Are Your Customers Unreasonable? Or, Do You Create Unreasonable Expectations?

Most people are reasonable. They know that companies have to make money to stay in business. They know that sometimes things go wrong. They want to know that when things happen, that you will take care of them.

They look for confirmation that all will be well in your signage, on your website, in your correspondence, and when you speak. You have more control than you think when it comes to managing their expectations. Failure to use that control increases complaints, costs, and attrition.

Communication is the key to successful expectation management.

When something goes wrong (and it will eventually), let your customers know. Keep them informed so they don’t have to wonder what is happening. Most will wait to act until they are frustrated or angry. Don’t let it get to that stage.

Keep your company in good favor by defining expectations from the beginning. If something changes the situation, notify your customers immediately and provide alternatives whenever possible. Yes, this takes more time, but it builds trust and turns casual shoppers into lifelong customers.

If you don’t, you risk losing customers or prospects forever.

My recent experience provides a great example. My son received a watch and my daughter received a ring as gifts. Both needed sizing. I had a dilemma because my favorite jeweler recently retired. I didn’t know where to take them.

I asked friends and family for referrals. There weren’t any. We started at the mall in search of a jewelry store that offered repair service. One store was going out of business sale. Another didn’t do repairs. We ventured into the third store.

There was a jewelry repair station with a sign advertising the service. Finally! I asked the young sales clerk if they sized rings and watches. She said that they did.

“How long does it take?” was answered with “Only a couple of days.” I questioned her response because it was right after the holidays. I expected that there would be a backlog since this was the only store in the mall offering this service. She reassured me that it wouldn’t take more than two days.

“How much do you charge?” received the promise that they would call with an estimate. I was a little surprised that they didn’t have a rate chart, but didn’t question it. I left the jewelry and my cell phone number.

I left the store with two expectations: Someone would call with a price and it would take two days to complete the sizing.

A week passed before I thought of it again. (It’s been a busy month.) There hadn’t been a call. I stopped by the store to check the status.

The estimate wasn’t ready. The clerk explained that their jeweler was an elderly gentleman who didn’t get out when the weather was bad. I asked how long it would take. She said that she didn’t know. I asked for the jewelry to be returned. She said that it wasn’t on the premises because the jeweler worked out of his home in another town.


It turns out that I had a third expectation – the jewelry would remain in the store until I picked it up. The clerk didn’t say it would stay there, but the repair station next to the sign advertising the service created that expectation.

My daughter’s ring is a family heirloom that is irreplaceable. My emotions moved quickly from annoyance to a deep concern. I asked when I could pick them up. The clerk made a telephone call before replying “Today or tomorrow. I’ll call you when they are here.”

The previous expectations were replaced with a new promise. I waited but there wasn’t a call. On the third day, I called the store and spoke to a different clerk. She said that they weren’t there, but they would be soon.


“Oh, a day or two.”

“I’ve already waited my day or two and then some. I want them today.”

This triggered another phone call, followed with “They’ll be here today. I’ll call you when they arrive.”

A couple of hours later I received the call, picked up the jewelry, and will never return to that store.

Our relationship would be different if they had managed the expectations better.

The first failure was not notifying me that they were sending the jewelry out for repairs. I wouldn’t have used their service, but I would be open to shopping there in the future.

The second failure was not calling when there was a delay. The decision to wait belongs to the customer, not the store. I would have waited.

The third failure was not having it available in the promised two day period without notifying me.

The fourth failure was the attitude. Not once did I raise my voice or speak ugly to anyone. The store failed to deliver on the promises they made. Instead of apologizing, everyone acted as though I was being unreasonable.

Things happen. When they do, good communication is the difference between creating fans and losing customers. If they have to contact you to find out the status of their order, you have failed to deliver on your promise. If there is a problem, notify them immediately. Provide alternatives. In most cases, one will be chosen.

How do you manage your customer expectations?

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