Why bad customer experiences make us happy! (And, why MEETING customer expectations isn't any better.)

Here's a paradox for you…. A bad experience can actually make us happier than an experience that meets our expectations. I know, surprising?!

We’re going to uncover why this paradox is true, why meeting or exceeding your customers' expectations just doesn't work and what to do about it.

Understanding experience  

In order to make my case of how bad experiences can actually make us happy, we need to understand two things.

The first is that an experience is an event or occurrence that leaves an impression, or not.

And second, experiences create opportunities for deeper and longer social interactions.

If I tell you I bought a new pair of shoes this weekend, how deep or long is that conversation? Not very! However, if I tell you all about the awesome hike I took this morning in my brand new pair of shoes, all the way around the island of Nevis (where this video was shot from) and the fact that I saw some monkeys, that's a deeper and longer conversation. (Yes, the video includes a shot of those monkeys.)

Experiences create social bonding capital

Experiences are like a currency you trade in the form of stories and social bonding capital is what ties us together – it ties your friends, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, even new acquaintances together. And this is what makes us happy, social bonding.

In fact, the more you share a story, the happier you become.

The social capital scale

You can chart any series of experiences on the social capital scale of experiences.

To demonstrate, let's chart the experiences based on my tale of two hotels.

Imagine a graph chart where the Y-axis is the experiences and the impressions you get from those. A positive impression goes up to a scale of 100 and a negative impression goes down to a scale of minus 100. On the X-axis along the bottom, are the encounters over time – from the first encounter to the last encounter.

When you start entering experience, you start at zero, that’s where your expectation sits on the graph, then with each encounter, those expectations either increase and leave a positive impression or decrease over time and result in a negative impression.

At zero, you have the expectations for the experience, the belief that your encounter will deliver exactly what you wanted.

A tale of two hotels - Hotel 1

Now, let me tell you the tale of the first hotel.

For the first three days of our recent trip to St Kitts, we stayed at a different hotel and from the very moment we checked into that hotel, the problems started to arise.

The impressions we were getting were negative and, I'm sorry to say, they kept dropping over time. First we were checked into a hotel room that had a view of a barbed wire fence and the stores across the street – not the view I expected on St Kitts. We asked to change rooms but the staff couldn’t be bothered to even check if there were any other rooms available.

Then we tried to go to the pool and get four towels and unfortunately, they're only allowed to give out two towels, one per person, and they said if we wanted more towels, we had to go to the front desk, which was a long way away. When we did get back to our room, it was pretty dirty so the impression slowly went down and down and down.

Now, we weren’t happy... so how can my theory that bad experience can actually make us happier than an experience that meets our expectations ring true?

Well, here's what's amazing. On the second night of our stay, we went to the bar and ended up making friends with three people. Now we made friends with these three people, because we talked about how bad our experience was… it all started when one of the wait staff rolled their eyes in front of us, to us!

You see, we shared that terrible experience and that in itself made us happy. A really terrible experience makes for great stories… and great stories make us happier. I know what you're thinking, what about exceeding expectations?

That's why we need to talk about the second hotel.

A tale of two hotels - Hotel 2

Our experience at the first hotel was so laughable that we decided to change hotels halfway through our stay and so, our expectations were reset, we were back at zero.

From the instant we arrived at this hotel, they started giving us positive impressions. When we checked in, they asked us to have a seat, they gave us a fresh drink and invited us to just check-in while we sat in the lobby, we didn't even have to wait in line.

They already knew it was my wife's birthday and immediately wished her happy birthday. They knew our names, that I'm allergic to peanuts and even beyond that, they had a series of cookies there with a customized little message that said, ‘Happy Birthday, Mrs Davis’, and on and on the little impressions went.

They created tons of little micro-moments, micro-encounters. These micro-encounters led up to a 100% positive impression of the place and a great experience.

They didn't do one thing to ensure that they delivered above our expectations or exceeded them, they did lots of little things that have led up to an awesome story.

The story void

If either hotel had just met our expectations, there would have been no story. If they had just been below our expectations, but we’d not had a terrible experience, there still would have been no story.

Just doing one thing to exceed expectations, just meeting expectations or even being just barely below expectation does not create a story, no one talks about you.

Remember... that bad experiences make great stories and that's what makes us happier, the story, not the experience itself.

That’s why it is more likely that when you’ve a bad experience, you’ll socialize and share that experience, as in the case of hotel number one.

In the tale of hotel number two, the experience is so good, the series of impressions is so great that it's another great story.

Everything in between falls into the story void is and it’s not a place you want to be.

A series of small impressions

It’s no coincidence that in the hotel room of hotel number 2, there was a book on the coffee table called, ‘The Art of Hospitality’.

There was a quote in this book which sums up what I’ve been talking about here:

“It's about moments. The moment a guest enters their room or the lobby for the first time. The moment a server remembers their favorite dessert or personalizes a birthday cake. It's the moments we create that last forever.”

Guess who said this? It was Christopher Ford, the pastry chef. The pastry chef even understands this!

This wasn't written by the General Manager, it wasn't written by the Executive Vice President of customer service or customer experience, it wasn't written by the CEO.

Everyone in this organization understands that it's the small things that lead up to a great experience, an experience worth telling a story about.

It’s no longer enough to meet or exceed consumer expectations

Great stories come from a series of micro-moments that lead to a positive impression and create a great story. It's all about the social capital your experience creates

. What kind of social capital are you creating? And what story does it tell?

In case you’re wondering, the resort that understands these micro-moments and the value of social capital is the Four Seasons in Nevis.

Another quote from the book in my room reads:

“Real people come here to feel like celebrities and celebrities come here to feel like real people.” - Mark Warren, Guest Relations, System Manager.

What are you making people feel and are you forming a series of small impressions to create an amazing Loyalty Loop experience?


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