean for customer support teams trying to meet and exceed customer expectations? These attributes build on each other. Offering delighters, but missing the must haves and dissatisfiers will result in unhappy customers. We must determine which of our qualities are must-haves, dissatisfiers or delighters.

• If we’re promising phone support, but we aren’t able to pick up the phone quickly, they will be dissatisfied.
• If customers expect 24/7 support, but live chat is always offline on the weekends, they will be dissatisfied.

But flip that on it’s head:

• If customers believe your support team is only available weekdays, but receives a quick response on the weekend, they’ll be delighted
• If a customer isn’t expecting a refund for downtime, but you provide a credit for the next month’s service, they’ll be delighted.

For ultimate customer satisfaction we need to focus on meeting our One Dimensional qualities consistently before looking at opportunities to deliver on Attractive qualities.

How to Meet Customer Expectations

Before you can make a plan to meet or exceed customer expectations, you need to know what those expectations are. Expectations can either be set by the company, or assumed by the customer.

Setting and promoting expectations can help customers understand what “normal” is. Publishing guidelines for the quality and scope of your support is an easy way to provide customers with perspective. A few ways to help set expectations:

• Publish and promote a clear refund policy
• List hours of operation for live chat and social support
• Set up autoresponders to new email tickets including first reply time guidelines
• Include SLAs for uptime and the scope of customer support in new contracts

By explicitly stating what you agree to provide, customers will be able to make an informed decision about what level of service to expect. If they need faster support or a dedicated phone line, they can either pay for it, or choose a different provider. By leaving expectations open for interpretation, you’re letting customers set the bar – and you might not like where they set it.

By leaving expectations open for interpretation, you’re letting customers set the bar Click To Tweet

To determine what expectations your customer has that you’re not meeting, look at your customer satisfaction surveys. Customers whose expectations are not met will tell you! Dive into negative survey responses to see where things have gone wrong.

Read more: Survey Distribution Methods for Customer Service

Customer might not use the words “I expected” when complaining about missed expectations. They might talk about responses taking too long. They might be upset about the refund amount offered to them. For every comment you read, think – why did the customer expect something different? Is there a way I can align their expectations with the service we provide?

Read more: Identify Friction Points

How do you exceed customer expectations?

If you’re consistently meeting customer expectations, it might be time to start going above and beyond and start offering “delighters” or attractive qualities to your support. Remember, delighters are qualities that make customers happy when fulfilled, but do not cause unhappiness when absent.

It’s possible to delight customers by accident, but it’s much more likely to happen if you create a process for it. Identify moments in your customer journey where delight is possible. Create a trackable and repeatable way for agents to employ these moments of delight and exceeding expectations.

Identify moments in your customer journey where delight is possible Click To Tweet

Delighters might be as simple as:
• Responding quickly to simple questions by having one agent look at the newest tickets.
• Sending out swag to happy customers by stocking the office with the necessary supplies (including cards, envelopes and stamps).
• Surprising customers on social media by monitoring keywords and mentions of your brand (even those that don’t @ mention you directly!)

Finding little, repeatable ways to bring delight to customers will help you with exceeding expectations for your entire customer base, without sacrificing support quality.

Finding little ways to delight customers helps you exceed expectations w/o sacrificing quality Click To Tweet

Consistency is the key to happy customers

When it comes to providing a great customer support program, the key is consistency. Meeting customers expectations every time is a better strategy than exceeding expectations of your customers 30% of the time, but not meeting basic customer expectations 70% of the time.

The Kano Model provides a clear structure to determining which qualities of support need to be met, and which can be set aside for delight. Publishing your own support guidelines helps customer know what to reasonably expect from your service.

Rememberit’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver. Surprise your customers with your ability to consistently deliver, and maybe an inflatable life raft when they need it.

Are you exceeding expectations of your customers? Find out now.