The Expectations Game


A few years ago, I went to Cuba for the first time and had an incredible experience. It’s tough to put into words how fascinating it was—it’s only 90 miles from the United States, but in many ways it feels 50 years apart. I loved the experience and was eager to take others back to Cuba with me.

After working through the licensing process to take people legally into Cuba, we decided to create an “ADDO Ambassador trip.”  We took our first group of people in 2011, and surprisingly… most of them were disillusioned and disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, they thought Cuba was interesting, but they were unimpressed with the hotel because it was old. Communication with friends and family back home was nearly impossible because access to wifi was limited—it was unbelievably expensive and worked at the speed of dial-up internet. Our schedule was constantly changing and required flexibility as the itinerary shifted from day to day.

We quickly learned that participants enjoyed the culture and experience, and most of the dissatisfaction was the result of unmet expectations. As an organization, we had simply not taken the time to lay out clear expectations for the trip.

Rather than give up hope that we could make this work, we devised a plan. The next time we took a group to Cuba, we created a flyer appropriately named “Is Cuba Right for You? Maybe.” In this brochure we explained that Cuba is a unique cultural experience, and that it is not going to be your typical Caribbean vacation. We made it clear that they would not be staying at an all-inclusive island resort, but they would instead be immersed in the culture of the Cuban people, experiencing a slower pace of life and encouraged to be flexible. We explained that Cuba is an adventure, full of fascinating, unexpected, and often challenging experiences. In a tongue-in-cheek way, we suggested if someone were looking for an easy trip that they should  try Europe.

The result? Amazing! After laying out these clear expectations, our next group loved the trip. The hotel was still un-updated. There was still no easy access to wifi. Our communication problems were the same. Our schedule shifted and changed. But the expectations had been set, people were prepared, and they loved it.

Satisfaction with an experience is largely dependent on expectations being met or exceeded. Don’t we find the same to be true in other areas of our personal and professional lives?

If we expect to wait ten minutes when we call a customer service line, we are excited when a person answers in less than two minutes.

However, when our significant other doesn’t answer the phone as soon as we call, we are frustrated.

The all-inclusive resort you booked for your honeymoon is way nicer than you thought you could afford on your tiny budget, so you and your new spouse are thrilled with the mediocre accommodations.

However, the hotel you booked for your ten-year anniversary is not nearly as nice as it looked in the pictures, so you find yourself disappointed and feeling ripped off.

One of your clients emails you late at night and is frustrated that you wait to answer until the next morning.

However, a different client is pleased by how quickly you respond to the emails that they send during the work day.

Your new website received mixed reviews from your customers. Customers looking for a cleaner interface felt the site was perfect.

However, other customers could not find all of the tabs on the homepage that they were accustomed to and consequently were unsatisfied.

If you want people to be satisfied, you have to set proper expectations. Discuss expectations in communication with the people closest to you. Read honest reviews before booking your next vacation. Establish and explain your timeline for responding to emails in the workplace. Clearly explain the function (and goal) of your products or services to your customers.

Can you think of an experience where unmet expectations caused you to be frustrated or to frustrate someone else?

Are you setting proper expectations in your personal and professional worlds?
Make clarity a goal. Take some time today to think of ways you can establish proper expectations in your personal relationships and work responsibilities.

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Today, business means more than just mere products and services. Your organization needs to stand for something. Branding is what you tell the world; leadership is how you make it come true.

No one knows this dynamic better than Kevin Paul Scott.

Companies turn to Kevin for advice on how to up the meaning-quotient in their businesses, so that employees and customers alike champion the business as if it were their own.

Let Kevin come and teach your group about how to build a business and communicate corporate values in a way that resonates with consumers.

His speeches include:
• Building a Business with Meaning
• Leading When the Majority is Wrong
• In Changing Times, Hold to Unchanging Principles
• The War for Talent: Recruiting and Retaining Top Tier Talent
• Essential Exchanges: What You Have to Give Up to Go Up