I Learned a Lesson About Customer Expectations This Week

I had a vacation responder up this past week, telling my clients I was traveling so I’d be slower to respond, and that for a few days, I’d be completely out of touch.

I’m not going to harp on work-life balance, but something else I learned on the last day of this trip.

I went to Manaus, a city plopped down in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest and fleshed out by European rubber entrepreneurs in the 1800s. It’s known as the Paris of the tropics, and is a really cool place.

When I moved to Brazil in April, I told myself that if I didn’t take any other trips while living here, I would at the very least save my money and go to see the rainforest. Which I did.

After I finished my three day, two night trek through the jungle (with a guide, people), I had three more days in Manaus.

I looked through Lonely Planet for some hints of what to do and saw some pretty cool museums. After double-checking the operating hours, I planned what I wanted to do and on which days.

But because museums like to keep funny hours, I ended up with three museums to visit on my last day there.

So that morning, at 9 am, I trooped to the first museum. It was open and full of glory. As cool as I expected from the three-sentence Lonely Planet description, and it got me really excited about everything else I’d see that day in the other museums.

After being absolutely delighted by all the art, archaeology, and history I’d just experienced, I walked 20 minutes (in the hot, sticky, tropical sun) to the next museum… and it was closed without any notice or any sign telling me when it would be open.

It was a little disappointing, but since it was so far removed from everything else and you had to walk through some shady areas to get there, I figured it was a bad location-choosing on the part of whoever opened it. But, shit happens, and at least I had another museum to look forward to.

So I had lunch, bought some gifts for my family, and rested in the shade.

Then it was time for the post-lunch hours of the third museum.

I’d saved the best for last.

I walked there (again, through the hot, sticky, tropical sun) to find this:

Translation: We’re on strike. Museum closed to visitors.

WTF?!?

My mouth actually dropped open and the police officer on duty inside the gate gave me a look of sympathy.

Clearly, he knew what was inside was really cool. And clearly I wasn’t the only one he’d seen during the strike period with that reaction.

I was so upset. I was sweating like mad felt like crying for a hot second. I was very nerdily looking forward to learning about archaeological studies in Amazonas and deepening my knowledge of the rain forest I’d fallen in love with.

A small disappointment followed by a huge one. Plus, I suddenly had lots of time on my hands and nothing to fill it with.

Sure, my main dream of trekking through the forest came true, but as I sat with a sad face in an air-conditioned Açaí shop having no idea what to do with myself, I couldn’t help but think about how much it sucks to have your expectations shattered.

Not just shattered, but built up by the promise of something beautiful and then delivering absolutely nothing.

And then I thought about how often this happens with business… and how much it pisses people off.

Of course, in this particular situation, there were a lot of different parties at play: Lonely Planet, museum staff, the city of Manaus, and my own mental expectation.

But then I realized that to me, as the customer, my own mental expectation was the thing that mattered most.

Had those two museums “delivered” what had been promised via the mental expectations I’d built up, I’d have been exceedingly happy.

But since they didn’t, they were two museums that I and the other disappointed tourists could no longer give recommendations to people visiting Manaus to patronize.

We all learn the motherly lesson to not make promises we can’t keep. But the bigger one, I think (at least in business), is not to build up expectations that you can’t match.

But when you do build them up (because that’s what marketing is all about), you better work your ass off to meet them, exceed them, and delight the hell out of your customers so they make damn sure to recommend you to their connections the next time they’re visiting your neck of the forest.