Things can go wrong in a hurry if you don't manage customer expectations.
My wife, Sally, and I recently stayed at The Albion River Inn. It's perched on a cliff overlooking the mouth of the Albion River, about 150 miles North of San Francisco. There are sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and no TV in the rooms.
It's a rare opportunity to relax, recharge, and take a social media vacation. We visit every two years and stay in the same room every time. Room 14.
Not this year.
Room 14 was undergoing maintenance when we arrived, despite the fact that we had reserved this specific room well in advance.
Were we furious?
On the contrary. We were delighted. That's because Chelsea Strupp, the Inn's general manager, had just delivered a master class on managing customer expectations.
Here's what she did, why it worked, and how you can use the same technique with your customers.
Strupp's Master Class
We received a voice mail from Strupp about a week before we were scheduled to arrive.
She explained that room 14 was undergoing maintenance and was taking longer than expected. She acknowledged our many stays in this room and said she could make the room available if we really wanted it.
But she also had another offer. Strupp said that she would upgrade us to room 12 at no additional charge if we were willing.
Sally and I looked online to see pictures of room 12. It looked gorgeous, so I called Strupp back and accepted her offer.
When we arrived at the inn, we were delighted! Room 12 had a better layout (for us) than room 14 and a wood burning fire place. (There's a gas fire place in room 14).
Despite the fact that we had stayed in room 14 on every visit since 2005, we now have a new favorite room!
Why Strupp's Invitation Worked
Strupp did three things very well.
First, she anticipated a potential issue. She and her staff monitored the status of room 14, saw our upcoming reservation, and decided to take action before it became a problem that impacted our stay.
Customer service guru Shep Hyken makes a key distinction between proactive service and anticipatory service on his blog:
Being proactive is noticing something and responding to it... Anticipatory customer service, however, is about being one step ahead. It’s intuitive. It’s not just noticing something. It’s anticipating something.
Second, she acknowledged our value as guests.
In her voice message, Strupp told us that she understood we liked to stay in room 14 because we had stayed in that same room on many visits. This made us instantly feel as though she understood and valued us.
Third, she provided options.
Strupp told us she would make room 14 available if we really wanted it. But she also offered us an upgrade at no charge. In doing so, she made it seem like she was offering us a gift rather than taking something away.
How You Can Manage Expectations Like a Pro
You may not have a ready supply of beautiful upgrades to give to your guests, but you can apply the same principles when managing customer expectations.
- Anticipate customer needs.
- Let the customer know they're valued.
- Offer alternatives.
Steps one and two are crucial because they prevent most customers from ever getting angry or upset.
Imagine what would have happened if we first learned room 14 wasn't available when we were checking in. There's a great chance we'd feel like something was being taken away from us, which could trigger a slew of negative emotions.
Step three is also key. If at all possible, you want your customer to feel like they are getting something better.
Here are a few examples:
- Offer an upgrade or something extra if that's possible.
- Suggest an alternative product, service, or experience.
- Give the gift of attention by going out of your way to make the experience better.
Here's one example that combined all three:
I was visiting Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon to conduct some customer service training. Parking is a bit of challenge there, but my one of my clients offered a wonderful solution.
He explained how my visitor badge allowed me to ride the Portland Aerial Tram at no charge. It offers amazing panoramic views of Portland and takes riders from Portland's South Waterfront directly to OHSU's main campus. (Upgrade!)
My client then explained that I could save time and money by using public transportation to get to the tram instead of renting a car and paying for parking on campus. (New Experience!)
Finally, my client took an extra minute to map out my transportation options, which gave me the confidence to select the correct bus, trolley, and light rail lines to get me arround town. (Attention!)