Brand Promises vs. Exceeding Expectations

Mark J. Komen, President

Kodyne, Inc.

Minneapolis, MN

Over the last few years, I’ve seen a focus on “exceeding customer expectations” as an example of customer-related sayings that fall into the category of increasing customer satisfaction and engagement. Other phrases include “going above and beyond for customers” and “customer service is everyone’s job.” Then there’s the old standby “The customer is always right.”

It makes sense that companies would promote these messages to foster loyalty to their brand and receive high recommendations such as through approaches like Net Promoter Score.  While well-intentioned, actually delivering on these messages, particularly regarding exceeding expectations is particularly challenging.  Why?  Because they require you to live up to a promise you make to your customers.  Forever.

Brand Promise

A brand promise is a value or experience a company’s customers can expect to receive every single time they interact with that company. The more a company can deliver on that promise, the stronger the brand value in the mind of customers and employees.  When a company fails to deliver on that promise, they have “broken brand” and thanks to social media, bad news travels fast and brand loyalty fades quickly.  People readily tell their friends and contacts about negative or unsatisfying interactions and negative press is tough to overcome.  Positive experiences count.  Negative experiences seem to count more. Living up to these promises over time requires great degrees of clarity around brand messages, staff training around customer service practices, commitment to resolving problems and all in ways that are better than your competition.

Customer Expectations

Understanding what your customers expect from you is fundamental.  Don’t we all expect things like:

  • Quality (e.g. products that work when we get them or services that are free from errors, both fitting their intended use)?
  • Responsiveness (e.g. the company gets back to you on status and provides prompt service)?
  • Timely and effective communications (answering questions about products and services and addresses satisfaction and dissatisfaction)?
  • a fair price?

A classical definition of quality from the ISO world is to “consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.” Another way of stating this is, “meeting customer expectations.” I believe the best way to know what customers expect from your organization is to ask them and not assume you know the answers ahead of time.

The Lawn Mower story

I was a devoted fan of one particular hardware manufacturer’s lawn mower product line.  They long had a reputation for outstanding quality so I bought my first gas-powered push mower from them and it lasted over 15 years before the steel deck cracked and broke off.  I thought that was a pretty impressive tenure so I bought another mower from that manufacturer – a gas powered, self-propelled, walk behind model.  That one lasted 7 years before it quit working (engine problems not worth repairing).  So I gave the brand another try for a similar gas powered, self-propelled, walk behind model.  Got it out of the box, started it up and within 5 minutes, parts started flying off the mower.  Not what you’d expect from a company with such a stellar reputation for quality.  Definitely did not meet my expectations. I packed it up, took it back to the store, got my money back, went directly to a different store and bought a mower from a different manufacturer – which I still have in operation over 10 years later.

OK so what does “exceeding expectations” look like?  Here’s an example:

The Enterprise story

I recently had the misfortune of being rear-ended while sitting in my vehicle at a red light.  The body shop and insurance company arranged a loaner vehicle for me with Enterprise car rentals.  After I dropped the car off at the shop, Enterprise sent over a car for me to use. The customer service agent that dropped it off was friendly, thorough and professional. The car was clean, gassed up and ready to go.  I should point out that the accident occurred during the winter.  After I got home, I noticed an ice scraper and snow brush sitting on the rear seat.  That simple thing really caught my attention.  I had removed an ice scraper and brush from my own car in anticipation of needing it during my use of the rental car.  I had not expected Enterprise to provide one for me.  Talk about exceeding expectations! In fact, I later went to Enterprise’s website and saw the following on their company values page: “Customer service is our way of life. Our goal is to exceed every customer’s expectations.”  They certainly did here and in a very tangible way.  Now I will hold them to that goal forever!

In my opinion, exceeding expectations is a high bar to consistently meet unless you are setting extremely low expectations for your company in the eyes of your customer.  And why would anyone do that? Should the lawn mower manufacturer have put a caveat on their product literature stating, “Parts may fly off of our mowers at any moment?”  But the parts actually stayed on! Exceeded expectations! Definitely not good for the brand.  The old practice of “under-promise and over-deliver,” as in quoting 6-week delivery times and delivering in 4 is definitely walking a fine line here. Will you be able to do that every time?

I believe business practices that “surprise and delight” customers are a better way to go.


© 2023 Mark J. Komen. All rights reserved worldwide.

Reference: ISO 9001 from the American Society for Quality website,