A funny thing happened as I started writing this blog 10 years ago. In one of my earliest posts, Are You Delivering on Your Brand Promise, I cited an equation that I believe answers the question posed in the title.

I wrote: Expectations – Performance = Satisfaction and then explained…

Customers try your brand with a set of expectations (your brand promise) in mind. How you perform against those expectations leads to some level of satisfaction. If performance meets or exceeds expectations, then customers have a higher level of satisfaction and/or loyalty. If performance is less than expectations, then the brand promise has been broken – no explanation needed on what that means for your company. One sidebar to note here: consumers have higher expectations of iconic brands.

I got pushback about how I wrote the equation, which I did not originate. (When I was at J.D. Power and Associates early in my career, this is how we talked about it.) Some folks felt it ought to be Performance – Expectations, and clearly they must’ve had good reason – and I must’ve agreed – because I switched the equation to put Performance first each time I’ve used it in a post (many times). I think it had to do with, if performance was low and expectations were high, the resultant satisfaction rating would be negative, as it should be. Similarly, if performance was high and expectations were low, the resultant satisfaction score would be positive.

While that makes sense, here I sit today pondering this topic again. Here’s why. While the spirit of the equation is mathematical, it’s really more of a statement about what comprises satisfaction. And in that case, expectations come first. Customers come to your brand with a set of expectations that were formed in a variety of ways:

  • your brand promise
  • your marketing and advertising
  • you stated outright, e.g., we do X
  • customer’s previous experience (with your brand or with another brand), or
  • consistent delivery of a great experience (by your brand)
  • word of mouth or reviews and feedback from other customers
  • from within us/customers, based on our own set of morals and values and how we would treat others or what we would do for them

Your job is to listen to customers and to understand the expectations they have as a result of the above – and then to deliver against them.

So that poses another question regarding performance: do you simply meet those expectations or should you exceed them? I know there are a few different camps on that question!

The customer tells us how to stay in business – best that we listen. -Pamela Nelson

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.