We’re up now to the fourth of the Five Principles of CX:  No Near Misses.  We’ve covered already how it’s our responsibility to avoid issues in the first place (Principle 1, Get It Right) and how important it is to keep the lines of communication open and take on the stress of our own internal processes so our Customers don’t have to (Principles 2 and 3).  This principle has as much to do with impressions as it does with the actual experiences we deliver for our Customers.

We’re all familiar with the joke about the window of time to expect service for utilities at your home being huge compared to the time it may take to do the work:  “We’ll be there between 8am and noon or 1pm and 5pm.”  As maddening as that may be (and as inconvenient as it may be to block out your whole morning for an appointment), at least you know when they’ll be there.  These days a lot of service providers have gotten the memo and broken the code and figured out how to do a better job of accommodating their Customers with smaller windows and even a heads-up when they’re on the way.

With this improved specificity, however, comes another lurking danger:  Not meeting those expectations when set.  In fact, that better more narrow window becomes something Customers will rely on more and many will build their day around that more specific time period as if it were any other appointment they have to keep.

All this actually makes it even more frustrating when we don’t make it.  As bad as it may have been to have to cancel an entire day of work (remember when it wasn’t possible to work remotely from home?) to wait for the cable company, at least you usually could count on them to show up sometime during the window.  But with better planning and more specific promises, the stakes of messing that up are growing.  You may be grateful that someone says they can arrive at a more specific time, but if you take that as liberty to make more commitments, say, right after that promise, it becomes even more important for them to show up on time (and take no longer than promised, too).

The old complaint that the timeframe was too vague and broad has now given way to that of missing the shorter timeframe altogether.  Showing up after you’ve promised is not an option as your Customers are now planning other things around your promise.  And “better late than never” is not better.  Communication (Principle 3) is perilous because once you’ve told the Customer you’ll do something, you’re obligated to it.  The alternative is, of course, to only offer vague generalities and couched suggestions of what the solution might look like.  But if you choose to do that, you’re back in the 8am-to-noon world again.

In the earlier article about communication, I mentioned how airlines are now offering more information on their apps about the status of their flights.  The risk, however, of believing what you see on your app is missing a flight when something changes and they don’t alert you in time.  As aggravating as it is to sit on a plane waiting to push back from the gate for the third “just a few more minutes” in a row, it’s devastating to take their word for it that you’ll be a half-hour delayed, head back to the lounge and return in 25 minutes only to find they fixed the problem early and took off without you.

And missing just barely isn’t a solution either.  If you miss your promise by just a little bit (and here we may not even be talking about time…it could apply to any service expectation you set with your Customer), you’re going to leave a sour taste in your Customers’ mouth.  And that mouth is likely to share the experience with friends and colleagues.

The bottom line here is a delicate balance of over- and under-promising.  While the initial Wow! factor of being able to blow away your Customers’ expectations is powerful (seductive, really) and can definitely steal business away from your competitors, missing the mark can tarnish your reputation in ways more damaging than if you’d just stayed in the pack with them.  On the other hand, you don’t want to sand-bag because even the pleasant surprise of delivering even better than you’d promised may not be something Customers will ever find out about because they chose your better-promising competitors over you in the first place, based on that lackluster promise.

You’ll never get it 100% right, and there will always be times when you can see a problem on the horizon that will mean disappointment to your Customers.  This is a great time to keep them informed and even perhaps negotiate with them (partial solutions should always be pre-approved but not at the expense of your Customer’s overall experience).  This shows humility and respect for your Customers.  They understand certain things can’t be avoided and sometimes things fall through.  But if you have a way at all of anticipating, you should be, and keep them from just barely missing out.

We’ll revisit that respect and esteem for your Customers in the final installment coming up next…I promise.