Consent Preferences

Exceeding Guest / Customer Expectations

Jeff Robbins
August 31, 2022
3 minute read
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In our guest experience survey model, the first question we ask guests is how their experience met with their expectations.  There are 3 response choices;

  • Exceeded my expectations
  • Met my expectations
  • Did not meet my expectations

What's reasonable for our clients (hotels, restaurants, retailers) to want, or expect, in terms of the distribution of responses to this question? The knee-jerk reaction is that you'd like to exceed the expectations of every guest. On a theoretical level you could make a case for that outcome, but practically speaking, you really don't want that. Here’s why…

Repeat v New Guests
To begin, let's group your guests into 2 baskets; those who have visited you before and those who have not.
For repeat guests, expectations are generally pretty well set by prior experience(s). It can be a tall order to exceed expectations for this group. Notable exceptions would include a very long interval between visits and/or significant physical and/or service level changes to your business since the last visit. That said, in most instances, anytime you exceed the expectations of a returning guest you should consider it a big win. Still, meeting the expectations of a repeat guest should be considered a positive outcome, as well. As an example, one of our hotel client’s guests recently responded to the experience v expectation question by ticking the “met” box. Later in the survey, when prompted to elaborate on their response, the guest wrote, "We come every year and I have never been disappointed." Certainly, our client was pleased to see this guest’s feedback.
On the other hand, the expectation equation can be pretty complicated for first time guests. How are their expectations set? There can be many factors at play, including how they came to choose your business, online reviews, recommendations/opinions of friends/relatives, your website, other marketing materials and messaging, press coverage, guidebooks and sites, etc. In addition, there is a value component– that is, expectation for most people is influenced by the price paid for a product, service, meal, or hotel room. And, in today's complicated times, health and safety protocols also figure into the calculus, as do well-publicized staffing challenges, which may impact service levels.
So, let's say you are able to exceed the expectations of every first time guest. Is this a good thing? I would argue that it is not. Why? If you're exceeding everyones' expectations, then it’s clear that those expectations are being universally set too low. You would then be faced with the tough task of trying to determine why and making impactful changes to the variables in the equation I mentioned earlier. In addition, the implications of too-low expectations on a significant percentage of your clientele also can be projected to missed opportunities- that is, guests who chose one of your competitors instead of you because they were looking for something "more" during the decision making process.

Managing Your Expectations of Guests’ Expectations
It’s complicated!  So what’s a practical way to approach managing your own expectations? We look at it this way:
Let’s go back to the expectation question we ask at the outset of our guest experience surveys, “Overall, how did your experience at ______________ meet with your expectations?”

  • Exceeded my expectations
  • Met my expectations
  • Did not meet my expectations

What distribution of answers should you be looking for? The first objective is to have the percentage of guests who answer “Did not meet…"  be as low as possible. This is a key performance metric to monitor over time. Across our client base, the benchmark for top tier properties is 5% or less (note that in the image below, a screenshot of the GuestInsight client dashboard, we display this metric from a positive perspective; that is, we call out the total percentage of guests whose expectations have either been exceeded or met).
For the balance of your guests, the split of "Exceeded my expectations” and "Met my expectations” responses will be impacted by the percentage of your business that is made up of repeat guests (among other variables). Again, the more repeat guests you have, the harder it becomes to exceed expectations. It’s more difficult to generalize benchmarks for these responses, but once baselines for a client have been established, trends can be monitored and addressed accordingly.

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