Setting the right expectations for your customers

Recently, Select Basketball competed in Las Vegas where we had seven teams participating. Overall, the event was fine. The competition was good and there were college coaches watching. There was no more than the usual confusion that these tournaments usually produce.
 
But something left a bad taste in our mouth. Even though the tournament met our basic needs there was something different.
 
What was it?
 
Then we realized what it was. The tournament didn’t meet the higher expectations that it had set for us.
 
When we chose to attend this new tournament, we went through our normal selection process. Things checked out. Also, the tournament director told us we would get a showcase game in addition to regular games. This is a big plus for kids that want an extra opportunity to play in front of college coaches.
 
Unfortunately, when the showcase schedule came out we were not on it. Beyond that, we received no warning or re-setting of our expectations. Text messages were not responded to. Questions went unanswered.
 
We entered the weekend with a negative feeling about the tournament. Why did they make that promise? What did they stop talking to us? How they aren’t being transparent?
 
This all could have been a misunderstanding of some kind. Or it was a flat out lie to get us to sign up.
 
Either way, it begs the question, how do you set the right expectations?

Why you want to set the right expectations if you are in this for the long run

If you have a long-term approach to what you are doing then you must buy in to this: what you do now will become the foundation for what you want to do later.
 
When you look at the Las Vegas situation above, our disappointment was because they set the wrong expectations. The tournament met our basic needs. But by promising a showcase game it raised our expectations. We were now judging it based on new standards. And it was completely withing their control.
 
Consider these approaches:
 
  • Setting high expectations that cannot be met will benefit you now but will hurt you later. If you let people down on a regular basis, why would they come back? Why would anyone trust you?
  • Setting low expectations may keep you from accomplishing your goals. If you promise nothing because you are afraid you won’t deliver, no one is going to see the value in what you are doing.
  • Creating true expectations will give customers the chance to make the best decision. It will build trust in the long run. In the short term, people will try you out and see how you do. It may be a lot of work but if you are doing it for the right reason you will find a way to hit expectations.

How to avoid setting the wrong expectations – differentiate between facts and intentions

Clear language and transparency is the key to great communication. While past results are unquestionable (see facts below) the future is not guaranteed. Our policy is go overboard on communicating both of these. Then there is very little question about what you are going to deliver.
 
But before communicating anything, you must know the difference between facts and intentions. Here are some examples.

Intentions – what you want to do or have happen

  • The tournaments you want to sign up for
  • The people you want to coach
  • The players you hope will be on the team
  • The price you think you will be charging
Delivering on your intentions are the currency of your word. Delivering on your intentions builds trust. The more people trust you, the more valuable your intentions become.

Facts – the truth about what you are doing

  • The tournaments you have paid for
  • The coaches that have been on your staff in the past
  • The players that have made their payments
  • The amount players need to pay based on your budget
Facts are the unquestionable things that you can present to support your intentions. The more facts you have the stronger you can support what you intend to do in the future.

Language matters

Be clear in your choice of words when you answer questions. If you are stating an intention, make that clear so the listener knows it may or may not happen.
 
Here are a couple of examples that we use
 
Question: “I coach three teams so can you stagger their start times so that I can be at each one?”
 
Our answer: “Not likely. That is a lot of potential conflicts to avoid in a limited amount of time. We will do our best but can’t make any promises.”
 
The result: they may choose to not sign up. If they do sign up there may be conflicts but they are now expecting it. This is a chance to overdeliver by finding a way to make it happen if possible. But keep expectations realistic.
 
Question: “How much will it cost to play for Select this summer?”
 
Our pre-budget answer: “The final pricing hasn’t been set. We are still negotiating hotel and rental car arrangements. But, the past summer was $2,000 and we are trying to keep it about the same price if possible. This prices covers all the travel, tournaments, hotels…”
 
The result: the uncertainty may cause them to not tryout. But stating a fact from the past helps give them a reasonable idea of what to expect.

Find the right expectations

With regards to setting expectations, everyone’s comfort level is different. Whether you are aggressive or conservative, you will get better at this over time. Be clear about your intentions and differentiate intentions from facts. Be clear in your language so everyone gets the same message.
 
Setting and meeting expectations as an individual or business is important to long term success.