Exceeding Your Expectations

Marriott South Beach Logo

While on a plane for hours a few days ago, I found myself drawn into the inflight “entertainment”. Among some interesting fare (a classic Everybody Loves Raymond among other things) was the usual self-serving drivel from the airline, and a strange infomercial about a Marriott hotel in Florida.

It was a weird piece, several minutes long, devoid of any real information and filled with cliches. I had seen it on the outbound flight, and it struck me as unusually sappy. On the return I was overwhelmed.

As with any hotel propaganda, there were the required panning shots of the lobby, the pretty girl diving into the swimming pool, the enchanted couple gazing into each other’s eyes over plates of tiny morsels of food, and the family happier than any other you’ve ever seen after a long plane flight. And the interview with the manager was insipid, with so much for me to love: “our outstanding personnel” and other ridiculous HR miscues. But the thing that struck me the most was:

We pride ourselves in exceeding our customers’ expectations every day.

I’ve always had trouble with this whole concept of “exceeding your expectations”. It was obviously created by marketing people from words that seem to sound good, but what does it mean? Let’s examine it…

What are my expectations? When I go to a nice hotel, I expect a clean room, a nice bed, no bedbugs, and quiet. Hard to exceed those… Hermedically clean? Anechoically quiet? Less than zero bedbugs? OK, that’s simply being petty and splitting semantic hairs.

But, really, how do you consistently “exceed my expectations”? Only by me expecting to be disappointed in the first place, or by having your market placement so far off base that you trick people. Either of these are failures on the part of the company.

If I go to a Motel 6, I don’t expect Four Seasons level service. So if I get it at a Motel 6, something’s wrong. The Motel 6 is wasting money providing services to people who aren’t looking for them, and probably losing a boatload doing it. And it’s impossible for the Four Seasons to exceed my expectations, because I expect them to be the best. Anything less is a failure.

Surprise the heck out of our customers by being competent.

All of this plays hell with the employees. It’s like saying: “set a really low bar for our customers then surprise the heck out of them by being competent.” Expecting your employees to do daily slight of hand with their level service isn’t a good thing for business, it’s a sure path to frustrated and disgruntled people.

So, please, stop “exceeding my expectations”. Just set a really high bar, and meet it every time. Consistency is what matters, not the occasional random overshot.