No surprises

Feb 6, 2019–The worst business to be in is the one that when you do it well, no one notices.

Because then the only time you hear from a customer is when they are unhappy.

Take, for example, any internet service provider.

How unsettling it must be, to go into work every day knowing that the absolute best outcome at the end of your shift is that nobody noticed what you did all day.

We expect internet access. As we expect our phones to work, our lights to come on, and our commodes to flush. We only call providers in these areas when those baseline expectations are not being met.

Another “expectation” service is the fast food industry. We have been conditioned by 60 years of drive-thrus to expect the same hamburger every time, everywhere. This began with Ray Kroc reducing burger building to a seamless process, and continues to this day. I was once a secret shopper for a national chain. Once a month I would order a specific meal at a fast food restaurant. I recorded the temperature of the patty, counted the pickle slices, and timed to the second how long it took to take and deliver my order.

I’m still not sure if the burger-building benchmarks were a way to achieve higher standards or to maintain minimal standards. I do know that after eating those burgers for two years, I haven’t gone back.

People order burgers billions of times per day, and 99.9% of the time it satisfies both sides of the transaction. But we all know people who get upset their coffee was too hot or their fries were not–just look at the comments on any social media “rant” page.

The reason for this irrational response?

When you provide a commodity level of service, there is no opportunity to surprise your client. How is the internet provider to do that? Boost the bandwidth for an hour? How can the hamburger wrangler do that? “Welcome to Frederick’s Burgers. Thank you for letting me meet your basic expectations and get your order right!”

Some businesses don’t even have the luxury of starting at the baseline. Their customers walk in with a negative expectation. How many of us look forward to their trips to the dentist or auto mechanic? They could be the sweetest people at the chamber banquet, but all you see is a white coat.

Don’t think those professionals don’t take it personally. I once had a client who changed the family business model from car repair to motorcycle sales. She couldn’t believe her reduction in stress levels. Now, she said in wonder, customers walk in the door who are actually excited to be there!

In seeking a suitable conclusion, I realized that column-writing falls into the category of “when you do it well, no one notices.”

So I join my comrades in other service industries that take comfort and affirmation from lack of feedback. We humbly thank you for not noticing.