While traveling this week, a brand let me down. It wasn’t a major disappointment but just enough to make me think about the conscious and subconscious expectations we have about the brands in our lives.
I stayed at a Hampton Inn, similar to ones I’ve experienced in many markets. It’s not a spectacular hotel but I’m usually happy to find a Hampton Inn in the market I’m visiting. There is something about the experience that makes me comfortable, almost in a homey way. Maybe it’s the flavored creamer with their 24/7 coffee station. Or the bottled water given to members. Or maybe it comes down to the fresh baked cookies in the afternoons.
But this time was different. I was not offered water although I am a loyalty member. No big deal, I purchased water for my room. But I noted it wasn’t offered.
When I later returned to the hotel there were no cookies. The receptionist said “we don’t offer cookies at this Hampton Inn.” I didn’t know that was an option. Can some McDonalds choose not to offer fries? Can some Tiffany stores choose yellow boxes?
Suddenly I noticed many things that weren’t quite right. The floor had some dirt by the elevators. My room smelled musty. The curtains didn’t open all the way. The promotional materials in the elevator were worn. There were fewer choices at the breakfast bar.
Did I notice all of these things because attention to detail was particularly bad at this hotel? Or did the missing cookies make me notice these imperfections that are common in other locations?
In reality, 90% of the time I don’t even eat the cookies. But I notice them. I smile because I know they are making somebody’s travel just a little better. Because fresh baked cookies remind me of visiting family. And because they smell like holidays.
I realized that this hotel had let me down because I expect more from Hampton Inns. But the brand had trained me to expect more. And then they let me down.
I made a mental note that for future trips to this area, I would choose a different hotel. I also know that for future stays at the Hampton Inn, I will look more closely at cleanliness by the elevators, the newness of branded signage and I’ll pay more attention to smells.
These are the things I used to take for granted because the brand had already earned my trust. My aha moment came when I realized this experience had begun to erode the trust I placed in Hampton Inn.
More importantly, I realized how important it is for brands to understand their customer expectations, conscious or subconscious. By design, most brands work hard to build the appropriate expectations. It is these associations that differentiate your brand experience from your competitors. So once you’ve set the expectations, meeting them should not be optional.
In healthcare, unfortunately, expectations are usually lower than in the hospitality segment. However, the principle holds true. I expect a friendly greeting before being asked for my insurance card. I expect physical therapists to push me a little harder each visit. I expect directional signage to be clear and user friendly.
When these expectations are not met, I will likely start questioning quality in other areas. Remember, earning trust in a brand takes so much effort, but it takes far less effort to erode trust. Make sure you know your customers’ expectations so you can work hard to meet them. Every day.