Heavy Breathing Just Before Midnight Podcast Episode 12: Expectations, Perceptions and Customer Experience

So I have to share this experience with you. You can read or listen first, it’s a choose your own adventure here today…

To Listen First:

Heavy Breathing Just Before Midnight Podcast 12: Expectations, Perceptions and Customer Experience

To Read First:

I hosted a party for Betsy, an amazing friend of mine on Friday night. It was a 40th birthday party, and I selected what I thought would be a close, flexible, fun venue for the party (an Irish Pub in Brighton which had Dueling Pianos for entertainment). Well, the birthday girl had a great time, and we had fun, though many of us walked away perplexed from the party and understanding the level of service (or lack thereof) that we were presented with. Our party ended up staying just a bit after 9pm and then moved our party to a local Pub where karaoke and excellent customer service were in order for the rest of the evening.  I contemplated going beyond my initial discussions with the manager on the night of the party, and was left wondering if anyone, including the owner, would even care about or welcome feedback.

I’ve been encouraged to share a bit, both by Seth Godin from his post of yesterday:

If you want people to speak up, be clear and mean it. If you don’t, don’t pretend.

Well , there is no pretending going on here.

Here’s my Facebook Post from Today: I had an experience on Friday night at a local restaurant, and would love to give feedback – if I thought the owners would care. I don’t have any indication that they’d appreciate feedback on how they are now perceived by a party of 40+ people…so be it…

Thanks to my friend Ralph Wiser for this response:

Ralf Weiser Conversely, is it not fascinating how easy it is to do better than average with one’s own business?

and my response:

It is so easy to be exceptional in our own business, and it often comes down to communication. Over lunch today I was discussing Friday night with a friend. I think it comes down to my ego wanting someone to care enough to listen to what could have gone better – and is coupled with the fact that I was the hostess, so the service in a small way also reflects on me since I chose the venue etc…This may just become an InSights Group Thank You Economy type of story…or maybe not…

As William Buckley shares

“We are all increasingly anxious in America to be unobtrusive, we are reluctant to make our voices heard, hesitant about claiming our right; we are afraid that our cause is unjust, or that if it is not unjust, that it is ambiguous; or if not even that, that it is too trivial to justify the horrors of a confrontation with Authority; we will sit in an oven or endure a racking headache before undertaking a head-on, I’m-here-to-tell-you complaint. That tendency to passive compliance, to a heedless endurance, is something to keep one’s eyes on — in sharp focus.  Feel free to read the rest of the article that just about sums it up.

So the long and the short of this story, Betsy had a fantastic birthday party. Our party was slightly less than satisfied, and quite amused by the approach of the manager of the restaurant, and not to do an official tally, but most of our party of around 40 people were less than impressed and will probably not be going back to the restaurant.

I have come to the conclusion that since I was hostessing the event, and chose the venue, at least being heard would have given me a bit of validation in the events of the evening. At least there’s social media…where we all have a voice, and those who are tuned in will listen and isn’t it interesting that day after day in my inbox there are references to the Thank You Economy and how to offer a feedback loop for your customers so you can stay in the know.

I’d like to acknowledge @garyvaynerchuk for writing his exceptional book, The Thank You Economy, which in my life and circles that I am in has become a reference for “the current business climate and principles” and is sometimes even used as a verb and a noun all at the same time. I believe it has a good chance of becoming an entry in the dictionary as it gains widespread use as a recognized term.


There is so much to talk about. Luckily for me, all I have to do is sit down at my computer and hit the record button, and we can have a conversation about all that there is to talk about, so lucky you and lucky me. This is Sandi Maki and you are listening to “Heavy Breathing Just Before Midnight.”

I’m trying to figure out the best way to frame the conversation that I’d like to have tonight. It revolves around the Thank-You economy and principles for both a business and consumers to pay attention to in the Thank-You economy. Just as it is important for a business to show a customer that they are really interested in that customer’s experience. I think as customers in the Thank-You economy, we also have a responsibility to be awesome customers, provide feedback, and really be the best that we can be so that the business can serve us as best as they can. This is a recurring theme in a lot of the things that I talk about and that I blog about, so I’d like to explore this just a little further and share from a real-life dilemma that I’ve been having this week.

So, let me set up the story just a little bit about my particular question and then some of the reasons that it came up. Normally, I would say that when it comes to having an experience with a business, I will always give the business the benefit of the doubt. I really believe in people and I believe that everybody would like to do the best job possible all the time. That’s simply what I choose to believe. So, about a week ago, I was responsible for throwing a birthday party for a friend of mine, and being the person in charge of putting this all together, I asked my friend, of course, what they would enjoy doing for their birthday, and then I chose the form of entertainment, the venue, and the means of inviting people to come. So, I decided that we would be going to an Irish pub, relatively locally here because part of the birthday wish was that a lot of people that we know in the community would be also invited and welcome to come, so I wanted to keep it relatively close in the community. I wanted to put something together at a venue that would allow for maybe some dinner and then just a chance to talk, have a good time, be in a space where it was conducive to that, and then a little bit later on in the evening this particular pub has a dueling pianos program, which I thought would be absolutely fantastic. The people who wanted to come early could come early, have dinner, and then they wouldn’t have to stick around, but anyone who was in it for the long haul or fun for the evening could definitely hang around. I put out the invitations and got RSVPs for about 30 people, and in my experience, when the RSVP is for 30 it means that we will have closer to 40, probably, that show up. Well, this party turned out to be no exception. I had also, once I selected the venue of where we were going to be, I made a point of stopping in to the business in person and I explained exactly what I envisioned for the evening and how many people I would be having, which area it would be great if we could sit in, and then just kind of the overall expectation that I had. I think a lot of business-consumer relationship friction comes from lack of communication because perspectives are different and expectations are different, so everything that we can do to communicate to get both sides as close as possible is really essential. So, I thought I was doing my due diligence as a great customer to give them a heads-up, and when I stopped in, my first clue that maybe the culture of the organization wasn’t quite Thank-You economy would be that I probably stood near the bar for about 5 minutes before anybody turned around to acknowledge that I was there. Well, that’s a bummer. However, giving people the benefit of the doubt, I wasn’t really making a big deal about getting somebody’s attention; I was patiently waiting, while there was really nobody else there, but anyway . . . So, I explained what I’d like, and they took my name and number, said a manager would call me to confirm all the details, and I made sure we could bring in a birthday cake. Sure, no problem, everything’s good. Okay. I’m all set. So, I’m a choleric personality, and once I take something off of my to-do list and I put it on someone else’s, which I often refer to as “bouncing the ball into their court,” so I bounced the ball into the court of the restaurant. I figured everything was taken care of. I was hoping for a call back from the manager to confirm everything, but I wasn’t going to babysit that particular situation, so we would just be showing up. So, we showed up the night of the event, and we had been put in the wrong area, but that wasn’t a problem; we got everything put back in the area where it was supposed to be. Then, we proceeded to have people start joining our party. This is where the energy got really kind of interesting, coming from the consumer perspective. You know, here we were brining a large group of people into a restaurant, where I’m sure that having the maximum number of patrons is always a great thing. I warned them in advance, I explained how we wanted it to go, and yet when we were actually there we didn’t have adequate servers for our space, they didn’t understand the needs of our party, and the bartenders seemed a little bit taken aback when anybody ordered anything. So, you know, it wasn’t just me as the party hostess, but it was everybody in the party that was feeling this friction. You know, something wasn’t right. It was like we were a bother to have to serve. Here are people ready, willing, and able to spend money, and you had to order it from their correct person, and there was one person in charge of 30 people, which just, you know, it wasn’t going well. So, in an effort to make things happen a little bit more smoothly, I pulled the manager aside and explained what I had hoped would be happening for the evening, and I said, “You know, a lot of people in my party really aren’t very comfortable right now because we feel like if we ask for anything that it’s a problem.” So, the manager assured me that, you know, they would like our business, everything was great, and she would take care of it. Well, needless to say, this whole experience — The birthday girl had a great time; that was absolutely awesome. The rest of the experience lacked a lot, and I know that, quite possibly, I will not be back to this establishment, nor will probably at least half of the people that were in the party with us.

So then, my question to myself, and to several people around me was, you know, I really do want to be grateful for the experience. The birthday party was great and the birthday girl had fun. You know, just because a bunch of us felt uncomfortable many times over during the night, really, should we complain? Really, does it warrant it? What do we do? I was trying to figure out why it was important to me to give this feedback. Many of you may know that I am a marketer, and I am actively engaged in social media, so part of that, to me, is being aware of what your consumers are doing and saying. I have also been in the restaurant business and I know what it takes to manage crowds of people, servers, and wait staff, so it’s not something that’s a foreign concept to me, and I thought, as the customer, that I had done everything in my power to set up the right expectations, both on my side and on the side of the business providing the service so that there wouldn’t be communication issues and there wouldn’t be questions. Well, it turns out that I was wrong. So, part of me really wanted to give feedback to this business, especially because in this market where we are we see a lot of establishments come and go. The ones with excellent customer service and great company culture seem to have a much better shot than the ones where it’s lacking. So, I had asked several people, “Should I give feedback? Because I really feel compelled to give feedback, but I don’t want to make it sound like I’m whining. You know, we did have a great time, and everybody, you know, left . . . Oh, part of what I should add to that is, at about the time dueling pianos started (late), the entire restaurant just about had cleared out; there were maybe 3 or 4 tables left in there. The energy in the place was trying very hard to manufacture itself, but it really wasn’t working. So, we ended up staying for 1-1/2 dueling pianos songs, and then the remainder of our party, who were in it for the long haul, ended up going over to another location, where they had karaoke, for the evening. It was a much smaller venue, much more home-town feel, yet the energy in it was so much better. From the time that we hit the door, it was just uplifting, and the servers were happy to see us and happy to serve us and, you know, you weren’t giving your order to the wrong person, and they could communicate between each other to make sure everybody had a good time. So, you know, the energy went from good at the party to exceptional once we, you know, cleared that energy and got to the new place. So, part of me really wanted to be a good customer and thank the restaurant for this experience, but also suggest some areas for improvement because I think it could be of great benefit, and many of the people that I talked to also thought that they would benefit. Well, the challenge is that I don’t know that the owner or the manager really would care if I gave them feedback. You know, it didn’t seem like there was a great communication bond happening, at the time of the event, with the manager. I believe that the owner is off site. Would they like the feedback? Would they not? I don’t know, but perhaps. So, I decided really that I wasn’t going to make a decision and I wasn’t going to seek anybody out to give feedback and, you know, I was just going to let it be.

Then, I had a discussion with a friend of mine, and we were analyzing: Why did I feel compelled to give the feedback? And, I think it came down to a little bit of ego on my part, but I think good healthy ego in a sense, because as the hostess of the party, I felt responsible to make sure that everybody had as good a time as possible, from the birthday girl to the guests; it was somewhat my responsibility to put these pieces together. Well, the service that we had that night, and the experience, was partially a reflection on me and my ability to put something together, so, you know, that was another compelling reason that I felt like I should give feedback, and then ultimately I said, “You know what, I can set that aside. It is what it is. We had a good time. All is good.”

Well, of course, the way things come up in our lives, or the way things come up in my life, I opened my e-mail the next day, and there is a note from Seth Godin. Seth Godin’s blog says, “Please complain. Acquiring and processing user feedback is a choice.” And then, he goes on to explain reasons that people may want to hide from this feedback loop, because if you invite people to tell them why they’re not satisfied, then maybe they become a little bit more disgruntled over the situation, and then, you know, maybe ignorance is bliss. If nobody is listening, then the problem will just go away. I don’t really know if that’s the right choice. Maybe it’s a little bit more expensive for a company to listen to a customer that’s not completely satisfied, and then maybe the people that are making noise, who aren’t really happy, don’t represent the entire audience. So, those would be reasons why we wouldn’t want to invite feedback, according to Seth. On the other hand, Seth shares, that direct feedback in real time helps the company gain a competitive advantage which will help you grow. So, if something isn’t quite working, if you get immediate feedback, you can fix it before it affects anybody else. That would be a great idea. Helping an unhappy customer now is worth more to a company than negative word of mouth later. You know, there is saying in customer relationship management that a happy customer tells 1 person, and an unhappy customer tells at least 10. Well, in this case, we had a party of between 30 and 40 people, half of which probably went away thinking it was great, the other half, I know, didn’t have a really positive experience, so multiply 15 people by 10, and there is 150 potential people that were going to hear that this experience wasn’t quite awesome. Wow. That’s kind of a lot. So, the bottom line, which Seth shared, really was for advice to a company. Choose your strategy, whether you are going to invite the feedback loop or not, but make sure that you’re not in the middle. Don’t pretend. Don’t put too many filters. Don’t put too many barriers in place. If you want people to give you feedback, speak up, be clear, and mean it. And, if you don’t want feedback, don’t pretend. So, as I’m wrestling with this dilemma in my head, of whether or not I’m supposed to give feedback, here come Seth Godin’s posts. Well, that’s interesting.

So, then what I ultimately decided to do was put a little note on Facebook in a relatively positive manner, you know, that I put this party together and, you know, we had a great time, but there is some feedback that I feel compelled to share, and I don’t know that the company is really interested at all in what I have to say. Well, that sparked a few comments on my Facebook page, with one person saying that, you know, isn’t it great to observe how little it takes to make our companies exceptional, because there are a lot of companies that are not listening, and if it’s that communication that we can enhance that makes that company just that much better, then, you know, that’s a great place. And then, somebody else had shared a link to an essay, written by Dr. William F. Buckley, Jr. (it’s available online), and it was entitled Why Don’t We Complain? So, this was kind of a philosophy based, human nature, feedback loop kind of a post that shared many great things, and the article is quite long, so I won’t read the whole thing to you, but there is something that really stands out in here. The reason that nobody complains in a situation, like the one I found myself in . . . The reason people don’t complain is because we are anxious, in America, to be unobtrusive, we are a little bit reluctant to make our voices heard, we hesitate to claim our right, and we are afraid that our cause is unjust, or if it’s not unjust, that it is just ambiguous, or maybe it’s too trivial to justify confrontation with someone. So, we will, as accommodating people, endure things that are less than positive in our minds before complaining. So, there is a tendency to be passive, compliant, and endure things. Well, I don’t know that those characteristics really are the embodiment of the Thank-You economy. I think the Thank-You economy is about a company being interested in feedback, and each of us being interested in feedback in the way that we affect those around us, and that when we become complacent, it’s almost as if that communication has broken down to another level. And, of course, there is something that we could talk about in here also, which is the ego, and when certain things are happening, our egos become engaged, and that’s really where that charge of emotion comes from — you know, I’ve been wronged, or I’m super excited. A lot of that is coming from ego, so there is a balance in becoming maybe a neutral observer to certain experiences. So, my, you know, take after reading this essay was then, well really, I don’t want to just be that quiet person who’s just listening to it and not helping anybody get better, but somebody has to want to be helped in order for us to take that action and help them. So, what did I ultimately do? I had the conversation on Facebook, I’m sharing it now on my podcast, and explaining a little bit more of why I was compelled to try to offer this feedback, and part of it came down to being a good hostess. So, if anybody is listening (and I’m sure you are) that was at the party, I know that you will agree with me, we had an absolutely fantastic time, and I think the staff at the restaurant did the best they could with what they had. I think that if they knew better, they would do better. Yet, the feedback loop isn’t necessarily open for that to happen, that I could see, and as a customer, I don’t feel that it’s my job to go out of my way to interrupt a company to say, “Please pay attention to me and validate my feelings.” So, thank you to all of you, my friends and confidants and people that I’ve discussed this with — thank you for validating my feelings, because that’s really what I needed. So, beyond that, I’m sharing this on a podcast, and anybody who’s connected with me on Facebook could probably fairly easily figure out where this is. You know, it’s neither good nor bad; it just is what it is. And, I feel better that I’ve been able to get it off my chest. I was also contemplating whether or not this should be an actual topic for my podcast series because I would like to frame everything in a positive way; I really would. Yet, part of this podcast series is about exploring those things that aren’t always quite so positive, and I wanted to be able to use this experience to illustrate maybe having a conscious awareness of the Thank-You economy and look at it a little bit from both sides of the equation, both as the customer and as the company, and use it as an opportunity to highlight when communication, expectation, and perceptions were not matched up, because as much as life is all about bliss and happiness, it’s also about resolving conflict and coming to points of agreement with people in our lives. So, my hope, in sharing this with you today and in discussing this, is that you take a moment to ponder the next time something like this happens in your life, and that you do what you can to be the exceptional customer, you share feedback, both the extremely positive and maybe the not-so-positive, or suggestions for improvement, when you see it, whichever side of that equation that you’re on, and that we continue to communicate and discuss these theories because through communication a lot of things can get solved.

So, before I wrap up, I would like to share one other brief story. It won’t nearly as long as the one that I just got through, so don’t worry; we’re in the home stretch. I was having a discussion today with my business partner about several of the vendors that we work with in one of our companies, and we were talking about the energy of these companies and how it seems like one particular position in the company that we work with always makes us feel just a little bit uncomfortable, and this tends to be the person in the accounting department, or accounts payable, on their end. We were talking about, why do we feel uncomfortable? It’s almost like . . . Well, I know that there is a certain personality trait, the analytic, who doesn’t necessarily always love working with people unless they have that secondary sanguine characteristic. So, naturally, people in the positions of the accounting department aren’t going to be the most engaging. They are not going to be the front line sales person, and for a reason, because they have a role and they’re really good at what they do. Yet, we often come into communication with them a lot as business people, and even if the rest of the company treats us wonderfully, and we have an interaction with one certain person in one certain department, it can kind of sour the whole feel of the culture of the organization for us. So, again, is that a feedback loop that the company should be aware of? I think that they should. I think that it helps when they understand that, you know, everything else may be awesome, but here’s one area where I, as the customer, I feel bad, I feel unimportant, I feel like there’s a little bit of a disconnect here, and it’s just not awesome, and I know that you, as a company, strive for awesomeness. So, here’s just a little bit of feedback. You know, maybe you could take it under advisement. Maybe something could change. And, as we were finishing up this conversation, I said, “What if we, as the customer, were actually more in charge of that relationship with the vendor than the vendor was? What if we figured out a way to engage, on the same page on that, you know, in this particular case, analytic personality? What if we could find a way, as the customer, to bridge that gap? That is totally Thank-You economy. That is totally being grateful, thinking outside of, you know, the norms of expectations. So, in this particular case, there is a vendor that I work with, and there is a woman in the accounting department, and the very next time that I am in this business, I am going to be reaching out to her and making a big deal about the fact that she is probably a very underappreciated asset to the company, and it can’t be an easy position to be in, but we do appreciate to her. So, instead of me waiting for her to seek me out to create a relationship, I’m going to be a customer who is actively engaged in the process, and I am going to be the one to seek her out.

If there are any situations like this in your life, I would encourage you, no matter which end you are, if you are the consumer or you are the company, if there is any area of disconnect that you have, whether it’s with a person, individual company, or a department, I would encourage you to be the one who makes the first move to create a stronger bond with that company. Find a way to relate with whoever that is on a more personal level, because the interaction can only improve from there. Don’t be surprised if the first time that you do it you don’t get very far. Relationships take time to build, and if people are just not used to this, they just may not have any idea what to do with it when you are super nice, friendly, attempting to engage, whatever the case may be, however you’re going to try that. They just might not be ready for it, but keep trying, because if we keep trying and if we keep increasing the communication and the caring about one another, then the world will change for the better every day. So, I may be arriving at a supplier’s office with cookies tomorrow and really expressing a thank you to this individual, because if she wasn’t there, then the system that we have to work with their company wouldn’t work; it would not be complete. So, she does play a vital role, and I am going to acknowledge that and recognize that because I think it will make her world, and it will make my world, a little bit of a better place.

So, thanks for listening. I welcome your feedback. If you have any helpful insights on the principles of the Thank-You economy, of being an exceptional company, and of being an exceptional customer, and if you were at the party that I have mentioned, I would also welcome your feedback on how you felt during the experience and even of what you thought of what I shared today. Did I portray it accurately, or did you have a completely different experience than I did, which is quite possibly the case, so I’d love to know more about how your experience went.

So, thanks for tuning in, and I will see you in the next podcast for another random and interesting discussion. I hope you’ll be back. Thank you for listening. I appreciate you.