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Ice creamShared Expectations

Well,  what did you expect?

I’m not sure if you’ve experienced a very awkward moment brought on by a complete mismatch of expectations.

With names being changed to protect the innocent, I once had one of these moments.

A girl I was friendly with, offered me a bite of her ice cream, and I was very glad to accept. I took a bite … moderately sized, but yes – I ate some of her ice cream.

She looked at me horrified!

“What?” I asked.

“That’s not very considerate!” snapped the terse reply.

Well, a simple man like me is easily confused, and this was one of those times I had to admit I was completely lost. My mind was racing … “I hadn’t taken an overly large bite … I didn’t slobber all over the rest of the ice cream and leave a mess.”  I thought I’d been very considerate.

The issue was that earlier I’d offered a bite of my ice-cream and my friend had politely declined. She thought I was just being polite in offering to share … thought I wasn’t really serious. So she politely offered to share as well – expecting I would also politely decline. 

In this situation, we’d both spoken and heard the same words, but meant something completely different by them. 

The same thing happens in business, so it’s a great idea to be really clear about who’s expecting what. Sometimes it seems a little bit silly, but it can be the difference between a smooth business transaction and a terrible customer experience.

At its simplest, doing business is just an agreement between two people: I’ll do this for you, if you’ll do that for me. Most commonly it’s, “I’ll provide this product or service to you if you will pay me that much money.” Both parties can choose to accept or decline the arrangement.

However, in the mix of marketing, promotions and the constant need to find and win new business, the lines can get very blurry – lines which are meant to define the nuts and bolts of what I’ll do for you in exchange for what you’ll do for me. 

Different industries place the lines in different places. For instance:

-at a fast food store, I expect to pay for my meal before I get it

-at a restaurant, I expect to eat my meal before I pay for it

-when buying anything online, I expect to pay in advance - before the order is even processed 

-when a plumber services my house, he does the work first, then sends me a bill.

The point here is that different businesses operate differently and it can be a huge source of 

frustration when you (as either the customer or the vendor) don’t get what you’re expecting. 

As a customer it’s embarrassing if you go to buy something, expecting the invoice will be sent to you for payment later, but you discover you are expected to pay for it at the time of order – especially if you didn’t come prepared!

24 percent UKAs a business, it’s awkward when a customer comes to you with an expectation that you will provide a range of services at no charge, before the customer is willing to commit to paying for the work. In our own business, we recognise there are certain things we need to do in order to win work. However, there are other things which require significant investment of time, resources and effort, which we’re not prepared to do without commitment from the client to either proceed with the job (or at least to cover the expenses incurred in doing the preliminary work).

I suppose it’s along the lines of the old truism that the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask. One of the easiest ways to avoid the awkwardness and frustration of mismatched expectations is to simply talk about it – and right up front is usually the best. No-one likes to be thought of as ignorant, so sometimes we’re tempted to pretend we know things which we don’t really know, but boy does it reduce embarrassment and frustration when you just confirm the expectations. 

Expectation DefinitionIf I’ve never engaged kitchen joinery before, how can I know if I will have the full kitchen plans drawn for me at no charge before I commit to the contract or if I won’t receive that until after I’ve paid a deposit to complete the works?  Why not have a simple conversation to clarify how the process works? 

“What will you expect from me if I ask this of you?”

Sometimes, you might feel a little sheepish about admitting you don’t know, but every time you ask – you will know clearly what you expect and what is expected of you, and then you are set to have a positive experience whether you’re a customer or a vendor. Just as a hint though – if you ever offer me a bite of your ice cream – you can be confident I’ll take it!