September 7, 2012

Exceeding Expectations

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Everyone wants – and needs – to stand out from the crowd.

Have you noticed that more people than ever are talking about “exceeding expectations?”

Do a quick search, and you’ll find a dentist who claims to exceed expectations, a construction contractor that has named itself Exceeding Expectations, a container company with the motto “exceeding expectations by design” and a rental agency that promises to exceed vacationers’ expectations.  The Web is home to an endless number of similar boasts.

Moreover, the notion of exceeding expectations seems to have crept into other aspects of life. The New York Times earlier this year declared that a professional basketball player, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is “exceeding expectations.”The Miami Herald followed suit, crediting a high school basketball player from Broward County with doing the same.

Ask corporate employees about the importance of exceeding expectations, and you won’t necessarily hear about their love for their jobs.  Exceeding expectations is a performance rating motivated by financial incentives: Employees see such a rating as their ticket to an above-average raise or bonus or even promotion.

For business owners, exceeding expectations rarely is about bragging rights getting a raise.  It’s more often about surviving in a world where competitors continually up the ante in terms of anticipating customer needs, winning customer loyalty and justifying their prices. It’s also about avoiding negative online ratings, which are bona fide business-killers.

Creative hotel brands at the upper end of the price spectrum have made “exceeding customer expectations” something of a science.  A well-traveled friend tells of a hotel stay with his wife when he found a plush toy animal gift in the room.  Another time he received an upgrade without asking, just because it was available. In each case, this friend said, the crucial factor was surprise. He received something extra that he didn’t anticipate, which made him feel special.

Christine Corelli, writing for Expert Magazine, tells how an auto dealer won her loyalty by going above and beyond on several occasions when she purchased a new car.  The first occasion was when the salesman helped her transfer her belongings from her old car to the new one. The second was when the dealership fixed her first scratch for free.

“Not only was I delighted, I was thoroughly impressed once again,” she said.  “I certainly didn’t expect them to do the body repair for free. That’s almost unheard of these days!” The dealership even arranged for her to use a conference room so she could work on her laptop and make calls why she waited.

Now Corelli evangelizes the dealership: “Did I tell others about their level of service? Yes! Did I send customers to them? Yes! Have I gone back to them for servicing even though there’s another dealer closer to my office? Yes! Will I purchase from them again? Absolutely! I am a loyal customer.” That’s what you want your customers to do.

Tony Jeary, author of Strategic Acceleration: Succeed at the Speed of Life, attributes his personal success in business to advice from his father, who told him “Give value, do more than expected.”  Exceeding expectations must is a “foundational attitude,” he said in a Business Know-How blog.  It’s an effort that must be pursued every day in order to be effective.

“If you can do something for your customer that not only exceeds their expectations but also empowers them to exceed the expectations of their customers, you have enhanced your value tremendously,” he said. “The expectations you exceed today become the seed for new opportunities in the future”

Exceeding expectations also is important within organizations, both for new employees and the top brass.

Chaz Kyser, author of Embracing the Real World: The Black Woman’s Guide to Life After College,observes that it’s necessary to understand what employers want before it’s possible to exceed their expectations. Writing in The Black Collegian, she counsels recent graduates to ask for guidance while focusing on the following five expectations common to all employers:

  1. Be a team player, someone “who can pull his or her own load and doesn’t gripe about having to pull someone else’s at times”
  2. Be a go-getter, “a person who can generate new ideas and actually benefit the company”
  3. Be multifaceted, “someone who can perform a variety of duties with ease and enthusiasm and is willing to learn new skills”
  4. Be flexible and handle assignments as needed
  5. Be a good communicator and “write as compellingly as they speak.”

Retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III believes leaders are responsible for creating a culture that encourages subordinates to strive for excellence, as he explains in his book, Exceeding Expectations: Reflections on Leadership:

“Many leaders can exceed expectations, but what I have continually seen from my perspective as a career officer and general is that the best and most successful leaders always exceed them. Highly effective leaders who exceed expectations do so through follower performance, unit performance and personal performance.

“Followers need to be inspired and motivated to reach a higher level instead of settling for a ‘good enough’ mentality.”  This is where the leader’s personal commitment – demonstrated by his or her actions – influences follower performance.  Without commitment, exceeding expectations is very difficult, if not impossible.”

A leader’s personal performance “creates the final element propelling followers and organizations to exceed expectations,” he concludes. “Such actions as leading from the front, maintaining the highest levels of integrity regardless of the consequences or taking risks on your followers’ behalf are all actions that inspire and motivate.”

Everyone wants – and needs – to stand out from the crowd. Your challenge, whether as an entrepreneur, employee or manager, is to distinguish yourself by consistently giving more than is expected and, in the process, inspiring the trust, commitment and loyalty of those you serve.

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