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Under Promise & Over Perform: The Art of Managing Customer Expectations

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I'll always feel warmly about Conrad's restaurant, in Glendale, California.

On the morning of the Northridge earthquake, Conrad's was the only restaurant in town that opened for business, and stayed open until the last customer went home. (For the record, I had a jumbo burger with Swiss cheese, grilled onions, fries, and two chocolate shakes with lots of whipped cream and extra cherries on top.)

The line of hungry patrons shoe-laced down the block, but instead of being grumpy, everyone was smiling, happy to be alive, and bursting with their own quake stories to share with the strangers all around them.

What was truly extraordinary was the fact that Conrad's did the ordinary, under exceptional circumstances. It opened for business-as-usual.

Undoubtedly, it had a skeleton crew, because freeways were damaged and closed, and some workers couldn't make it in for their shifts. But enough servers and hosts were there for us, and this very fact exceeded, I'm sure, most people's expectations.

Which of course, proves a point: You don't have to provide "legendary" or "heroic" or otherwise spectacular service to succeed. You merely have to exceed people's expectations as a way to consistently create customer satisfaction.

The problem is most companies do the opposite. They crow about how capable they are at providing top service, citing surveys that they have sponsored and often manipulated to appear better than they really are.

"Your call is important to us" is repeated incessantly on hold. Some service reps are even trained to ask one of the dumbest questions imaginable: "How can I provide you with exceptional service, today?"

In reality, most of us would be thrilled to replace this self-serving rhetoric with the basics. We really want service folks to:

Be there for us when we need them.

Be competent and well trained.

Be quick to address our problems and to solve them.

Be upbeat, and grateful for the opportunity to have our patronage, and

Be done!

To elevate our customers' hopes, and then dash them, is utterly self-defeating. It reminds me of what I used to hear as a kid-athlete. It's ok to boast, but you better be really, really good, in every single contest. Otherwise, the first time you screw-up, you'll be razzed, relentlessly.

Moral: Be modest. Nice and humble does it every time.

If you're modest, and simply competent, you'll be appreciated and you'll win customer loyalty.

That's the secret to Conrad's decades-long success.

Dr. Gary S. Goodman is a popular keynote speaker, consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books. He is the author of the Nightingale-Conant audio program, The Law Of Large Numbers: How To Make Success Inevitable. Gary teaches Entrepreneurship and Consulting at UCLA Extension, and he is President of and The Goodman Organization. He can be reached at

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