An elderly woman interviewed on the recently-added Netflix documentary “Perfect,” said something to the effect: Audiences have higher expectations of younger dancers. Cut to a clip of older dancers struggling to stay in a straight line on stage, all wearing too-tight pink dance costumes and pink tights.
“When the performers are younger, flexible, and coordinated,” she said, “audiences judge whether the performance was beautiful; yet when it’s older dancers, they are judged by whether they get through the routine.” She was expressing the idea that audiences can have different expectations, and thereby, different experiences.
To expand on this idea, how is it that a meal at McDonald’s often hits the spot (if I’m in the mood), yet a steak dinner costing, say, three times pricer, at white table cloth restaurant, can turn out to be an awful experience? I’m sure most of us have had those.
Still, it sparks discussion in my household, who rarely eat at McDonald’s by the way, that our experience is not impacted by McDonald’s horribly unpleasant bathrooms or noisy kids runny running around in the dining area. If you are like us, those nuisances are expected.
Both instances demonstrate that service experiences—and watching sports is an entertainment service — wrests in large part on an audience’s (or an individual’s) expectations. And, if those expectations are met or exceeded, the service experience is positive, otherwise satisfactory.
The common thread I have found with all services is their success depends on end-user expectations. This would lead to conclude that positive and negative user experiences can be a barometer to successful designs. Therefore, designers should understand their audience’s expectations prior — and also query them afterward. A survey with fewer than 10 questions should suffice.
Another anecdote to make a point, this one concerning exceeding expectations: A few weeks ago, my family was glued to the Megan Markle interview with Oprah Winfrey. None of us had intended to watch, the topic was of little interest and we had things to do.
Our television is a stand-in for moving wallpaper that we mostly ignore. In this case, the TV just happened to be tuned to the same channel as the interview. Within the first few minutes, all three of us had put down our respective work and were glued, hanging onto every word.
Our sudden interest in the show had little to do with the subject of the royal family. In fact, neither my wife, my adult daughter nor I could describe why we were all of a sudden fascinated by the conversation. Whatever it was, we found the show entertaining. Clearly, our experience exceeded any expectations, or we would have gone on with our work.
So, in the first anecdote, there’s no reason to expect the older women to pull off an eye-catching performance. With this warning, some viewers might have stayed with the program to watch the entire documentary. Not me. Despite setting the expectation for that one performance, I tuned to the show expecting to see graceful synchronized sports. I was dissatisfied.
In the second instance, my expectations of a McDonald’s experience are well-formed, and in almost every case, I’ll be satisfied — along with millions of others served every day.
And in the third instance, my family’s expectations were surpassed, exceeded. Yet no matter how extraordinary a service experience, once an end-user is satisfied, there really is no higher measure that serves a practical purpose for a designer. There are a number of reasons for this, including that exceeding an expectation is very individual and therefore difficult to duplicate en masse (below might be an exception). However, other, perhaps more easily understood reasons are listed below.
5 Axioms for Satisfying Users
The difference separating satisfied users from dissatisfied ones is perception, which leads to expectations.
- Designers should avoid trying to exceed expectations because if the service exceeds the first time, it’s not likely to even satisfy users the second time. The reason: One of the ways service designers create satisfactory experiences is to design for consistency.
- If a designer has adequately set and communicated valid expectations, a service should result in satisfactory end-user experiences.
- Designers will not be able to achieve satisfactory experiences if there are unpleasant surprises, including problems with reliability or if a service fails to achieve an expected outcome.
- Some studies, including the Customer Rage Study, show most users (customers) don’t reveal whether they were satisfied or not from using a service. So, be sure to ask.
One more anecdote to conclude: The Great Moscow Circus is known for its spectacular feats that leave audiences spellbound. I saw the circus in Moscow as a young teenager. My expectation was to attend a typical circus. Yet the experience has stayed with me all these years, in part, for how the performers scripted ways to heighten audience expectations. As an aside, Cirque du Soleil has claimed the Great Moscow Circus as their inspiration.
Performers at the Moscow circus would begin their acts and inevitably fail with minor mishaps. For instance, trapeze artists would lose their grip and fall into the net tens of feet below. Then they would redo the act, but the next time they would perform without a net and while wearing blindfolds.