Setting Great Expectations

I recently had some furniture delivered by two different companies and the experience of each was vastly different. One was easy and delightful while the other was frustrating and tiresome. The function of each company was the same, to place an order, inform me of it’s arrival and to deliver the furniture yet what I experienced was not the same. The only difference between the two was how they communicated and set expectations.

The first company, let’s call it Company X told me that they had to order my furniture in, which could take up to two weeks. They charged a $65 delivery fee to which I asked what that delivery fee included which was delivery, unpacking, setup, taking away the packaging and any old furniture which they would then deliver to the Salvation Army. This sounded reasonable and I was happy to pay for that service rather than hiring a trailer to do it myself. During the two weeks they called to let me know the order had been dispatched, the order had arrived and then arranged delivery where they also called the morning of to let me know they were leaving the warehouse and were on their way. At no time do I wonder as to the status of my order and everything unfolded as per their communications with me.

The second company, let’s call it Company Y also told me that they had to order my furniture in and that it would arrive within 5 working days. They charged a $75 delivery fee which included delivery and nothing else. No unpacking or rubbish removal, just a straight delivery with no extras and for $10 more than the previous company. This did not sound reasonable and at this point I went out of my way to arrange my own pick up. I asked if it would be available to pick up on Saturday which they assured me it would be. On Saturday I turned up to find my furniture hadn’t arrived because they truck was missing a pallet and had to be turned around without being unloaded. There was no phone call or communication to tell me of this error which meant my arrangements for the day now had to be cancelled. Company Y told me the truck was due back on Wednesday and to try again then. This time, instead of making arrangements I made sure I called ahead which resulted in a long wait time on the phone for information. This time the company did inform me once it had arrived so I could make new arrangements. After picking up the furniture I kept repeating that even though loading it onto the trailer, spending my own time, my own petrol, moving and unpacking it myself, I still considered my own effort worth more than the $75 dollars I would have spent.

Cost vs Value

Why is this? Why was I prepared to pay $65 with one company and not be concerned with the amount, yet with the other company I was adamant that I wasn’t going to spend one dollar more with them. I think it comes down to the perception of value.

With Company X, I perceived the spend to be of adequate value for cost. I was paying for delivery but I was getting so much more than just that. At the end of the entire experience with everything having gone so smoothly, the $65 was considered as money well spent. With Company Y, I perceived the spend to be less than adequate value for cost. At the end of this experience I felt justified in my decision because the process had been rather bumpy with expectations not being met. I found myself thinking I was lucky I didn’t pay for or get the delivery as they probably would have mucked that up as well.


At the core of these two experiences is communication and this is where I bring these examples back into our day to day interactions with other people. As part of a team, you are usually providing some type service to someone else while also receiving services from other people whether that be your manager, team members, customers, support people or anyone you have interactions with.

It’s easy to become frustrated when we feel our expectations aren’t being met and there are two sides to this.

Firstly, if you are the one receiving some kind of service, did you communicate what your expectations were or ask what you could expect? Was there some kind of negotiation to make sure you were both happy with the agreement, is it reasonable to expect updates at the end of each day or would this be some service level that couldn’t be met because of other circumstances.

Now, what if you are the person providing the service, is the onus on the person receiving the service to ask questions? I would say no and there are a few reasons for this. As the person providing the service, you know more about the process, activities, results and time frames and by knowing more you can provide information about questions the other person never even thought to ask.

Being open about providing information is also seen as helpful as this helps to build trust and provide clarity.

However all of this is meaningless without integrity of the follow through. If you say you will do ‘X’, make sure you do ‘X’ or provide an update as to why ‘X’ cannot be completed as expected. We all make mistakes or overestimate what we can achieve, when this happens it’s important to communicate and reset expectations if there is going to be an impact. The goal is to make sure the other person is never asking themselves:

  • What? 
  • Why?
  • Who?
  • When?
  • How?

Being proactive about answering these questions before they are asked also helps to keep expectations in check as well as putting doubts at ease. To do this we have to have empathy for the other person and think about what they might be expecting or check in with that person with an update covering the above questions. This also provides the opportunity for them to ask any additional questions.

I always feel more comfortable and more at ease with a little bit of light rather than complete darkness.

Meeting and managing expectations can add integrity to your interactions with other people and help to build trusted relationships. It can also create a mutual respect as it means we are being considerate of others time and emotional investment in a given situation. I also find this technique helpful in team leadership, setting goals and performance improvement.

How did you feel the last time your expectations weren’t met? How do you set and manage expectations?

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