Setting Realistic Customer Expectations

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Last week, I took my son skiing at one of our favorite mountains in the Catskills. Brian made the honor roll at school for the first time and I wanted to give him a special reward for his efforts. We had planned the ski trip a few weeks in advance and my schedule was such that I only had the one day available. Unfortunately, Mother Nature threw us a curve.

Last week, I took my son skiing at one of our favorite mountains in the Catskills. Brian made the honor roll at school for the first time and I wanted to give him a special reward for his efforts. We had planned the ski trip a few weeks in advance and my schedule was such that I only had the one day available. Unfortunately, Mother Nature threw us a curve.The day before our trip, a band of heavy rain swept up from the south and pounded the Northeast U.S. Ski resorts such as Belleayre Mountain, our intended destination, got hit pretty hard. Although the rain didn't completely wash away all of the snow that had built up on the mountain for the past few months, it did alter what was left, leaving a base that was effectively a block of ice.

The day before our trip, I visited Belleayre's Facebook page where they posted a picture and updated the conditions. Hoping that my concerns about the impact from the rain would be noted, I posted a comment asking whether snowmaking would resume once the temperatures permitted. Someone from the Belleayre team responded that "Snowmaking resumes full bore today and we are going to be pounding the mountain, including blasting the bump trails! Our groomers will be out in force getting the mountain into awesome shape for the weekend."

I was heartened by the reply but I also tempered my expectations. Most skiers and snowboarders in the Northeast come to expect that conditions aren't always going to be optimal. The Northeast U.S. doesn't receive 500 inches of annual snowfall like many of the ski resorts in Utah. On average, the Catskills might receive 100 inches of snow across the winter, with higher amounts in the Green Mountains of Vermont and other points in northern New England and the Adirondack Mountains of New York. And even then, the Northeast is susceptible to "January thaw" and other random warm-ups that can impact ski conditions. We don't ski in hip-deep snow.

Bearing all this in mind, Brian & I headed up to Belleayre on Friday. When we arrived that morning, the temperatures were in the teens and the snow guns were blasting a number of trails. From what I could tell based on the trails we were on that day, the operations team had worked hard to make snow across the mountain the night before and use the snow grooming machines across the 30-plus trails that were open.

Still, the conditions were so-so. In many areas, the surface was icy and choppy. I'm no expert on this, but from my experiences it's extremely difficult to restore a ski resort to optimal conditions with just a few hours of snow making and grooming. It simply takes more time than that. Chances are, the conditions were much better for the remainder of the weekend.

A few visitors complained about the conditions the day we were there. I can understand their frustration. But it's also a reminder that in some instances customers need to set realistic expectations about the experiences they receive. Not all circumstances are conducive for generating a "Wow" experience. For instance, if you walk into a retail outlet on Black Friday, you're likely not going to receive the kind of personalized (or even pleasant) experience that you might encounter with a preferred retailer on most other days. The quality of your dining experience at a favorite restaurant is likely to be impacted if the restaurant is short-handed and most of the servers and kitchen staff are out with the flu.

I like Belleayre. The conditions are usually quite good and it has some of the most majestic views in the Hudson Valley. I know I'll be returning and hopefully soon.

Should customers expect great experiences in every interaction with a company? Or are there some exceptions that can be permitted?

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION