How to Profit from Low Expectations

The following is a guest post by Mark Kinsley

Getting an oil change isn’t fun. Most of the time you take your car to the ten-minute place because you expect it to suck. The only real promise is that your experience will only suck for ten minutes. It’s an industry with very low expectations. What if getting your oil changed was the opposite of awful? What if it was an absolute joy? 

After moving to a new town, I had to find a place to get my car serviced. I took it to the local dealership, where I expected them to lie. That’s what many dealerships do, right? You’ve probably heard horror stories about cars that go to the dealership and suddenly need thousands in repairs. Despite my fears, I took it — mainly because they offered a free car wash. What happened next surprised me.

Upon walking into the front office, a cordial and well-trained employee explained the process, took my key, and guided me to the waiting area. In the waiting area he explained how to get connected to Wi-Fi. I sat down and hopped online (without having to ask anybody how to get connected). Everything was perfect so far.

After catching up on email, I began to observe. On a nice counter next to me I noticed Luigi’s ice cream, coffee, and pastries — all for free. Nice touch. I was sitting in a café area and ten feet away there was a comfortable living room space with leather chairs and a big-screen television. The setting was far different than the metal chairs and gritty hot rod magazines I was used to. And therein lies an opportunity. Somebody at that dealership noticed how boring and dingy an oil change experience can be and decided to change it.

Going into the oil change, my expectations were very low. Now think about the mattress industry, where the expectations are so low they hang out with the linoleum. Customers presume that mattress shopping will be a nightmare. If you know that’s how they will feel, it should be easy to exceed expectations with small sparks of brilliance. How do you do that?

Visualize the entire mattress shopping experience. First, a customer walks into your store. What happens next? How are they greeted? Do you ask questions? Visualize the entire experience, from initial contact all the way through to the time when they turn down the sheets that night. In doing so you will identify hitches in the process. Hitches allow for heroics. At most oil change places the waiting rooms are dirty. The dealership provided a clean space. At most oil change places the downtime is boring. The dealership provided ice cream, television, and Wi-Fi. Hitches allow for heroics. In an industry where the expectations are low, you don’t have to do much to build loyalty. In the mattress industry, people expect to be confused. What do you do about it? Knowing about their preconceived notions can give an edge. What are you going to do about confusion? How can you simplify and clarify?

Two days after getting my oil changed, the dealership called me. The lady just wanted to know if everything was okay. When’s the last time you called somebody after they bought a mattress? Better yet, when is the last time you called them again after six months? That would be impressive (and simple).

Surprise can have a massive impact. What are you doing to delight your customers with that which is unexpected?

Mark Kinsley is Vice President & Lead Strategist with Mark Quinn’s strategic communication firm. You can email him at markk@mediacross.com.

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