The Power Of Expectations And The Dialogue That Fuels Them

Expectations are a powerful force.

I was on a quick trip to London a few weeks ago and packed my usual roll-on bag. It’s the same one I’ve carried onboard planes of every configuration for the past ten years. The proof is on the handle that is festooned with the remnants of dozens of bag-checks from hotels across the globe. So, as I boarded my BA flight from London to Boston, the last thing I worried about was my carry-on. After all, this was a huge 777 that was far from full and my bag had already passed muster on planes half the size. My expectation was that all would be fine, just as it was on the BA flight (also a 777) that I had taken over to London just two days before.

I was wrong.

An overzealous gate agent (camped in the jetway, no less) had decided my bag was too big. Despite my plea that it would fit perfectly in the overhead and that there were plenty of open bins, my bag was checked.

Clearly, this was not the end of the world, but a minimum of 25 minutes had now been unnecessarily added to my trip, waiting for luggage I knew was compliant. This single inconsistency completely changed what had been very positive feelings about the airline. Bottom line: they did not meet my expectations. Expectations they had actually reinforced on my first flight over to London. As I finally settled into my seat, I thought to myself, this is a perfect example of the fragile relationship brands have with their customers.



The whole subject of expectations and the power they hold in our lives was featured not long ago in a lengthy article in The New York Times which detailed the physiological fuel that drives our emotions. Citing David Rock, the author of “Your Brain at Work” and Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, “If we expect to get X and we get X, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get X and we get 2X, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get X and get 0.9X, then we get a much bigger drop. When we don’t hit our expectation our brain doesn’t just get slightly unhappy, it sends out a message of danger or threat.”

What we expect, compared to what we get, is at the heart of our feelings and emotions. And therefore, it affects our behavior. So think about how your brand works to manage and address your customers’ expectations and how it is critical to your success. Particularly in a world where everyone races to social media to share just how well, or how miserably, a brand performs, you need to deliver time and time again and again against expectations.

The fact is consumer expectations are running high. As observed by a recent study of affluent travelers conducted by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, 32%expect “surprise and delight” along with a constant exceeding of expectations, with many extending that to “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences. And, 34% of this sought-after customer pool expect products or services to be customized to their needs and desires.

That’s an incredibly high level of expectation and it’s informed by the consumers’ growing belief that as they transact and dialogue with your brand, it will translate into a more personal, relevant and customized experience.

To that point, a report by the Luxury Institute found that 86% of consumers don’t mind providing personal information to luxury firms if the result is a superior experience.

It means that brands need to step up and deliver more than ever. Every time your brand solicits customer information, it’s accompanied by increased expectations that rightfully add pressure to turn the exchange into a richer customer interaction and experience. Today, if you ask customers for preferences and/or interests, you take on the obligation of acting on their answers, and failing to do so will fly in the face of their growing expectations.

Interestingly, this whole exchange of information, and asking people not only for their preferences but their opinions on products and services, is also translating into increased brand loyalty. In a Cinet survey conducted in January of over 1,000 consumers across the globe, they found that 62% are fairly or very likely to purchase a brand’s product if the brand asks for their opinion in a study, compared to just 3% who are not likely to do so.

The majority of respondents (56%) also say they feel more loyal to a brand if it takes the time to ask them their opinion, more than double (24%) those who say their loyalty is not influenced. And, it’s probably no surprise then that in this same study 69% of consumers believe that brands act on the market research results they receive, while only 7% believe that they do not.

As expectations continue to rise, so does the opportunity to leverage the dialogue in all its forms. Increasingly, brands need to look at the relationship this conversation is having on elevating expectations and how this interaction can give you the intelligence to meet and exceed expectations.

What else would you expect?

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