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The Law of Heightened Expectations

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One of the most clever customer service cartoons in my memory dates back to 1977 in which an angry customer screams into a phone, “I want it today, not tomorrow! If I need it tomorrow then I’ll call you tomorrow.” This scenario conjures up an image which many contractors will relate to. The cartoon’s premise is based on the impossible task of meeting customer’s expectations.

From my experience, customer’s expectations become heightened in incremental steps. It only takes one event to set the bar a little higher. Therefore, customers who received great service from company A would no longer be satisfied with mediocre service from company B. The natural result is that company A will benefit from the customer’s heightened expectations. The outcome of this scenario is differentiation. Historically, differentiation gained prominence and has been driven by technological and socio-economic factors. In fact, some heightened expectations are beyond a company’s sphere of control.

For example, technological advances defy the old time continuum established by television and radio during the last four or five decades. Remember when missing your favorite 8:00 p.m. television show was a lost opportunity until the rerun season afforded a second chance many months later. Yesterday’s television viewers were held captive to a rigid broadcast schedule and thereby had to defer another activity to make time for TV. Today’s emergence of time shifting in our culture continues to drive expectations even higher as customers expect and demand 24/7 access to their stuff no matter what.

Customer expectations have also changed due to the internet. Perhaps the best example is customers who have become spoiled by internet retailers providing a fast, efficient e-commerce fulfillment model. These customers became accustomed to placing an online order after which the ordered items magically arrived at their front door in a few days – hence a heightened expectation. The customer thinks, “I want my stuff,” and with a few mouse clicks — the stuff appears just like magic. Now that same customer would expect a similar, low maintenance, and efficient result when contacting an air conditioning and heating contractor.

It is this heightened expectation which causes a customer to become impatient with an impersonal automated telephone attendant or an apathetic technician with poor listening skills. Contractors who can make the most of their customer’s time are the ones who will win.

The technological and socio-economic advances which result in heightened expectations are growing. During the last 30 years, based on my experience, the rate of growth is exponential. Similar to Moore’s Law, which states that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months, the Law of Heightened Expectations may be equally profound and unfortunately beyond a company’s sphere of control. I suppose the only thing we can look forward to are more technological and socio-economic changes, which will continue to drive customer expectations. So fasten your seat belt for these changes that will raise the bar and further differentiate the winners from the losers.

Steve Coscia, CSP

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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