In the news today is some research on what drives people's happiness moment to moment. Using data from 18,000 participants, researchers found that people's reported happiness is driven not simply by what's going on in their lives, but by what's going on relative to their expectations.
For example, how happy (or upset) you are about getting a $250 car repair bill depends on whether you expected the bill to be $50 or $1,000.
On one level this is obvious.
On another level it's very important to understand that creating a positive customer experience is equal parts delivering a good experience and making sure the customer's expectations are properly managed.
In other words, under-promise and over-deliver.
Sometimes this is straightforward: Disney is famous for telling park visitors that the line to get into a ride will take longer than it actually will.
Other times the expectations may be outside your control. If you are an online retailer and Amazon.com starts offering free overnight shipping, then it's likely some of your customers will be disappointed if you don't offer the same.
In these cases it's important to understand not just what customers' expectations are but where they are coming from. That way you can be on top of shifting expectations and respond appropriately.
Case in point: For years in the mobile phone industry, customers on traditional plans expected to be locked into a two-year contract. Customers don't want this, but there were no other options and so a mobile phone company could keep customers happy despite locking them into a contract. But when T-Mobile unilaterally decided to eliminate the two-year contract, that put T-Mobile in the position of setting customers' expectations for the whole industry. It also made T-Mobile the only player actually meeting those expectations, and as a result T-Mobile is capturing a lot of subscribers.
In customer experience, its important to pay as much attention to expectations as delivery.