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Ice cream + the Curse of Excellence

The more consistent we are with our differentiators, the more a customer will know it. The more we deliver on the same thing in the same way over time, the more familiar it will become to our customers.

And then, not only does it set us apart, it’s what people come to expect.

But as we all know, expectations aren’t always met. Sometimes what customers come to expect from us just isn’t the reality of what they’re being delivered each and every time.

If you’re short a few employees one shift and you can’t deliver the same level of service, customers get upset.

If the ride breaks down and the hopeful children have to be turned away, their parents get irritated that you can’t fulfill the promise of creating that fun, special memory.

If supply chain issues leave you with half of the products and twice the delivery time, you get tons of emails full of complaints from inconvenienced customers.

We have to deliver on what we’ve trained customers to expect. Because that’s what a differentiator does: It gives your customers an expectation for their experience with you. And when reality doesn’t meet those expectations, customers will likely go look for what you’re selling or providing from another business or brand who will meet or exceed their expectations.

The powerful reality is that it only takes one or two bad experiences to turn a customer off from your brand for good. Studies show that 95% of customers will leave because of bad service. That’s a huge number, right? Well, friends, that’s what’s at stake here if we don’t deliver on what customers have come to expect!

When our kids were toddlers, John and I took them to get ice cream to celebrate their good behavior. We went to a nation-wide ice cream store we’d frequented in the past, so we walked in the door with expectations for how the experience was going to go. We arrived that day to find an exceptionally long line, which any parent of young children knows is a risk. I mean, how could we celebrate good behavior if they had an epic meltdown in line? We knew we had a choice: We could wait in line with two hungry toddlers in order to fulfill the promise of ice cream from this specific store, or we could leave to find a faster option. Either way, the potential for a memorable meltdown loomed large.

Because we knew this brand and the things that set them apart—taste, cleanliness, and speed—we decided it was worth the wait. Thirty minutes later we got to the front of the line, miraculously without a meltdown from either child. We were relieved, eagerly expecting great service and even better ice cream as a reward for our wait, but what we got in reality was something completely different.

The employee waiting to serve us barely looked up to acknowledge our presence. He was clearly worn out from serving so many people ahead of us. He was visibly sweating from his brow and body and sniffling loud enough for us to hear across the counter. To make matters worse, he was without gloves or a mask to protect our treat from drops of either. So, you can imagine how we felt seeing his bare hands repeatedly wipe his nose, go through his wet hair, and pick up the scoop to start dishing out our ice cream.

“Whadda you want?” he said when he finally looked up.

I was speechless.

“Before you start working on our orders, would you mind washing your hands?” my husband asked him.

This request was met with an incredibly awkward silence. It was the kind of silence that seemed to fill the room completely. When I tell you it felt like it lasted for hours, I mean it! Finally, this employee shrugged, rolled his eyes, and disappeared into the kitchen. Eventually, another employee came out gloved and ready to prepare our ice cream.

Could this have just been one bad day? One employee dropping the ball? One experience that wouldn’t happen again? Probably! But it was enough to make our family not want to come back. Because over time, we’d come to expect specific things from this brand. When those expectations weren’t met, the reality we were left with was both frustrating and disappointing. And while we have been back to that chain since, we didn’t visit for a long time after that experience. Our unmet expectations on the things we’d come to know that defined the customer experience at this store impacted our relationship with them. When reality wasn’t what we expected, trust was broken with that brand. And ultimately, we started getting our ice cream somewhere else.

This is a big deal, friends! When you define your differentiators and deliver on them consistently, you’re setting expectations for the way customers will experience you and your business. And if what customers get in reality is far less than they’ve come to expect, it’s going to cause a break in the relationship. It’s going to threaten the longevity of our brands and our jobs!

That’s why, as growth-minded people looking to make an impact where we are, we have to be committed to consistently delivering on the differentiators that set us apart.

Continue learning and growing by ordering your copy of The Power of Customer Experienceand thebook club video series and user guide for your team.


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