unmet customer expectations

I spoiled myself and my lovely bride with a new car a few years ago. With all the options and complexities that go with modern motor vehicles, I decided to purchase a $2,500 extended warranty package that covered “everything” for 7 years/100,000 miles, and I also purchased lifetime synthetic oil changes. I felt reassured that I had paid ahead of time for the dealership to deliver its brand promise of gold-star service for the life of our ownership experience.

Fast forward three years to the moment where my navigation system suddenly decided it would not go into night-time mode when the headlights come on. This created a blindingly bright distraction in the middle of my center console with no way to relieve the glare aside from turning off the navigation system (and who hasn’t become totally dependent on their navigation system these days?). Clearly, it was a distracting safety hazard during our wet, glare-filled Pacific Northwest winter nights.

An Expectation is Set

The service representative informed me that it certainly was a safety issue, and then immediately reassured me that “the repair would be covered under warranty.” Of course I told him to order the replacement, and informed me that it would be available to install in two weeks.

Five weeks later, I got a call from the dealership that the equipment was ready, and we scheduled the installation. I wasn’t pleased with the delay beyond what they had told me, but I attributed it to issues beyond the dealership’s control. The staff at the dealership was friendly and professional, and my appointment wasn’t excessively long so I was feeling satisfied with my experience.

When they called my name announcing that the repair was finished, I assumed that since my repair was “under warranty” that I would simply collect my keys and be on my way. Unfortunately, when they said “okay, that’ll be $100…” my enthusiasm for their wonderful customer service (which I had pre-paid for at the time of my initial purchase) evaporated and I felt as if I had just been pick-pocketed.

The problem wasn’t the $100.In the grand scheme of things, paying only $100 for a new factory radio and installation is a screaming bargain in anyone’s book. The problem was that the dealership had failed to manage my expectations by not explaining what they meant by “warranty repair.” When most people who have already paid for preferential/extended warranty services are told that an issue will be “covered under warranty,” the expectation for the parameters of the experience have been set. There was no mention of additional expense possibilities when they ordered the replacement parts.

Don’t Fault Customers for Misunderstanding the Promise

Technically, the burden of understanding or remembering the terms of my extended warranty lies with me. I can’t fault my dealership for the charge I wasn’t expecting because it was part of an agreement I had willingly entered three years before. The lesson to be learned for any brand that provides goods or services is that setting customer expectations accurately and in a timely manner will go a LONG way towards avoiding negative feelings on the part of the customer.

It’s not rational that I would have felt bruised at the prospect of paying only $100 for a new radio/CD player/Navigation system. Yet when the dealer’s representative sets an expectation by saying something is “covered under warranty,” it’s not surprising that I expected that meant “free of charge.” I drove away feeling like perhaps my dealership didn’t deserve my continued loyalty and that my expectations of gold-star service were shattered..

Will your customers drive away from your business feeling not-so-loyal because their experience didn’t aligned with their understanding of your brand promise? Not if the employees who represent your company are well trained in managing customer expectations. If that’s a possibility within your organization, get in touch with us – we can help you make sure your representatives are perfectly aligned to deliver.

To explore more thoughts on customer experience, you might enjoy these articles:

Tips for Infusing a Service Model into Your Business

How to Create Behaviors that Build a Seamless Customer Experience

The Power of the Customer Promise: Characteristics of Aligned Brands

About Curtis Franklin

After receiving his BFA from Oregon State University, Curtis began working in freelance graphic design and illustration. He spent thirteen years both as art director and head of advertising design for Thrifty Payless Drugs, focusing on print retail advertising. He has spent the last twelve years in interactive, print, and environmental development in both art director and creative director capacities, with such global clients as Intel, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Cisco Systems, Tektronix, NEC, adidas, Nike, AkzoNobel, Office Depot, Aegon, Simplot, and local clients including Fred Meyer and Burgerville. He has two daughters, and lives with his wife in Portland. He fills his free time undertaking home and garden projects, tinkering with motorcycles and cars, and trying to acquire mad mountain biking skills.