There’s a lot of content out there on exceeding expectations. From going above and beyond to delivering “wow” moments, and the element of surprise and delight, there is this huge push that exceeding your guests’ expectations should be your top guest experience priority.
And I (almost) completely agree. The best way to drive guest loyalty is to do more than they asked for, give them more value than they paid for, and make them feel more special than they already feel.
In fact, this is the most “fun” part of guest experience, especially in the attractions industry. It’s incredibly fulfilling and rewarding when you’ve made someone’s day, and knowing that you have genuinely impacted someone’s life in such a positive way. And while it should be top of mind, it should not be the first thing on your to-do list, and therefore should not be your top guest experience priority.
We’ll get to what should be your top priority shortly, but first let me share this quick story.
Several years ago I was traveling and visiting a client in San Diego, California. I landed at the airport and took a cab straight to my hotel. Because of the travel-filled morning throwing off my normal routine, I had one thing on my mind… FOOD. At that point, nothing in life mattered as much as my next meal, and the only thing holding me back was that I needed to check into my hotel and get to the restaurant.
I walked into the lobby and saw three front desk agents, each assisting a guest with checking out, and no other guests in line. This is perfect. No one needs to take more than 20-30 seconds to check out of a hotel, even if the agent is hitting every bullet point in their script. But if that’s the case, why did I wait five minutes (which felt like 5 years) to check in?
As I stood there, I watched the agents. They weren’t just friendly, they were exceptionally friendly. They were going above and beyond what someone would expect from checking out at a hotel. Normally a quick review of the bill and offering assistance with luggage and transportation checks all the boxes, but these three agents saw that as their starting point, not their finish line. They kept the conversation going by asking things like, “How did your meeting go? Did you get to do any sightseeing while you were in town? When’s your next trip back? What are your plans for the summer? What’s the weather like back home?”
Now let’s pause for a second – every part of this interaction would have been awesome if it weren’t for, well… me. If I did not exist in that equation, then kudos to the three amazing team members for seeing opportunities to make a last impression to guests as they were departing the hotel. But because they were putting their foot on the gas pedal of the “friendliness” expectation, they neglected another expectation altogether. There was no efficiency in the interaction, and it made a poor first impression for a guest who was starting to get hangry.
Your guests expect a lot from you, and their expectations have changed due to the pandemic. As a baseline, they expect an experience that is safe, open, clean, efficient, enjoyable, and friendly, among many others related to your unique offerings. When you focus heavily on exceeding expectations, but you don’t first look at meeting them, you are destined to deliver a service failure or two, which occurs when an expectation isn’t met. This elicits the opposite reaction you intended from going above and beyond.
In a different situation, the staff would have been just as friendly, and seeing the queue start to build in the corner of their eye would prompt them to amp up their speed, just a little bit. We all know that delivering an excellent experience is a juggling act, and we need to balance each guest expectation to make sure we don’t drop one. Just like when juggling, when you drop one ball, it’s nearly impossible to pick it back up without dropping the others.
That brings us back around to your top guest experience priority: meeting expectations. If you strive to go above and beyond, you must have already proven that you can deliver the experience your guests expect at a minimum. If your guests expect cleanliness and your facility is immaculate, but your opening crew didn’t start on time and it delayed your opening, your first guests won’t be happy. The reverse is true too, if you opened on time but failed to present a clean environment, they will likely be even more upset.
Every expectation that your guest has is a promise that you’ve made to them. You promise that you will provide a safe and clean environment, one that opens as scheduled and operates efficiently, all while providing an enjoyable and friendly experience. The list goes on, and these promises establish the baseline. These expectations are table stakes, they’re the requirements just to play. You must keep your promises to your guests before you attempt to deliver something beyond what’s expected.