“That was so unsatisfying, I’ll never come back,” Jack Johnson said after spending thousands of dollars on a company dinner. Johnson, a senior executive at a top management consulting company was so dissatisfied with his experience that the very next morning he instructed his assistant to be sure never to book a dinner there again, telling her, “It just did not match my expectations.”

How is it that a McDonald’s burger, fries, and a shake are satisfying, yet a meal prepared by a master chef with the finest ingredients fails to impress? Even more, our experience at McDonald’s doesn’t seem to be marred by rude order takers, unsanitary bathrooms, or rowdy youth. The answer, in part, is that we take all those factors into consideration to form a pre-conception of what to expect with a service experience. If our expectations are met, we find the experience satisfying. All of us are likely repeat a satisfying service experience.

In fact, if service providers, service designers and UX designers simply aim for user satisfaction, that’s more than sufficient.


The prix-fixe menu at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte has remained the same for more than a half century — steak-frites, a salad, and a desert. It is known for is consistency meeting user expectations.

The experience begins in a queue, and users can expect to wait an hour to be seated. The seats are lined up at a long table shared by other diners. A typically no-nonsense waiter will then approach to take drink orders — wine, coke or water — and then ask what temperature to prepare your steak.

The service is part family-style with a generous, simple salad and the main meal of wafer-thin streak infused with a ‘secret’ Parisian herb butter sauce along with a heaping portion of French fries.

Each meal, every night, over again, at each of its restaurants, is nearly identical and equally flavorful. But the real secret sauce is perhaps the single item menu and well-trained staff who adhere to process.

By constraining selections, the restaurants to control inventory, maintain a limited kitchen, quickly and easily train staff and maintain consistency, the key to satisfying users. Perhaps one could argue their business model aligns more closely with industrial production than serving customers.

But comparing the Relais business model to other restaurants raises questions about the advantages to changing menus. A change in menu could very possibly not meet user expectations. Some may say, well, restaurants seek to exceed diners’ expectations.

Along these lines, some service providers’ DNA is around exceeding user expectations. But imagine, if you will, the uncertainty for how, and resources required to truly exceed individual users’ expectations. How would that work, what would success look like?

To be sure, service providers could continually ask the expectations of each user, but then, the provider would need to increase its efforts for each repeated user. In other words, if you exceed a users’ expectations the first time, how do you exceed their expectations next time?

When merely satisfying users’ expectations leads to successful experiences, then logically, it makes no sense to try and exceed them, it merely sets up providers for failure.

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