Election Polling and Customer Service Expectations

Without delving too deeply into a political topic, one of the leading stories in the days after last week’s national elections calls to mind one of the most important tenets of customer service: Set and exceed customer expectations. Of course, the story I’m referring to is the widely reported disconnect between internal campaign polling and the eventual outcomes of the presidential election and several Senate contests.

In particular, big-money donors voiced varying degrees of displeasure and even outrage at overly optimistic polling numbers released in advance of the election. In this case, some sort of internal misalignment amongst strategists and pollsters led the campaign teams to become overly optimistic. They shared this enthusiasm with their donors, who in turn expected a result different from what actually happened.

In customer service, the consequence of failing to meet customer expectations is fairly straightforward—you’re going to lose some customers. The reality of politics is quite a bit different, though not entirely unique. While it’s not likely donors will support the other party next time around (i.e. go to the competition), they will surely look for other ways their money can have an impact.

In an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine, Richard Branson discussed customer expectation as it relates to commercial aviation:

“In commercial aviation, the big, long-established carriers, often still referred to as “full service” airlines, set themselves up for failure by continuing to oversell their services, even though they ceased to provide great service long ago. Their passengers have higher expectations than when they pay an identical fare for the same trip on a low-cost carrier.

Meanwhile, the low-cost carriers have done a very good job of setting expectations as they reinvent short-haul flying. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and his team are unapologetic about their decision not to provide a great many traditional perks. What their customers do get in exchange for consistently low fares is flights on clean, well-maintained aircraft that usually leave on time.

Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff, from product development to marketing, works in harmony with your brand image.”

Essentially, customers are just fine with getting something less than the premium experience, so long as that’s what they’re expecting, and they feel the price is commensurate to the experience. As a Texan, Southwest Airlines immediately comes to mind.

Just this past summer, I flew from Dallas to Portland, Oregon on Southwest. It’s basically a four-hour direct flight, but I was using a rewards ticket at the last-minute and had to make a few concessions. I took a 10-hour trip with three stops including a three-hour layover, but I knew exactly what I was getting. It was a long day, but each leg of my trip departed and arrived on time, the people were friendly and fun; and, of course, Bags Fly Free!

Naturally, commercial aviation ain’t politics, but I’m fairly certain big-money donors might have a slightly different perspective on the elections had they known what to expect. None of this is to say they were deliberately misled, it simply recalls what Branson said about having your whole staff working in harmony. Even a single missed connection in the organization can create an undesirable outcome.

It’s always the customers, or donors in this case, that suffer in the face of surprise. And regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, surprises are just no fun. Especially, the really expensive ones.

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