The Customer Experience Series: Real Alignment


Fourth on our list of the 5 Simple Strategies that guarantee you never have customer issues in the first place is dubbed Real Alignment (like “wheel alignment,” get it?).  The alignment I’m referring to here is getting your customers’ expectations aligned with your realities. In other words, we are going to manage their expectations so that what we deliver meets (or exceeds) their needs.

Did you know that misaligned expectations are the number one cause of customer service issues? Indeed they are; and this is why keeping your customers’ expectations top of mind and under control is so critical.

Under Promise, Over Deliver

Managing expectations is often described as the need to under promise, over deliver. In essence, this means don’t promise more than you can deliver. For our needs, we have to also ensure we always deliver more than the customer expects.

If the customer expects a 7 and you deliver an 8, you’re a hero. However, if they expect a 9 and you deliver an 8, you’re a failure. In both cases you delivered the exact same thing, but their expectations dictated whether or not you also provided a good customer experience.

When you can, you want to align their expectations early in your process; as this is the easiest way to avoid future customer service issues. There’s a sign I’ve seen on the front door of lots of establishments that sets expectations early and in a friendly, tongue-in-cheek way. It reads:

We offer three kinds of service: good, cheap, fast; but you can only pick two.
Good and cheap won’t be fast.
Fast and good won’t be cheap.
Cheap and fast won’t be good.

Believe it or not, this sets expectations, while it also puts people in a good mood. Moreover, it allows you to take your time if you‘re known for providing high quality products or services.

Warning Signs

Another way you can manage expectations is to warn your customers of any tiny hurdles and miniature hassles before they encounter these. For example, if you’re one of those antiquated retailers who wants to see a customer’s driver’s license when they use a credit card, then make a small, professional-looking sign near your credit card machine that reads something like this:

“In order to protect our customers from credit fraud, we ask that you present your identification with your credit card. Thank you in advance for helping us keep your purchase safe.”

Contrast the experience described above with what usually happens in these instances. That is, after you’ve removed your card from the machine and put it back in your wallet, the cashier asks “Can I see your credit card and your ID, please?”

Ugh! Instead of managing my expectations, they created an artificial hassle for me. This minor inconvenience, of course, has just ensured that I will unnecessarily have a below-average customer experience.

The Customer’s Clock

Beyond warning about potential hurdles and hassles, the biggest expectation you can control is what we call the Customer’s Clock.

Basically, as the seller, your clock is different than the customer’s. More importantly, only the customer’s clock matters. Your clock is not important; and reality is not important. Your clock is on the wall and the customer’s clock is in their head. Oh, and the customer’s clock has only two settings: Right Freaking Now, and This Is Taking Forever.

While speed isn’t as important in the customer experience as quality, customers want to know that you value their time; and you must always meet or exceed their expectations (including their expectations on time).

Your job, in managing the Customer’s Clock, is to properly set it or reset it (as necessary). Let me give you a quick example of a company successfully resetting the Customer’s Clock:

My wife and I recently stopped at a small town café for a bite to eat. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday and we had about 30 minutes to kill. As we walked in, we noticed that the place was fairly busy.

The manager seated us and immediately informed us that not only did they have a packed house, but that they were severely understaffed. She explained that the service would be incredibly slow; that the kitchen would be slow; but that she would keep us informed throughout.

Although we only had about 30 minutes to kill, we left that restaurant two hours later. Full and satisfied with both the food quality and their service; and I gave them a five-star review online.

Why did I give them a great review for a meal that took four times longer than I originally expected? Because they managed my expectations from the beginning and reset my Customer Clock.

Imagine if they hadn’t said anything when they sat us. Imagine if the manager had just gone through the motions and said something like “Your server will be right with you.” We would have been livid and they would’ve received a one-star review. Instead, she aligned our expectations with their reality, so we settled in, changed our plans and enjoyed the slow service.

Next up in the series: Customers for Life.

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: Why Does Good Customer Service Matter?)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at