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Monday, September 10, 2007

Abandon All Expectations Ye Who Shop Here?

Expectations go hand-in-hand with anticipation. They matter deeply as Adam Lawrence from Work. Play. Experience explains in this comment to Shattering Expectations II:

"Neurologically, anticipation takes place directly in our pleasure centre, along with only three other emotions: fear, rage and the prey-pursuit urge. It's dangerous to disappoint such a deep-rooted emotion."

He directed me to More On Anticipation. Check out the final paragraph: "This does not mean that the fun stops at the gate to Disneyland, but it means that the anticipatory enjoyment we experience before arrival is truly happening at a deeper level to the - presumable more social and cerebral - joys awaiting beyond."

In other words, anticipatory enjoyment - or expectation - matters especially in retail environments, where the level of anticipation translates into customer loyalty [and profitability] for the retailer!

[Coincidentally, Dan Hill's Body of Truth: Leveraging What Consumers Can't or Won't Say,which I've just started reading, echoes these points.]

Hence the need to pay close attention to the messages we send our customers - deliberately and accidentally. These messages affect their expectations, and their expectations of us are what differentiate us from the price-based commodity experience down the road. Right?

Shattering Expectations II generated discussion on How Far Would You Go To Prevent Disappointment? The author, Bill Gerba, although he admits to oversimplifying and playing devil's advocate, makes startling comments about consumers and their expectations of retail experiences:

"I think that her [CB's] high expectations led to a more severe disappointment than she might have felt if she wasn't so enamored with this particular retailer in the first place."
If high expectations lead to more severe disappointment, does that mean that consumers should be satisfied with mediocrity? Hmmmm.

Now, isn't marketing about raising expectations? About differentiating ourselves from the competition? Don't we expect our points of differentiation to be truly unique and sustainable - so our customers can count on them day in/out, and anticipate their availability?

Gerba refers to Jet Blue and its early 2007 NYC fiasco [see JetBlue weather woes not yet overcome] and writes that "the airline had such a tremendously positive reputation that a glitch that would have merely upset another airline's customer base got JetBlue's passengers really, really angry. In short, JetBlue's customers -- just like IKEA's -- felt a more severe disappointment because their expectations were so high to begin with."

It's an interesting premise. I consider it flawed. I doubt that anyone stuck for 8 or 9 hours in an airplane - not to mention in the conditions that these passengers were in - would ever consider their plight a "glitch." The reality is if it hadn't been for that reservoir of loyalty and good will, combined with Jet Blue's immediate reactions, the airline wouldn't be in business today. As it is, the airline is still recuperating from the after-effects [see S&P Lightens Up on JetBlue].

Because of its customers' high expectations, JetBlue continues to push itself [see JetBlue Differentiates Its Business Again], further differentiating itself from the competition.

Yes, high consumer expectations can be problematic; they require constant attention. Forget complacency. That's the kiss of death. Resting on any laurels? That is so passe'! Not really interested in listening to what your customer has to say? You're in trouble! Not willing to consider what you are doing from your customer's perspective? You will definitely shatter expectations.

Nonetheless, high customer expectations separate mediocrity from greatness. They lead to loyalty and a strong likelihood of long term viability. They lead to satisfaction, which sure beats dissatisfaction! In fact, I reread an early post titled I Can't Get No Satisfaction about the First Annual Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study. Major finding: customers will talk about bad experiences; customers will avoid stores because of bad experiences. So, you absolutely do want to prevent disappointment!

[That subject led me to the 2nd Annual Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study by NextUp's Doug Meacham.... Dissatisfaction, per the actual 2nd Annual Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study, results primarily from interactions with salespeople..... Read it!]

Getting back to IKEA, IKEA gets 'it' on many fronts, but fails on others as it did in Shattering Expectations II with its cafeteria. Despite a situation out-of-its control, it had an opportunity to not just meet expectations, but to surpass them. Instead, IKEA sent a message that screamed indifference to its customers.

And indifference or a perception of indifference drives customer defection. By 68%. Staggering....

For those who aren't familiar, IKEA draws consumers from considerable distances. Entire families go as a group, and IKEA wants these people to stay as long as possible because the longer they stay, the more likely they are to buy. For that reason, it has created play areas throughout the store, including a 'magic forest' for older kids, as well as a cafeteria [also with a play area] full of Scandinavian treats [also sold in-store].

The cafeteria represents a major draw and convenience. The lack of it matters. Especially, unexpectedly. 8.5x11 inch typed signs taped to barriers in front of a darkened cafeteria on the busiest shopping day of the week don't adequately convey to consumers EXPECTING that service any level of regret.

Had IKEA considered the situation from their customer's perspective, it might have reacted with a human touch. Perhaps a smiling employee to communicate to consumers a sense of "I care that I've inconvenienced you" while acknowledging a problem and offering solutions [hey, they sell cookies, so spread some cookie love. CK knows how to do that!]. What a low cost solution with an element of fun.

[For a really scary IKEA story, read David Polinchock's Ikea Experience. And, BTW, have you ever noticed how many broken samples and displays IKEA keeps on the floor despite samples being the best way to sell products and promote their durability? Hmmm].

The new rules of the game require that we constantly meet and exceed our customers' expectations. Why? Because consumers run the show. They are in control. They have plenty of options for spending their hard-earned resources. What they don't have is excess time or tolerance for mediocrity.

So, I may return to IKEA. But, not regularly. And no longer as a destination with my parents or my daughter. And definitely no longer for fun.

My expectations have been shattered.

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Anonymous said...

CB--I've read that daylighting in stores (like Walmart) has a provocative influence on customer anticipation and expectation. Love to hear more about that some time...

Love the writing and depth of your posts.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Here's a tiny caveat regarding this statement: "the level of anticipation translates into customer loyalty [and profitability] for the retailer."

Having come out of retail, I would add that it translates in customer loyalty when we always meet and exceed expectations.

CB Whittemore said...

Lisa, what an interesting story idea to think about! Thank you very much for visiting.

Lew, you make a vital point: it's an ongoing process and we must always be at our best. Thanks.

Jeanne Dininni said...


Excellent post! Years ago, the message of the day for businesses was, "The customer is always right." (Of course, they knew the customer wasn't really always right; but sales people and managers alike were expected to treat customers with respect, to treat them as if they mattered--because they do.)

In too many cases, that message seems to have become totally lost somewhere along the way between the businesses of yesterday and those of today, and it's certainly a very regrettable loss!

Jeanne Dininni

CB Whittemore said...

Jeanne, thank you for adding your perspective. What's interesting today is contrasting the behaviors and performances of businesses that do believe in the customer and those that don't. I expect more to be enlightened, and am so disappointed when those I do fail on surprisingly basic levels.

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