Setting the right expectations

Your customers are willing to forgive a lot — as long as they get what they expect. Get that bit wrong, and you’re in for a world of pain.


At Triggertrap, we used to do a lot of selling via Amazon.com, with the orders being fulfilled from a warehouse in Hong Kong.

The way Amazon is structured, it means you don’t get to pick your shipping lead times yourself, it is set by Amazon, and based on country. So, if you are based in Aldergrove in Canada, your shipping time is estimated as 5–10 business days. If you happen to be a 10-minute drive further south, in Lynden, Washington, USA, the estimated shipping time is 18–26 business days.

Now, I’m sure Amazon have legitimate reasons for having a 21-day span between deliveries to locations that are a lazy stone’s lob away from each other, but that doesn’t help us…

When your suppliers let you down

I complained to Amazon, of course, and received twenty-four (yes! Twenty-four) “we are still looking into this issue” messages — I opened this support inquiry in May 2012, so it’s getting close to its one-year anniversary. It’s one of the reasons we decided to launch our own shop — it doesn’t look like Amazon are able to sort out this discrepancy, and we were tired of asking our customers for ‘just a few more days, please’.

This real-life situation has taught me a lot about expectations. When we ship from Hong Kong, in reality, the delivery time to both Lynden and Aldergrove are pretty much the same — it’s around 15 business days. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the problem: It falls neatly between the two delivery estimates.

Wildly unrealistic expectations — with two different results

What is doubly interesting though, is that we are essentially offering the same service to the same customers, in exactly the same way. Both the Canadians and our US customers go into the transaction with wildly unrealistic expectations, just in two exactly opposite ways. In the US, we are over-delivering by 3 days, whereas in Canada, we are under-delivering by 3 days.

The difference in customer feedback (and, by proxy, in customer reviews and the overall impact on our brand) is enormous.

It does nothing but re-proving the adage ‘Under-promise, over-deliver’; And it is well worth taking a closer look at whether you are living up to your customers’ expectations.


Scffld is a blog where Haje Jan Kamps covers the great, the terrible, and a sprinkling of best practices of customer service. There’s a bit more background here.

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