How many Es are there in Great Expectations?

I started this morning with a rant, which is not actually how I like to kick off my day.

As a vegetarian, I’ve grown used to being treated as a second class citizen when eating out.  I almost always have to check in advance that there’ll be something for me to eat; I’m frequently offered little or no choice (and no, one veggie main dish on a menu containing several options for meat eaters does not constitute choice); and what I’m offered is usually completely unimaginative.  I’ve even been asked whether I can ‘cheat’ rather than put the chef to any inconvenience.

This morning, I was confirming my attendance at a breakfast networking event, and for some reason I decided that I wouldn’t accept quietly the distinctly under-whelming vegetarian alternative to the full English fry-up.  OK, I don’t go to networking meetings for the breakfast, but if it’s a breakfast meeting I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the organisers make sure the venue takes the catering seriously.  With the opportunity to attend a wide range of other networking meetings, why would I choose to go to one that is identical in so many ways, but which offers an inferior breakfast?

Managing the customer experience is a tricky affair, as there are so many factors that contribute to its quality.   Many years ago I was introduced to the three Es of customer service:

Encounter – this is largely about communication.  Are people polite and friendly (but not overly friendly)?  Are things explained in language that the customer understands?  Is the customer treated with respect, and even if they’re wrong, not made to feel foolish or unreasonable?

Environment – this is partly about the physical environment: is it comfortable and safe, and does it ensure privacy where needed.  Environment however is also about the organisation’s systems: are they user friendly or does the customer have to work hard to get what they want?

End result – does the customer get what they want or an acceptable alternative at a price with which they’re happy?

To have a good experience, all three need to be right; get one wrong and the customer is likely to be dissatisfied.   My rant this morning was about a situation where two out of the three Es weren’t acceptable.  Not only did I have to remember to pre-book a vegetarian breakfast without any prompt from the organisers (environment not user-friendly), but the breakfast on offer was inadequate and over-priced (poor end-result).

To these three Es, I’d like to add a fourth: Expectations.   So much about customer service depends on managing expectations, but in order to do this, you need to know what these expectations actually are.  The organisers of the networking event appear to have assumed that the quality of the breakfast was a minor consideration.  My complaint however showed that for at least one attendee, this was not the case.  So next time you receive a complaint (no matter how unreasonable you may at first think it might be), see it as an opportunity to better understand the customer’s expectations and how you might improve the mix of the other three Es to make for a great customer experience.