Great Expectations

(This blog will take you about four minutes to read – you’ll think it makes some good points, but probably would have wanted more depth in some areas.)

Some people love surprises: the excitement of the unknown; the anticipation of new adventures; the possibility of experiencing something previously unthought of… and just as many prefer the complete opposite: finding comfort in knowledge; worrying if they don’t have a plan; enjoying order, routine, & certainty.

However, in reality the only difference between ‘excitement’ and ‘worry’ is how our brain chooses to perceive what the experience will be like – a vacuum of unknowns being filled by our imagination. And for most people, there is a fine line between imagination and reality – who hasn’t woken up convinced that a dream they just had was real?

This is why setting expectations is so important. When people evaluate an experience, they are comparing with what they had hoped and expected to what actually happened – and if there is a negative difference, they will automatically think it was a poor experience regardless of how well a company thinks they’ve done or how closely they’ve followed their procedures. Without expectations, people’s imaginations are free to roam, often without a frame of reference, potentially setting unrealistic ambitions or fearing the worst.

Expectations are can be formed from anywhere, but most commonly come from three areas – a person’s own experiences, other people’s experiences, and what they’re told will happen. The second of these is become ever-more prevalent, with 92% of people saying that their most trusted source of information is the three Fs – Friends, Families, and Followers. (You can read more about the three F’s, and other new Trends here)

Going to the Cinema is a great example of where experience can be completely defined by expectations set by the three F’s. A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me of his relief when I said that I thought the new James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ was worth ‘4 out of 5 stars’. He’d had so many people tell him that it was brilliant that he was considering not going, fearing that it could never live up to expectations and therefore he could only be disappointed.

So what does this mean for companies? Well their influence is over the third area – what people are told is going to happen. This is their opportunity to be clear with their customers, removing any doubts or questions and reducing the likelihood of their expectations being wildly different from ours. Telling a customer how long they expect it to take to resolve their complaint, for example, can make the experience much better.

The promises made to customers through websites, adverts, brochures and conversations have a direct influence on their overall experience – providing them with a benchmark to compare against. Companies need to be transparent, making things simple and presenting their products and services in a way that is easy for people to understand. Becoming great at setting clear expectations could have a huge impact on customer’s perception of any company, and in turn on what they say to their own 3 Fs.

After that, it’s just a matter of matching those expectations and avoiding the ‘loading bar’ syndrome – it does the best it can to keep us informed but always lets itself down at 99%, where it waits, and waits, and waits…



I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

5 Thoughts

  1. Very good. Job adverts is also an area where setting people’s expectations can mean they stay in a job for longer.

  2. Good piece John. As Tom Gilb says, you can over or under deliver in all aspects, but they are meaningless unless you set expectations.

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