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When the Tables Turn

Sometimes customers think, believe, even expect that we can read their minds. And sometimes we appear to. But I see over and over how often we misjudge what even close friends and loved ones would want, and so marvel that strangers have such strong expectations for satisfaction.

In preparation for the aforementioned black tie event (see post, If the Shoe Fits, April 30, 2010) I had some involvement with the dreaded Seating Plan.

Among the goals of the various seating “experts” were a good looking room and the ability of guests to meet people they didn’t know and make new relationships, as well as:

  • complying with at least one request of every guest who had voiced a request
  • making sure the complainers had nothing to complain about
  • being able to take credit for successful seating and avoid blame for unsuccessful seating
  • making certain desirable people so happy with their seating that they would return for other events
  • leveling the playing field amongst guests
  • creating the table that they themselves wanted to occupy

All of them (us) wanted a successful event, we just believed different things about the definition of success.

Turns out it’s remarkable how many ways there are to cause dissatisfaction. Sometimes you just don’t know people’s (read: customers’) patterns well enough to anticipate either their specific behaviors — or their preferences. Sometimes they don’t even anticipate their own preferences accurately until they’re in the situation and assessing the actual conditions. Then they know what they really want — in the moment — and may express surprise that you didn’t know what they wanted — even though they didn’t know it themselves, or at least, couldn’t articulate it — until it happened.

So what can you do when you get it wrong? You apologize and find out how you can do better in the future. You suck up the lecture or the venting, and then you make sure to take the steps to ensure you actually can do better in the future. And you keep loving your customer for being your customer.

Remarkably you still have to figure the odds on who’s likely to be your customer next time — and what that customer will want when the time comes.

Onward and upward,


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