Failing To Meet Expectations

Creating high expectations is fine. Creating low expectations is okay too.

What isn’t okay is to create high expectations among your customers and then fail to deliver.

As some of you may know, at Forkinthehead High Command we provide regular folk with the means to let web site owners know of usability problems. For instance, if your web site is really hard to navigate, you might receive a ‘fork-o-gram’ telling you just that.

Anyway, a couple of days ago someone sent a fork-o-gram to America Online and here’s the reply they received:

Dear forks,

Hello, my name is Pam and I am writing to you on behalf of America Online, in response to your recent email.

Thank you for writing America Online. We hope you were satisfied with the service you have received. Please feel free to write anytime you have questions or concerns. Have a great day!

Pam M.
Customer Care Consultant
America Online, Inc.

There are a few problems with this reply in terms of failed expectations. And these problems all stem from the fact that this email claims to be from Pam M, Customer Care Consultant. (Remember the good old days when ‘Consultants’ were decent folk who just happened to be in-between jobs?)

The moment that AOL decided to have this email signed by a real person, Pam, they set a very high level of expectation. After all, Pam is someone’s name and leads us to expect that we are receiving a reply from a sentient life form that is carbon rather than silicon based. You know a human being.

Well, if Pam were a real person, she wouldn’t address the recipient as ‘Dear forks.’ The word ‘forks’ was lifted automatically from the email address, (Good thing she wasn’t replying to someone with one of those scary AOL email addresses like Dear just doesn’t have that warm and cuddly feeling to it.)

So as soon as I read — “Dear forks, Hello, my name is Pam” — I know that something is wrong. Because the real Pam, wherever she is, would guess that I’m not really called forks.

‘Pam’ goes on to say:

“We hope you were satisfied with the service you have received.”

Well, obviously not. When one sends a fork-o-gram it’s because one is not satisfied. That’s the whole point. By now, all the high expectations that were created by the use of a real name, Pam, have been dashed. Because I now know for sure that there is no Pam — and that this email was generated automatically.

If it’s late in the day and the air conditioning is busted, I’ll be more than disappointed. I’ll be pissed. From a direct response point of view, consider this:

If AOL had built up a ‘trust and satisfaction quota’ with me over the last few months of 500 points, they just blew 200 of them. They can now mess up one and a half more times before I walk away.

Like most users of the web, I can tolerate a lot of stupidity, but don’t play me for a complete idiot. If you don’t have a real person called ‘Pam’ answering email complaints, don’t pretend that you do. Or at least recognize the problems that are likely to occur and try something like this:


My name is Pam and I’ll be taking care of your inquiry. This is an automated response, just to let you know that your email has been received. I’ll get to it in person as soon as I can.”

Of course, if AOL has no intention of having a real person ever read the fork-o-gram, they could try:


My name is Pam and although it’s been easy to send you this automated response, the likelihood of my ever getting back to you in person is just about zero.”

From a customer service point of view, this is pretty pathetic. But at least you will have established my expectations at a level that are appropriate to the circumstances.

Anyway, to make matters worse, here’s the text that appeared after Pam’s ‘signature’…

“We are happy to have served you today. Our mission is to provide the highest customer satisfaction in the industry and as a way of fulfilling it, we continuously share information about exclusive offers with our members.

“Please call 1-800-311-2284 to take advantage of the benefits of AOL Long Distance and to be eligible for a free month of unlimited AOL membership. Who else can offer you 9 cents a minute and the benefits of online billing? Thank you again for your membership and keep watching for great offers from AOL.”

Ha! They must be kidding. First they treat me like a moron and now they want to sell me long distance? I don’t think so. I must have missed the opening sales technique that says, “Hey stupid, wanna buy some long distance?”

Hmm. By next week I’ll try to settle down again and be nice to people.

Have a great weekend.

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