Sunday, April 5, 2009

in praise of adequacy

meh, not my best work

“My goal today is to exceed your expectations.”

It seems that no one who monitors customer service is happy with simple adequacy these days. The drive in the service industry is to exceed expectations as a course of business. Good enough just isn’t good enough anymore.

The problem with this is we are in the equivalent of a service arms race. If you are not completely satisfied with the service you received today, talk to us. We are pushing service people to go the extra mile when simply meeting the original request would be enough.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we tried to exceed expectations every time, in every situation?

Imagine trying to execute this is your own home. Dinner would need to be a three-course meal every day, with luscious appetizers, entrée and dessert. The portions would need to be particularly fulsome, yet not overwhelming. And the menu would need to change to avoid the traditional pork-chop night.

But still, like a stay at a 5 star all-inclusive resort, after some time the novelty and selection would wear. There’s a reason so many celebrities like a fast-food burger.

Hours would be spent in preparation of a meal that was nutritionally balanced, wholesome and delicious. The effort that would go into exceeding these expectations would be taxing. There is a reason not every meal is a thanksgiving groaning board. And the joys of macaroni and cheese may never be revisited.

Macaroni and cheese can be a truly beautiful thing. Predictability and routine can be comfort for folks. Exceeding expectations can put customers outside of their comfort zone.

How can we exceed expectations when the simple ask is for a cheeseburger happy meal? I don’t need you to ask me if I need anything else. I don’t want you to offer me an apple pie. I want you to simply fulfill my request efficiently, politely and let me get on with my day.

In fact, that added touch that goes into trying to exceed my expectations is just ticking me off. I don’t want you to call me up two weeks after my oil change and ask if I was happy with the service. I especially don’t want it if I’ve been coming to you folks for every oil change I’ve needed for the past 4 years. I’m happy. I’m still coming to you, aren’t I? I don’t need you to give me a reminder call, because it always comes way too late.

Sure, every person in a relationship may have felt that twinge of insecurity that not all is right with the relationship. But this is business. If you’re so damn interested in learning if I’m happy, check my buying behaviour.

The pressure put on service people to “exceed expectations” gives them added stress, and in turn, can make them less effective in serving my simple needs for adequacy. I don’t like doing business with puppets. People or machines, yes, but not puppets.

And another thing – adequacy doesn’t mean efficiency. When I go to a fast food joint and place an order, I have something in mind, and my own thoughts on efficiency. Sure, ask questions to clarify, but don’t cut me off in an effort to get me to order your way. I don’t care if you call it a venti – I call it a medium coffee. At the food court, I know you need to know if the item is “for here or to go” so I specify right up front if the order is for here or to go. “I’d like, to go, white rice with beef and broccoli.”

If I’m ordering a pizza from a chain, and you have my order history on file, sure, let me know if I always order thin crust, but forgot to specify it this time. But don’t ask me if it’s pick up or delivery if I always have it delivery. Especially if I said “I’d like to place an order for delivery,” when I first called.

Things like this – this isn’t exceeding expectations. This is meeting my expectations. Maybe I have a high expectations, but it seems to me being treated like a human being shouldn’t be “exceeding.”

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