Customer Expectations

Today, at the Coffee Bean, I ordered something. There was a price. It said $3.

The register said $3.75. I pointed this out. Instead of offering it to me at the listed price, they asked if I still wanted it.

I did, but what I wanted is for them to honor their advertising. Or take responsibility. So I said “No”. I asked again about this sign, and if I was missing something?

The cashier asked someone else “Do you know if our prices are accurate?” and they replied “No idea! I don’t know. They change sometimes”. I pointed to the sign, but they seemed unable to comprehend that they ought to honor their prices or change their signs. They took absolutely no ownership.

I recently hired a contractor. He gave me some verbal estimates for some changes. It ended up being more. But he didn’t tell me he was billing it as time and materials, so he charged me for the more.

Why am I complaining about this?

Well, when you have an expectation, and someone violates it, it often causes a breach of trust. Because people believe their expectations are right. (I’m a people, and so I fall into this category)

Making it Explicit

If you do not plan on complying to someone’s expectations who you are about to go into some transaction with, or some relationship, you should make it known.

If you even think that expectations may not be 100% clear, you should make sure they’re really really clear. Over-communicate and over-confirm.

A sign like “Prices vary, ask Cashier” would have been appropriate. Then I would know what kind of place I was in, and if I chose to be there, I wouldn’t be disappointed and annoyed.

Or the contractor could have put it in writing as “Time and Materials Estimate; Costs May Vary” at which point I could have asked for a set price so I could decide yes or no.


When we do not make things clear, explicit, and written down, we put our relationships with others in business on very shaky ground. It all depends on our memories and understandings, which are often different even when we use the same words.

So why do we stay vague?

Vague seems safe. It’s avoiding confrontation, where bad things can happen. And then later, you can say “Well I did say X”, as though that’s enough.

You’re trying to offload the risks and keep all the rewards. You’re trying to make your customer responsible for your actions.

Costs of Vaguery

When customers notice, they usually quietly withdraw. They may pay the invoice. They might not dispute it. But they’re not going to become super-fans. They’re not going to be Brand Ambassadors.

If you want Brand Ambassadors, people who rave about you, you go above and beyond. You make things clear.

Build an Unpaid Salesforce

Back in the day, I used to unprompted tell people about my bank.

That’s right. I told people about my bank. And that they should use it, because it was amazing.

I used to have ING Direct (before they were purchased and slowly metabolized by Capital One into mediocrity).

Why would I do that? Because they did everything right! I called the number and a person answered before 2 rings. They were helpful, and they solved my problems, and they were human about it.

I literally brought up my bank at parties. Not even joking. I was so excited they existed, and I told everyone about them.

How to build Brand Ambassadors

“Thank you for telling us the sign was wrong. Here’s a free croissant to say thanks. We’re fixing that now.” – This would be my default coffee shop.

“You’re right, I wasn’t clear. How much did you want to pay? I’ll eat the difference.” – I would probably pay 90% or 100% and the relationship would be fixed, and I would recommend him (and tell this story about how he took complete ownership of the situation).

Fixing your mistakes is a huge opportunity to build super loyal over-the-top Brand Ambassadors.

Take those opportunities, and capitalize on them. Lose a little money. Be generous.

Yes, I’m an unreasonable customer and have high expectations. But I’m also extremely outspoken about the things I love.






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