Managing Expectations: Understanding the Two Dimensions

March 18th, 2009   •   no comments   
Airport Bus Company: The Basis for a Case Study

Customers have expectations in two dimensions: 1) Process, and; 2) Outcome. Last Thursday, March 12th, I got to the airport just fine. In time. Outcome OK. Process? Failing grades. Why?

In an effort to deal with the economic downturn and loss of airlines and passengers at Oakland Airport, the service that runs coach buses from Sonoma County to SF and Oakland has created a new program: take the big bus to San Rafael and, then, get on a smaller bus to Oakland.

The smaller bus, a bone-crushing truck chassis, has no Wi-Fi nor reading lights. Sitting in the way back made me feel like I was on a carnival ride whenever we’d hit some bumps or dips in the highway. (Can you tell I’m a bit dissatisfied with the service right now?)

OK, the preamble out of the way: the link to customer satisfaction? Well, they missed a critical step: managing my expectations. I figured I would get to the airport but…I didn’t know that the “how” had changed. Nor was there any break on the price: a downgraded service for the same price but…no one told me why. That would have gone a long way to making me less disappointed.

Outcome is the end-product of a product or service: car repair, an easy one to translate, involves repairing my car at the estimated cost in the time promised.

Process is more fuzzy: empathy; communications; recovery service, etc. It deals more with how I feel I was treated. For example, if, in the case of car repair, you’re not going to get it done on time, you call me and let me know: don’t let me show up and, then, tell me. Or, offer me a loaner.

What the research suggests is that customer expectations are more weighted towards process dimensions versus outcomes. And, of course, providers are more interested in outcome than process: “What’s the problem? I got your car fixed…yeah, so it was a week late…”

This is an important lesson to which you might give some attention. Or, consider having a few people inside the company take a strategic look at it in your specific business, team or work unit.

I did call the owner of the company to get educated. I have to admit he did well on that score. So, he gets high marks…after the fact. He was empathetic and candid. He was also optimistic and expressed his desire to continuous improvement despite his company’s monopoly. Why don’t we give some bailout money to guys like him? I don’t know.

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