Mind the Gap: When Customer Expectations & Reality Collide

Posted by Kate Zabriskie on Oct 13, 2023 10:05:26 AM

“I don’t understand. This hotel has no restaurant, no concierge, and no valet. It’s not at all what I expected. The place had no standards.”

Guest at a Roadside Motel


“I showed her the picture of Jennifer Aniston and asked for the same haircut. She cut my hair, but I still don’t look a think like Jennifer Aniston. I’m not going back there.”

Client at a Salon


“We went to the National Park and didn’t see a single buffalo. They really need to do a better job scheduling the animals. I’m very disappointed.”

Guest at a National Park


Most of us know motels aren’t hotels, a haircut isn’t cosmetic surgery, and wild animals don’t follow a viewing schedule. So, how does the minority conclude otherwise? The answers are endless: lack of information, misinformation, wishful thinking, etc. Regardless of the source of the confusion, service providers must address the misalignment. The easiest way to handle such issues is to avoid them. When that can’t happen, we must address them with calm, empathy, and willingness to educate.


Step One: Be Clear About What You Have

First-rate service providers are clear about what they have and don’t. For instance, you have opulence if you work in a well-maintained historic hotel with old-world charm and a beautiful lobby. What you likely don’t have, however, is large bathrooms, soundproof walls, and other modern amenities. Pretending you’re something you’re not is the first step toward disaster.


Questions to Consider
  • Does this product or service last forever, or does it need to be replaced at some point?
  • Do we provide a premium, mid-grade, or budget offering?
  • Are our prices aligned with the experience?


Step Two: Provide Clear Product and Service Descriptions

Accuracy and transparency are the cornerstones of trustworthiness. As a service provider, strive to give clear, concise, and accurate descriptions to ensure customers’ expectations align with what you offer.


Detailed Listings: Provide specific details about the product or service. For a hotel, this might include room sizes, available amenities, the age of the building, and any unique features. 


Use High-Quality Visuals: Images and videos can provide a genuine sense of the product or service. Ensure that visuals accurately represent what customers will receive.


Highlight Unique Features: Emphasize what sets your offering apart. If it’s that old-world charm in a historic hotel, showcase it. Make it clear why it’s a selling point.


Address Potential Shortcomings: Be upfront about any limitations. For instance, if the hotel rooms have smaller bathrooms due to the building’s historic nature, mention it. Transparency can prevent future dissatisfaction.


Customer Reviews: Allow space for customers to leave reviews. Prospective customers often find real-world experiences valuable, and it adds an additional layer of transparency.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Include an FAQ section addressing common queries and concerns. The extra information can help clarify any ambiguities about the product or service.


Questions to Consider
  • Have we described the product or service using straightforward and jargon-free language? 
  • Do the visuals we’ve used align with the actual experience or product?
  • Are there any features or limitations we’ve overlooked in our description?

If any of those suggestions scare you, go back to step one and get real about what you have. 


Step Three: Leverage Calm and Empathy

When a customer, client, or guest reaches an inaccurate conclusion, responding with patience and understanding can make all the difference.


Listen Actively: Before jumping to solutions or defenses, take a moment to listen to the concerns. “You haven’t seen a single buffalo in three days? That is a surprise.” This simple act can often diffuse heightened emotions.


Empathize with Their Perspective: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Even if expectations seem misplaced, understand that the feelings are valid from that person’s viewpoint. “It’s never fun to think something is going to happen, and then it doesn’t.”


Clarify Without Condescension: Offer clear explanations without talking down to the individual. “I wish every guest would have the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures. If they weren’t wild animals, they might be more accommodating.”


Offer Solutions When Possible: If there’s a way to address the concern, even if it’s not exactly what the customer hoped for, it can still go a long way. “Our museum does have an extensive exhibit about buffalo. You can visit today or see it online. Also, they have an IMAX film that features buffalo. Although not the same as seeing them live, some angels in the film are magnificent. 


Revisit Your Written Promises As a Last Resort: If there is no solution or a limited solution, refer customers to the written statements you crafted in step two. We know the walls are thin, and that’s the nature of a historic property. That’s why we asked you to acknowledge possible noise when booking your room. What I do have is earplugs. Most guests have told me they greatly reduce the noise. Would you like to have a pair or two?


Questions to Consider

  • Are there common themes in customer misunderstandings that we can address proactively? 
  • What resources can we provide our team to equip them with the right information and approach?


Navigating customer expectations is a nuanced dance. While you can’t control every perception, you can influence it through clarity, empathy, and education. Embrace every positive and negative interaction as a learning experience and a chance to enhance your service. The journey of aligning expectations and reality is ongoing, but with dedication and understanding, it benefits service providers and their clientele.




Kate2 (1)Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team provide onsite, virtual, and online soft-skills training courses and workshops to clients in the United States and internationally. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.